The unbridled squeal of joy a child exclaims when receiving a gift is something most of us are familiar with, whether that be in the role of a child or that of a parent. When I was a child in India, I remember the delight I felt when my father gave me a gift during the festival season. I vividly remember the twinkle in my father’s eyes and the wide grin on his face as he handed me the gift which he had been unsuccessfully hiding behind his back. More than the gift, I remember the feeling of warmth, protection, and love as he kissed me on the forehead, ruffled my hair, and wished me a happy festive season.
My father passed away when I was just 20 years old. Though the years have dulled, but never completely erased, the pain of losing a father, I choose to remember him through the experiences of joy and compassion we experienced as a family. One memory in particular that always springs to my mind when I think of him occurred on a cold winter day when I was a young girl. As we were walking home from the vegetable market, we came across an old homeless man huddled in front of a sweet shop. Shivering quite frightfully in the cold in clothes that had more holes than cloth, the old man was trying to sell small packets of napkins to passersby. As we walked down the street I saw numerous people walk in and out of the sweet shop without sparing a single glance at this man. I remember my father changing our path to cross the street in order to meet this man. My father greeted this man and began to ask him about his day and his family. The old man was startled that someone simply wanted to talk to him. He quickly warmed up and a smile lit up his face as he chatted with my father. He remarked that my father was the first person to genuinely speak with him in the weeks that he had spent selling on that street. The old man talked about how lonely it was to spend his days in a street full of people, yet feeling invisible as the vast majority of people looked past him as they went about their day. As a young child, I wanted to get out of the cold and go home. I impatiently tugged on my father’s arm and said that mother would be waiting for the vegetables. My father mischievously grinned at me, murmured “we’ll head home in a moment” and then proceeded to shock me, the old man, and everyone else on the street by removing his jacket and shirt and handing it to the old man. The old man could not believe that someone would be kind enough to give him the clothes off their own back. Bare-chested in the cold, my father walked home with me and seemed surprised when I asked him why he had done that. He replied “I have another coat and shirt at home, that man doesn’t have a home and much less a coat. More so than that shirt and coat warming that old man, my soul is warmed at seeing the joy on his face.”
I have had the good fortune of discovering the joy of giving and compassion from a young age thanks to the actions of my parents. After my father passed away, I became my family’s primary breadwinner. I put myself through nursing school and paid for the education of my two younger siblings. Numerous adversities and challenges that I experienced in my life, instilled in me a strong desire to find solutions for the pain and trials that I saw in those less fortunate around me.
I moved to Kuwait in 1989 with my husband, Mr Pinak Maitra. In Kuwait, I have had the opportunity to engage in social service, helping the destitute and those that have been abused. Each time I was able to alleviate suffering in some way, I felt a great happiness that material achievements could never equal. My nearly three decades in Kuwait have also shown me that Kuwait is a giving nation. It is the number one donor in the world measured as dollars given per Kuwaiti national. The UN awarded HH the Amir of Kuwait the Humanitarian Award in 2014 in recognition of this leadership in giving. Coincidentally, Kuwait is also ranked in the top 30% of happiest nations in the world. The 2018 World Happiness Report suggests that while income is important in determining happiness, there is more to life than income; furthermore, communities and nations actively participating in compassionate actions and engaging in genuine person-based interpersonal relations experience substantial increases in their happiness. Individuals and communities living in isolation, through financial, social, or physical boundaries, often show lower levels of happiness and fulfillment. In essence, compassion and community are active choices that enrich people and communities that consciously perform them.
This non-intuitive outcome, that compassion and generosity is as good for the giver as it is for the receiver is rooted in our creator. God is Love. God put this seed of love in all of us. This seed is what causes us to feel empathy for others. As we learn to love God more, the better distributors of God’s compassion we become. One visible way we experience this is when we as individuals or nations feel empathy for others in suffering and act on them. By regularly and actively engaging in compassion we also develop additional strengths, we become better vehicles of God’s forgiveness. The ability to forgive is a seemingly scarce commodity and I believe is at the heart of many problems experienced by families, communities and nations today. As we fast and pray in this season, each of us needs to ask ourselves this question: are we becoming more compassionate and better forgivers? If we are becoming better in both these areas, I am certain that we will become as individuals and nations better emissaries of God’s love.
By Ratna Maitra
Pastor/Founder Praise God Ministry