Service, to me, is about thinking of others even before I think of myself. On thinking about others, let me share one of my Rotary moments. I had just joined my Rotary club, and the club organised a limb camp. Here we were, distributing calipers, artificial limbs, and hand cycles. Every member was given some responsibility and so was I. I was to check if the beneficiary of the hand cycle had enough strength in his hand to ride the tricycle by his hands. And I was to do this by asking the beneficiary to pull my hand, so that I could fathom the strength in his hands.
As I stood in my designated spot, waiting for the beneficiary to come, I saw him crawling towards me. He had no legs, so he had to crawl towards me. I stretched my hands to hold his, and I’ll be honest, in that moment, I was thinking about me and not about him. I was thinking about my cleanliness, my health. I did not want to hold his hand. But I did it and kept thinking of myself for the second and third set of hands. But suddenly after the sixth, seventh set of hands, my empathy towards their plight grew and soon enough I could feel their pain, their challenges, and I was thinking more about them than I was thinking of myself.
It was at that moment when from being just a member of my Rotary club,I became a Rotarian. Soon I started attending more club projects. As a Rotarian, when I had first gone out to the rural areas of India 35 years back, I truly understood the plight of my brethren. They had no toilets in their homes, the water they drank was from the same pond that they bathed in, the schools were in the shade of a tree, and the black painted wall was the only blackboard in the school.
The nearest health centre was a few miles away with basic facilities. And then, through my Rotary club, we helped set up toilets, provided clean drinking water, enhanced the education system, and set up world-class health facilities, not just in my community or my city, but in my country. Rotary kindled the spark within me to look beyond myself and embrace humanity. Service became a way of life for me and my life’s guiding philosophy became, “Service is the rent I pay for the space I occupy on this earth.”
And I want to be a good tenant of this earth. You may have provided eyesight to the blind, food to the hungry, homes to the homeless. They may have been small opportunities for service or large projects. More than just the size, it is the attitude that defines service. Gandhi was once getting up on a train. Even as he was getting up on the train, the train started moving and one of his slippers fell off.
Gandhi’s immediate reaction was to throw his other slipper to where the previous one had fallen. His friend was traveling with him and asked him, “Why did you do that?” Gandhi said,“ Someone will find that slipper. What good will be one slipper to him? So I threw the other.” Friends, it was a small act of service, but I think it was a big attitude of service. Are we also ready to think of others before we think of ourselves? As Rotarians, we can do just that.