Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Holiday Service

Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma, California, USA

Christmas Day, December 25, 2005



This essay, Holiday Service, is the first in a group of eight written on Christmas Day:
  1. Holiday Service
  2. Out Of My Head
  3. How To Enroll The World
  4. Holiday Service II
  5. A Game Worth Playing
  6. Peace On Earth And Good Will To All People: A Possibility
  7. Five Star Restaurant
  8. Direct Experience
in that order.

I am indebted to the homeless people of our planet our planet who inspired this conversation.




Christmas past and the Holidays over the last twenty years was for me, a man of humble beginnings, awesome. We spent the Holidays at the premier ski resorts of the world replete with après ski  to die for. Or sailing warm gulf waters in freedom class  yachts or luxury one hundred foot power cruisers. There may have also been the occasional private jet that ferried us to and from various European playgrounds. No, not a Lear. A privately owned custom cabin Boeing 727. That's a whole other league.

Somewhere in there I also recall the Holidays in Lawrence Rockefeller's United States Virgin Islands, vacationing in private mansions right on the beach, a short walk across the sands to yachts we sailed lazily through the bejeweled islands of the deep blue Caribbean.

I loved those halcyon times. I really did, even though I was only ninety percent comfortable with them. They were remarkable times during which I was the beneficiary of staggering generosity which required I purchase new suitcases to trek a mountain of newly acquired gifts home.

Yet even during those extraordinary vacations I envisioned doing something else  for the Holidays. This year I finally decided I was going to. What I wanted to do was prepare and serve Christmas dinner for homeless people. I wanted Christmas and the Holidays to be about serving  rather than be about receiving. I was clear serving homeless people would be a remarkable experience. It was. And when I started to plan and schedule the occasion, I was as yet unprepared for something else I later discovered which was even more remarkable and totally unexpected.

At the beginning of December I called the institution in Napa, my home town in California, best known for preparing and serving meals for homeless people on Christmas day, to inquire about serving. I was told a coordinator would call me back. When the call came it was not  what I expected at all.

The coordinator thanked me for offering to serve. Then she asked me not  to come. She had too many volunteers, too many people offering to serve. In their limited workspace, more volunteers would actually interfere with things working.

I called all the other institutions in Napa who feed homeless people on Christmas day. I got the same response. "Please don't  come. We have too many volunteers.".

"That's interesting" I thought. "Too many  volunteers? Wow!".

Still intent on serving homeless people on Christmas day, I called similar institutions in Vallejo, a neighboring town. None of them were open to offers to volunteer either. The responses were exactly the same. Don't come etc. We have too many volunteers.

It was only after I moved on to and got the same response from all the institutions in San Francisco, fifty miles away, that I realized something profound about people and the Holidays which blew me away. People want  to serve. People come forward in droves  to serve. People stand in line  to serve. And furthermore, people start standing in line to serve in December in May! If you haven't found a place to serve on Christmas day by late September, the chances are, at least in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, you won't find a place to serve at all.

I finally found an opportunity to serve in Sonoma, another neighboring town. I showed up just after 7:00am, dodging through mud puddles on a delightfully overcast and drizzly Christmas day.

There were turkeys by the truckload to clean and prepare. There were loaves of bread by the bushel to slice. There were onions and potatoes, turnips and parsnips, carrots and chard, boxes and boxes and bags and bags of vegetables to clean, peel, and slice. There were tables to lay. There was all the resulting waste (organic, recyclable, and outright trash) to manage.

Volunteers came from all walks of life. Young. Old. Professional. Retired. Disabled. English. Latino. Local. People like me who had traveled to avail themselves of the opportunity to serve. There were no designated leaders, I noticed. There was just a job to be done. And Boy, did it ever get done! I blinked ... and rows and rows of turkeys were cleaned and laid out in basting trays ready for the ovens. I blinked again ... and bags and bags of vegetables suddenly, magically, became sliced and diced and were reincarnated as salad in huge bowls each a yard in diameter. I blinked again ... and sixty or seventy tables were set replete with crockery, cutlery, candles, decorations, fresh loaves of bread, butter and cheese, and each place mat was a crayon drawing on paper made and contributed by local schoolchildren. Each table groaned  with plenty.

"That's interesting" I thought. "No leaders. No one yelling instructions or calling the shots. The only thing running this show is the community Spirit of Service. And everything  is getting done that needs to get done. Wow!".

Hours flew by in seconds. The day was brilliantly executed from start to finish. Donors donated. Volunteers volunteered. Preparers prepared. People were served. I loved the entire experience, everything about it. This, truly, is what the Spirit of Christmas and the Holidays is really all about. But the part that really got me was what was written all over the faces of the people who showed up for the meal. It's beyond description. In the midst of plenty, and especially in the midst of plenty in the United States, when you stop to think about it, it's not acceptable that people have no homes, that people go to bed at night hungry, that some people don't even have a bed to go to at night. To lay the lie to "that's the way it is" is its own reward.

A disheveled man came up to me in a dirty coat with tears streaming down his cracked cheeks. He looked me dead in the eye and was quiet for a moment while he collected his thoughts and held my hand. Then he said hoarsely "Thank You! Just Thank You! Please have a drink on me as a small token of my gratitude.". He proffered a hip pocket size bottle of Jack Daniels. Without flinching I took it and drained the last few drops it contained. How sweet it tasted!

* * *

However you spend the Holidays has potential for joy and greatness. But this I tell you: if you want to experience a totally new dimension of the Spirit of the Holidays, if you want to experience the best kick ass  celebration of the generosity of humanity you can imagine, then get out there and serve.



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