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how may i serve (you)?

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I’m a floater at a cancer clinic, a volunteer who comes in on short notice whenever another can’t make it. Yesterday’s assignment was to be a greeter for four hours. There’s a little table near the reception desk and main entrance, where greeters are stationed, ready to be of whatever use they can be to disoriented arrivals. Another part of the job is to push a trolley around the place every hour or so, offering coffee, tea, juices, and cookies for people waiting to see a specialist or receive radiation or chemo-treatment. In short, not a glamorous task.

And yet, when I walked home after the shift yesterday, I felt elated. The feeling one gets after a job well done. “Would you like a cookie with that?” — how can that be an accomplishment? The explanation lies in the fundamental act of serving, of being a servant to strangers at times of crisis. Pouring an apple juice and making a cup of peppermint tea — mundane tasks in themselves but each acts of kindness and opportunities for utter presence. People thank me, some drop coins into the donation box, others wave me away: it’s me who bows to them.



7 responses »

  1. dear Peter,
    how deeply your writings are affecting me right now.
    I was one of those ‘disoriented’ people who felt so seen and touched by the simple act of being offered a cup of coffee and a cookie as I sat nervous and apprehensive in a cancer clinic, waiting to be told what life next had in store.
    “Thank you, no, I don’t want a cup of coffee, but I’m so glad you noticed me and took the time to ask me. I now feel less like a piece of offal in line on the butcher’s chopping board.”

    Such a good reminder that if I choose to feel rejected, the rejection comes from me.
    And of the value of mindfulness as a grounding place.

    Thank you Braveheart.

  2. Each moment holds the potential for deep misery and warm belonging. choice, they tell us, always exists. at times it’s easy to see, at others seemingly impossible. and each serves a purpose. malcolm, may your heart be filled with wonder.

  3. from a note sent by Anais: “All tasks, appearing to be great or small, when performed through the heart and spirit, are equal in importance…and in fact, are neither great or small but are only labelled that way by our imagination.

    It may sound smart-alecky… but I really feel this way about your work, Peter, and I hope that you do too.”

  4. Curious.
    I went to the website ‘’, that Peter referenced in his recent blog “Off the cushion”, because I was intrigued by the name.
    And I found:

    I long to accomplish great and noble tasks,
    but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks
    as though they were great and noble.
    ~Helen Keller

  5. This is such a great reminder about the value of simple service. To get away from the ego trips of doing big and great things. Making a difference one act at a time.

  6. Michelle, your comment got me thinking about ‘one act at a time’ … about the ‘right action’ (Buddhist precepts). Kindly visit my post of April 2 and write if you feel like it. thank you. peter


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