When I go to California, I pack a Raymond Chandler novel. Chandler's wordplay and colorful depiction of the architectural and cultural mise-en-scne of southern California deepens and heightens my experience.
I recently visited several places out there that felt like paradise. Back home, looking around my city, New York, I didn't find the world as pretty - until a light went on, and I saw things in a new way. Fresh off a crowded subway, I wrote this: "The Apple is tough, gritty, dangerous, the homeless and panhandlers and the down-and-out found on every corner. The way I figure it, in this town the ways to help other people are just more obvious."
Everything that seemed so wrong became irrelevant, as I glimpsed something: help was needed. And in that instant came the light - that's why I'm here. To help.
It had occurred to me a few weeks before that Jesus was probably helping people long before he started healing them; he must have walked up to the needy and impaired as a good Samaritan to help, before he walked up to them as the Christ to heal.
Jesus' parable of the man who "went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead" has meaning for me every day in New York (see Luke 10:25-37). Who was the good Samaritan? "He that shewed mercy on him." What was the message to Jesus' followers? "Go, and do thou likewise."
Mary Baker Eddy said the first demand of Christian Science is: "Thou shalt have no intelligence, no life, no substance, no truth, no love, but that which is spiritual. The second is like unto it, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself' " ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 467). She also wrote, "What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds" (pg. 4).
The good news is that our ability to do this comes from God. As the Bible shows, God is Love itself - the incorporeal, divine Spirit that is always with us. We are the perfect children, the image and likeness, of Love. We are by God's nature spiritual and heavenly-minded. When we see that the underlying reality of existence is goodness, then loving God, ourselves, our brothers and sisters, is natural - even easy.
I'm seeing how this understanding is starting to break down the fear and selfishness that have kept me from people who need something. Now my first thought in the morning is "Who can I help today?" Love has given me courage to respond to the homeless in my neighborhood in good-Samaritan ways. I remind them that because they are God's children, they're loved and important. Often the simple fact that someone cares lifts their spirits. And mine. Love transforms.
I logged this one day:
"8/7/99: hot dog and coffee for a man sitting at 110th, shirtless, with a plastic bag covering him from the waist down:
'Anything I can do to help? Would you like something to eat?' He mumbles something, sounds like 'bagel.'
'A bagel?' Unintelligible again.
Then, with something of surprise in his eyes, 'Do I have to get it myself? I don't have any pants.'
'No, I'll get it for you. Whaddayawant?'
'A hotdog and cuppa coffee?'
'How do you like your coffee?'
'Milk, sweet, regular.'
'I'll be right back. Don't go nowhere,' I said, tongue-in-cheek.
'I'll be here. I can't. I don't have any pants'
Seeing me return, he stirred, with light in his eyes.
'I didn't think you'd be coming back.'
'Now, how can you say such a thing?' I joked. 'Here you go.'
I handed him his hot dog from Mike's Papaya and his coffee from Columbia Bagels.
'Now, I want you to remember ...' I started to say.
'Yeah, tell me something that will help me in the next life.'
'No, this life. You can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth you. Feel the power of the Holy Ghost with you. I'll be thinking of you.'
'That's good. Better to have one person thinking about you than nobody.'
'I love you. You take care of yourself.'
'Thanks, man. God bless you.' "
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society