Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
My wife and I woke up too early this morning and couldn't fall back to sleep, so my wife decided to tell me a (true) story. The story was about a remarkable Newari woman in Nepal named Dilshobha.
Dilshobha had suffered a great deal in her married life because she had not been able to produce a son. After she had had her first child, a daughter, she had been unable to conceive again, and her husband tormented her bitterly over this. He accused her of failing him and treated her cruelly. Eventually, her husband left her, taking the money they had been saving for their daughter's wedding with him, and she fell into great despair, losing all energy to care for herself or to do anything with her life. She and her daughter took poison several times, attempting to end their lives, but neither one perished. One day, her neighbor noticed Dilshobha's condition and approached her, asking her why she was so despondent. Dilshobha explained how sorry she was not to have been able to produce more children, especially any sons, and how hurt she had been by her husband's behavior and eventual betrayal. The neighbor told her, "You should not be sad over this. Having children, even sons, is no guarantee of happiness. Let me show you something." She took her to another home in their neighborhood where an old woman lived on her own. The old woman was in terrible condition, living essentially in filth, her body weak and unbathed. The neighbor explained that this woman had three sons, who paid for her to live in this house, but who refused to visit her themselves. They said the house, and their mother, smelled so bad that they would not enter it or approach her. Instead, they took turns sending servants every day to bring her food.
Dilshobha was quite moved, seeing this lady's condition, and realized that she had been naive to feel guilty for not having sons or for expecting that this would have brought her happiness. She went home and could not forget about this poor woman's condition. She thought to herself, I am alone and I am not doing anything. Why don't I help her? So, the next day she went back to the old woman's house and approached her, asking if she could help clean her and her place up. The old woman gratefully accepted her offer. Dilshobha went to her house for several days in a row, cleaning up the dirt and clutter and beginning to groom the old woman, and then decided she wanted to speak to one of the old woman's sons. She waited for the servant to come with the daily delivery of food and asked where the son was. She was told he was waiting out on the street in his car, as he refused to approach the house. She went out to the street and found the car, and approaching it hurriedly, she addressed the man, "Brother, I would like to help your mother. May I take her to my house to take care of her? This would be my seva, my service; please do not think I expect anything in return. I would just like to help her." The man said, "No, she is a difficult woman, a real jerk. She will not be grateful and will give you a hard time. Anyway, if you want to try, you can. But you will regret it."
Dilshobha thanked him and told him that she was aware that the woman had much gold and jewelry, so she wanted the son to come and take account of it, so he would be aware of exactly what his mother had and would not accuse Dilshobha of taking any of it later. He agreed and came to the house, and they put all of the jewelry on his mother. After the son left, Dilshobha asked the woman if she would like to get out of her bed and come with her to her house. The woman said she had not bathed in two years, and also was very weak and could not move on her own. So, Dilshobha and the servant helped to lift her out of bed, and they bathed her, and they cut her fingernails, which had grown very long. They helped her walk over to Dilshobha's house, where she fed her and cared for her during the day, and then walked her back to her own home in the evening. They did this for a number of days, and Dilshobha was awed by the transformation that came over the old woman, as she regained her vitality and began to laugh and smile. Dilshobha thought, how many of our parents are wasting away like this, unloved and uncared for?
On her birthday, Dilshobha decided she wanted to do something for someone, so she took a walk down the street and found several old beggar women. She asked them what they would like to eat and they requested some eggs, so she went home and prepared this food for them. Within a few days, the weather began to turn foul, and she felt worried for these old beggar women she had met. She went out and gathered them up and asked them to come to her house, where she helped to bathe them, feed them, and keep them warm. Now she was taking care of four elderly women, some of whom had essentially been cast aside like so much trash by their families. As they lived under her care, they recovered their strength and radiance.
Dilshobha didn't have a lot of money, but she wanted to be able to continue doing this, so she decided to rent out one of her flats, and then use the money from the rent to support herself and her wards as they lived together in her other flat. This arrangement worked for awhile, but over time, as Dilshobha took in several other destitute elderly people, she again felt strained to provide for them all. She asked some of her neighbors from time to time if they could spare some rice or lentils. The neighbors had noticed what she was doing and were happy to help, and gradually people began to donate food and cooking supplies and clothing to her. Dilshobha's daughter had also gone to America at this time, and began to send money home to her mother to help her out as well.
As Dilshobha's charity efforts grew, people began to talk about her all over the city. Once, a tour guide was giving foreigners a tour of Kathmandu. The tourists were moved to see poor beggars and street children begging on the streets, and they attempted to give money to them. The tour guide said, "If you really want to help, let me show you something." He took them to Dilshobha's house, where they found that she was caring now for about 20 elderly people, including men and a few street children. She told them about her guiding philosophy, which was that everyone needs at least three essentials -- maya (love or emotional warmth), nyano (shelter or environmental warmth), and tato (warm food) -- and she had dedicated her life to providing this to those in need. The tourists, deeply impressed by what they saw, gave money to her, and her name and the stories of her large heart began to spread around the world.
Just recently, Dilshobha, whose name means Beautiful Heart, was invited to visit the United States (by one of my wife's friends). She was warmly received by the Nepalese community here, and many have donated money and further supplies to her, as she is now caring for approximately 75 elderly individuals and 10 street children. An interviewer asked her what was the worst thing she had encountered in doing this work. She said she had once found an old woman on the street who was in such bad condition, she had maggots living in her back. She had also found people so covered in lice and filth that she had to discard her own clothes immediately after helping them to her home. But all of the people are now well cared for and loved. They have begun calling her, the Mother of Mothers.
One implication of the story is that the elderly are no longer respected or care-taken by their societies. Just recently after retiring from insurance I went to live with and take care of my mother for 6 months, who had fallen and broken her hip. It was a humongous challenge, since there are things about her I cannot abide. But abide I did, out of duty and compassion and remembering that she took care of a difficult child (me) for 18 years. When I left we arranged to have her move in with my sister, since she can no longer care for herself.
But as a whole US culture just throws the elderly aside and forgets them. The regressives want to privatize (decimate) Social security and Medicare.* They claim to be the Party of compassion, that to abort a fetus is murder and that its life is precious, yet take food and shelter away from the elderly and poor with budget cuts and give that money to the rich. "Well charity will take care of them" they say, as if that relieves them of any responsibility. Good thing we have religious charities to do so but they cannot handle the volume of low-income elderly. That's why society as a whole has created such government programs, as this is not only a religious but a civic duty to care for those that came before, those who worked hard their whole lives to give us a better life. Instead of behaving like spoiled children and hoarding our riches we should give back in gratitude to that generation that afforded us the opportunities to live a decent life.
Moral of this story: Vote out Republicans if you want a truly caring, compassionate society that takes care of its poor and elderly instead of disenfranchising them on top of the other abuses. Society must be the Mother of All Mothers, for only as a whole can we take care of the volume of those in need.
* Take Medicare as but one of numerous examples. Do regressives really thing turning this into a limited voucher system will work? For one, what insurance company is going to insure an elderly person with likely many pre-existing conditions that cost a lot of money? They certainly will not only not make a profit on this segment but lose heavily. And even if an elderly person manages to get the coverage the limited amount they'll get in the voucher will not come close to covering their yearly costs of care. If they're living on social security where will the money come from to pay for the rest of the expenses?