In 1995, the summer before my first trip to India with my university, I drove across America by myself. I was driving my grandmother's six cylinder Buick, pulling a six-foot trailer packed with my “life,” as I was planning on living in North Carolina, USA, forever. I love my country, the land, the people. They are truly unique. The idea of permanently living in North Carolina, however, shortly changed a few months later, when I traversed Indian soils. “You know, Susan, they say that once you set foot in India, you are never the same,” my sister told me before I left. I wondered how this would be true.

My first impressions of India centered around Ahmadabad, Gujarat, and Mahatma Gandhi's ashram. I cried every day, for a week. On my first ever rickshaw ride, tears streamed down my face as we rounded the Gandhi statue. My heart was opening up to a new spiritual life, to new possibilities, to radical change. I didn't know what was happening to me, but God certainly spoke to me in a different way than I had known previously.

Sometimes our relationship with God expands when we are exposed to different cultures, different people. I certainly felt a another kind of freedom inside. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others,” Gandhi says. And it is true. When we are busy serving and helping humanity, all of the “little things that bother us” fade into the background, because God is so great.

And I pondered this the other day as I sat in our local resident association meeting, our neighbor's monthly gathering. On this day they were giving out awards to the children of our neighborhood who had participated in the Onam drawing contest. Earlier that week, my husband and I had stopped in at our neighbor's house to see the children in action. We didn't “have” to drop by, but we did, because that's what good neighbors do. They take an interest, which serves the community in some good way. Later, at the resident's association meeting we sat in the living room. This was my mother in law's community of 50 years, and I felt her presence here. We were gathered, Muslims, Hindus and Christians. The president opened the meeting, calling for a silent prayer. My heart was so touched to feel this community's pulse. That they had asked me to pass out the awards, was such an honor. Inwardly I wanted to burst out with joy, with tears. Only after I returned home, upon reflecting with my husband, did I really express my emotions. And with much grace, Mother India embraces me.