The two-year old child was the most mature person in the room. While adults watched television, older kids wrestled for control of a blob of blue Play Doh they called the “giant meatball” and others played with a menagerie of plastic dinosaurs making ferocious noises, she sat in her stroller the picture of equanimity. She surveyed us all, young and old, the way that royalty surveys the crowd or the Secretary-General of the United Nations presides over a particularly raucous peace conference– benign, imperturbable, a still point in the chaos.
She reminded me of a small Buddha, ebony skin, braids, an embodiment of peace and serenity. We met because I volunteered to be an overnight host for the Family Promise program where we open up our church to families that would otherwise be homeless. Our Sunday school rooms become bedrooms. Our youth group room becomes a living room/playroom. Our church becomes a temporary house and a home. For the time being this child and her family are moving from congregation to congregation, week to week, until permanent housing becomes available. Such circumstances would test the equanimity of most of us.
Another volunteer and I kept an eye on this child while mom worked on a paper for a community college class in the next room. She appeared to have no separation anxiety. Shamans might call her an “old soul.” In Tibet the High Lamas travel from village to village, town to town, in search of the baby that might be the next incarnation of an Enlightened Being. They identify likely candidates and then perform a series of tests to verify their discovery. It wouldn’t have surprised me a bit if that evening a troupe of monks in their maroon and yellow robes had descended on us in that room and informed us that one such being was among us and that we should feel blessed by her presence.
In our case it was a myriad of volunteers who worked hard to make sure she received the respect she deserved. I am grateful to all the people who pitched in to make our Family Promise program work by grocery shopping, cooking meals, cleaning the kitchen, offering childcare, interacting with our guests, building community, providing logistical support and a thousand visible and invisible tasks.
The 19th century Unitarians taught that there is a divine spark in every person. The Zen Masters tell us that each one of us has Buddha Nature in us. My theory is that the light shines brighter and that “nature” is revealed more clearly in some. I have been known to expand on the sentiment of early Quakers and say, “There is that of God in every person – although it may not be readily apparent.” But I do believe that when we honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person and strive for a world where everyone has food, shelter and basic needs met then we all take a step toward becoming more enlightened beings.
Our guest families have moved on to another church now. Other people will help them on their journey. My universal prayer is for the well-being of everyone but my particular hope is that there is one little girl who will continue to know inner calm in the midst of the outward storms of life.