I had been on the trail for nearly four hours already and the heat was getting to me also. Usually, the moment I approach a trailhead I am transposed to a spiritual and soothing mental place. A place where my mind is at ease and the mysteries of the universe seem a little less daunting. A place where all the worries and hassles of my everyday life fall by the wayside.
However, on this day, I struggled to find that metaphysical plane. The heat was overwhelming and more than once I pondered the idea of throwing in the towel. So when I approached the woman, my initial thought was to say hello and keep on ascending, assuming some hikers behind me would help her. But I knew she needed some help. Now was not the time to let my selfishness creep into the fold.
I quickly guided her to some shade and helped her cool down. One of the challenges of hiking in California’s drought-ravaged mountains is the lack of natural water and this woman was clearly paying the price of that. I only had about 2 quarts of water left myself and I was to spend the night camping on San Gorgonio’s summit. More importantly, one of those quarts was earmarked for the all-important morning coffee. This was getting serious.
All kidding aside, I never even thought twice about it and promptly gave her almost my entire supply of water, as well as my last four electrolyte tablets. I had consumed close to 6 liters of water at the two water sources farther down the mountain, so I wasn’t really too concerned about my own well-being.
My new friend and I sat in the shade for nearly 90 minutes until her friends returned. I resisted the urge to lecture them on leaving a foundering climbing partner on their own at 10,000 feet. I went up, they went down.
Later that evening, while I lay under the stars on the summit enveloped in a warm feeling of contentedness and happiness, a famous quote by Gandhi kept entering my mind. The Mahatma once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” It was a quote I heard at an AA meeting early in my recovery and it I have carried it with me ever since.
I am under no pretensions that my actions earlier that day on the trail were heroic or even worthy of discussion. But what is mentionable is the immediate shift in my conscience as I reconvened my ascent having helped a fellow human being. It’s not like I drug her from a burning building, or donated a kidney to her. I just lent a hand to a fellow human. Nothing more, nothing less.
A few weeks ago, I was speaking on the phone with my mother, who lives in New Hampshire. As most discussions with her go, the topic eventually turned to my newfound journey of recovery. She asked me what the biggest difference is from the person I am now and the person I was up until April 15, 2013 — the day I arrived at Rock Solid Recovery, badly losing the war against addiction.
That was an easy question to answer.
Before I got sober, I was a swarm of locusts, consuming every possible resource a person could offer me, leaving nothing but the dirt in which the crops of love and trust once thrived. My addiction made me indifferent to people’s feelings, and I stopped at nothing to take anything I could — money, emotions, love, feelings....you name it.
“Well Mom,” I said, trying to hold back my emotions. “When I used to meet people, my first reaction was, ‘What can I get from that person?’ Now, my first reaction when I meet someone is, “What can I do to help that person?’”
My program of recovery is very far from perfect. But being of service is the key ingredient to my daily regiment. On days when helping my fellow humans is top priority, things usually go remarkably well. However, on days when I am not, I quickly find myself reverting to my old, selfish, self-seeking behaviors.
At last count, there were 7.4 billion people on this planet. This ball of water we call Earth is a cacophony of chaos and pandemonium. Every single person that calls Earth their home is going 100 mph trying to evade the potholes and pitfalls on the road of life. Just getting through a day can be a taxing journey in itself. The problem is, we as humans, are predisposed to take the path of least resistance. Like water flowing downhill, we would rather take the easy way than the right way, which often times seems like a chore.
But how hard is it to hold a door for a person, or help an elderly person cross the street, or give $5 to a homeless person? The answer is, it’s not hard at all. It just takes a modicum of effort. We all have “love” coursing through our veins. It’s just a matter of harnessing it in an outwardly fashion.
Can you imagine the harmony and unity that would encapsulate this planet if every person executed one gesture of service every day? Maybe John Lennon knew what he was talking about.