In 1997, I had the opportunity to go to India for the entire summer. I was in college, and looking for purpose and adventure. The group I was placed in had the opportunity to go to a city called Varanasi in Utter Pradesh. There we would have the chance to work in Mother Teresa’s home for the sick and dying. Varanasi is where many Hindus go to die. It is said that creation began there, that if one dies on the appropriate side of the Ganges river, you will finally rest with no reincarnating. It was a beautiful city, and I am sure it still is. At age 20, I ventured out, to go save the world! And of course as I quickly found out, India would save me. Isn’t that what we all learn? That when we think we will go and do amazing things, others will end up doing amazing things in our lives instead.
Let me tell you how the people of India changed me from the very beginning of my trip. We arrived when it was early morning, and people were still sleeping. Not just in their homes, but all lined up on the streets. The smells were overwhelming, and I can still smell them today. Mustiness, mixed with gasoline, mixed with every spice you could ever imagine. The roads and cars were crazy, with no real driving lanes, or rules. I am sure I looked the sight. A naïve, blonde, American girl. Here to make a difference. We were escorted to our hosts. Let me make something clear, we did not stay in fancy hotels, take first class or experience any luxuries. We were to live as though India was our home even down to the way we dressed, and we were no different than the rest. Nevertheless, one can be scared to see a place vastly different from the one they are used too.
We arrive at our hosts home, tired, smelly and hungry. Upon pulling up, we quickly realized that our hosts lived in a poverty we had never seen before. The house was small, and I know I was thinking about where I was to sleep. How I was to get clean, and all my comforts were nonexistent. We walked up to the door, not expecting much in the way of food, showers, cleanliness. As the door opened, we became so ashamed. Why? Because of the way we were greeted. Laying on the ground in front of us was the word “Welcome” spelled out in lotus flowers. As we crossed over the flower threshold, we were each greeted with a cold bottle of Coke. This bottle of Coke may mean nothing to you, and at first it did not to us, until we learned that cold sodas of any sort were considered a luxury and very expensive. We were each taken to a soft chair and given a wet cloth to wash our face and hands. As we sat in the soft chairs, our host turned on the overhead fan. The most magical thing happened at this very moment. Lotus buds filled with water came flying of the fan and sprinkling us with coolness, and that is when I cried.
I was tired, and overstimulated and I broke down. I broke down because I was humbled. Out of poverty, they went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Out of poverty, they purchased for me an ice cold Coke so I would feel loved. Out of love, they filled lotus buds full of water, so that I could feel welcome. My preconceived notions of what I was doing for the world flew out of the window.
Lets be honest, if this happened here in America, it would be amazing, but we would tell the host it was too much. She should not have gone to all that trouble. But if I had said that in India, I would have deeply wounded my hosts. They did it because they wanted to love us, not to make us feel uncomfortable. We are here to lavishly love others, and yes, that love will make them feel slightly uncomfortable, but it also makes them feel so loved!
Since that trip, I have gone overboard with hospitality, because I have been so lavishly loved. I do not do it to make others feel as thought they have to, or to make them feel guilty. I do it because I want to. I love surprising those who do not expect to be surprised. I have been told that it is way too much, and you know what I want to say back? Why not? Why not make those who need love, feel special.
India changed my life. Everywhere I went, I was surprised and welcomed. They did much more saving of me, than I could have done.
I hope we all have moments in our lives where we can be surprised and humbled by the love of others. How amazing this world would be if we could all lavishly welcome others into our home and lives the way I was welcomed that day.