“Friendship is the purest human expression of God’s love, because it springs not from any dictates of biological or social instincts but from the free-will choice of the heart.”Paramahansa Yogananda, The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You
“Devotees Helping Devotees––and Others Too” continues its series with this story about devotees expressing divine friendship during the world health crisis. The potentially deadly virus has made dramatic changes in our lives in so many ways. Many elderly people have had significant difficulties adjusting to the stay-at-home directives. Devotees have responded to these challenging times in various ways including planning and hosting a virtual birthday celebration, shopping for elderly devotees, and bringing joy to a lonely mother.
Celebrating a Phoenix Devotee’s 85th Birthday Online
A beautiful and inspiring example of the kind of friendship that Master describes is the remarkable virtual celebration of Lisa Koschka’s 85th birthday. Lisa has been an SRF devotee for more than 40 years and an ardent supporter of the SRF Phoenix Temple, serving as bookroom coordinator and fund-raising for projects. Much loved and appreciated for her kindness, generosity, and loyal service to our Guru, she has been the recipient of joyous birthday celebrations in the past.
But this past May 5 (notably, also the birthday of Rajarsi Janakananda) was perhaps the most dramatic and unusual of all: a Zoom birthday bash with 38 close friends and relatives who spanned the nation and even Israel, Austria (her birthplace), and Brazil. In addition to the accolades and good wishes, this birthday celebration included a comprehensive photo montage of her life, and a touching video “Find Lisa” supposedly narrated by her cherished Maltese dog, Rootie. Chris Dempsey, a fellow devotee at the Temple, created these heartwarming, remarkable tributes.
At a Sunday service, Brother Devananda had asked the members ”what do you want people to say about you on your 85th birthday?” Chris took this to heart. “I decided that I had to make Lisa’s 85th birthday something big.” Unfortunately, the corona virus interfered with the planned party. Chris discussed his intentions with a fellow devotee, Jaya Rao, who suggested a virtual event.
With his background in Information Technology, Chris was able to create the virtual event with the latest Zoom technology. But Chris went far beyond a mere celebration. “I was raised with the concept that to make a gift really meaningful, you should make it yourself,” he explained.
As a hobby, he enjoys writing stories so decided to write a story about how he and his wife, Cheyenne, met Lisa, as told by her dog, Rooti. And rather than creating a print story, he was inspired to use computer software, iMovie, that made it possible for Rooti to narrate the video.
Additionally, Chris obtained numerous photos of Lisa from her nephew in Austria and a number of other sources. He compiled them into an eight-minute photo show of her life for viewing by those participating in the virtual party. He created a schedule for the joyous event and sent it to her friends and family. In all, there were at least 38 participants who started the festivities by viewing the photo show. This was followed by a time for virtual socializing and singing Happy Birthday to a radiant Lisa and watching her blow out the candles on her chocolate mousse pie (she doesn’t like birthday cake). After enjoying Rooti’s video, the day concluded with a 45-minute compilation video of birthday wishes for Lisa, created by Chris before the event.
Shopping for Home-bound Devotees
Even though she works full time and is in her sixties herself, Cherie who lives in Encinitas, California, compassionately shopped for some elderly devotees whose ages and health issues prevented them from venturing from their homes during the pandemic. Not only did she do food shopping at different grocery stores, she also took her time to shop at several big box stores for them.
“I made sure they got what they needed and I was very happy to do it,” Cherie told me when we spoke. “I offered to help them; they didn’t ask. I saw a need and knew I could help. I try to do for other people what I would do for myself or my family.”
Each person gave her a list of items and to be sure they got their preferred brands, Cherie phoned from the store to verify purchases if she had any questions. “In those early months, some items weren’t in stock so I wanted to make sure the substitutions were alright,” she added. “Sometimes I had to stand in long lines just to get into the store.”
One devotee who was the recipient of her kindness commented, “We are so grateful for her unconditional service. Cherie got us through the most difficult times and we are so thankful.”
In Hollywood, California, Mel Damodaran and his wife were the recipients of similar help from devotee neighbors who have been buying groceries for them.
“These kind devotees, plus online shopping and delivery, have enabled us to stay at home and never do any kind of shopping trips during the coronavirus stay-at-home days thus far,” he said. “I believe Master and Divine Mother are taking care of us through these kind souls. Bless their hearts!”
Bringing Joy on Mother’s Day
Bonnie Innes of Encinitas, California, knew that this year’s Mother’s Day would be different because of the pandemic. Her three sons live outside of the US—one in South Korea, one in Toronto, and another in Vancouver. So her Mother’s Day could not be with her sons as she would have liked.
“The day before Mother’s Day, three different couriers had come to my door with flowers and balloons, only to find themselves at the wrong address. It hadn’t made me sad, but I had felt a little wistful,” Bonnie recounted.
But thanks to the kindness of a fellow SRF devotee, Barbara Roberts, her day turned from wistful to wonderful. Barbara did what her sons couldn’t and gave her a cheerful Mother’s Day balloon.
“I caught her just as she was leaving it on my doorstep, tied to a bag,” Bonnie said. “She smiled and assured me that my sons would have done the same thing if it had been at all possible.”
The ideal of guru-seva is exemplified by these devotees and many others who have performed selfless acts of service for fellow devotees during the COVID-19 pandemic.