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Spirituality Essay:

The Vat    ( June 2006 )

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I once ran the local Big Brothers and Sisters agency; one of the components was checking in regularly with all participants.

A phone call to one of the moms once opened an important insight for me into life. She was describing the change in her 9-year-old son since he'd gotten a Big Brother four months earlier. She related how he had come home from school one day, telling of a Volkswagen some pranksters had overturned that he'd seen from the school bus. He was upset, saddened. She noted this reaction . . . he was different . . . before, he would have come home laughing about it: how funny that car upside down.

But he was different now. Because of this Big Brother. He was relating to the situation with new instincts: from the owner's perspective. All the caring, the fun, the valuing - the love! - the Big Brother had given him had changed his heart. The Big Brother had filled this hurting boy's heart . . . . and now he was able to give back love to another (caring for the car's owner).

I think I see us humans as "vats." Big containers or barrels . . . We're born "full" I believe - it's in our genes that we want to give and love and take care of others. Along the line, in our early childhood primarily, we get hurt. Holes appear in our vats, and our love-essence starts seeping, or worse, leaking out. We hurt and become needy; we need nurturing, filling up again. (And if that balance isn't restored, alas, we start shutting down, drifting likely into pain-numbing dysfunctional behaviors and addictions).

Going a step further -- just as that young boy's holes his abandoning father had created were filled in by the Big Brother, which enabled his love-essence to accumulate and then naturally spill, over the top, into others' lives -- we're all, I think, party to this dynamic. Each of us has holes - it's human. Small ones hopefully - but we do need other's ongoing love and valuing (to stay "full"). As we receive it, I believe our genetic predisposition to start sharing it with others kicks in, and we can't help but start returning it to the world.

We can't be phony givers, but I do believe we can push a little more of our natural love out into the world. As we do - from a smile to a stranger on the street to wholehearted selfless giving to our loved ones - we refill their vats. So their love can then spill over into others' lives. Ours as well.

And the whole circle just keeps on going and going - and getting bigger.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
Read more Spirituality Essays
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