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On Service and Memories

At church on Sunday, I noticed the ushers in their white uniforms, and this made me think of duty and of generations past who believed in serving others. We get older, mostly because that is what time requires of us. In the meantime, if we are lucky enough to work and to be productive and to help others, we do so by teaching, leading, giving what we have - but mostly, we serve.

My mother was an usher for many years. She held many positions within our church. While she was serving so diligently, she was also guiding us, her children and other people's children, along the way. All of my life she helped me to understand what was expected of me (in regards to how I was to help people). Sometimes in class, we talk about our obligations to others, to society overall. Some might say that we are limited in those obligations, but my mother, clearly (at least to me) one of the smartest, most caring individuals I have ever known, believed in the value and necessity of serving others, and for that I am grateful.

I, too, am an usher, although most Sundays I am instead singing in the choir. My voice there takes the place of my placement at the door, or helping someone to a seat. Psalm 84:10 says, "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness" (KJV). All ushers know that verse (at least they generally do) and use it as their personal motto, mantra.

When I am there at the door, I see myself in my mother and all those other ushers who came before her, or me, and those who I am blessed to know now. Even before I put on the uniform of service, I can see her in the mirror as my smile leans to one side. Or around the eyes when I am fierce and fearless in tackling life - something she gave me as well.

So, I saw the ushers on Sunday, standing there in their white uniforms, their white shoes. They still place one hand behind the back when they walk up the aisle for the benevolent offering, two by two. Ah, the sense of duty still has a correct, disciplined look about it! Tradition will outlive us all, right. It's all in who they are, though, and the honor they bring to the job they do. And it's not age that gives them grace; it's their pure, generous hearts.

In "The Ethic of Compassion," His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that compassion should be a guide to moral behavior. The way we behave towards others is, he says, the most important part of ethical behavior. Only through being compassionate towards others will we find our own happiness, as well as encourage the happiness of our communities. I agree with that wholeheartedly, perhaps because, as I've said, I grew up under the daily instruction of a woman who believed the same.

It is therefore nice to look back and remember what connects us at the root of life: service. At my job, as with many institutions, service learning is a huge part (and is becoming even more so) of the academic setting. Clearly, we should be teaching others about service. I am happy that in my daily life I have such great examples to learn from. And, as usual, I am grateful for the memories.

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