Mom and Apple Pie

Mom and Apple Pie

by Susan Downing

I’ve been writing in recent posts about how using gratitude meditation can help us when worry or fear or sadness grip our mind. This practice can help us regain peace of mind and replace mental distress with gratitude and joy.  But it isn’t the only way to transform our state of mind and free ourselves from our disturbing emotions.  Some people manage to do this taking productive action to help others.  Not long ago I met someone who takes this approach, and I want to tell you about her, because I think she might be as great an inspiration for you as she is for me.

Michele Cabral of West Springfield told me that when two of her three sons decided they wanted to join the army, she was concerned, as any mom would be.  And when the first of them deployed, she felt overwhelmed with worry.  She didn’t know what to do with herself or how to best deal with her fear so that it didn’t just consume her.  I imagine she developed her own inner methods for handling that fear when it would come up, but I don’t know about those.  What I do know is that she figured that she might worry less if she could find a productive way to honor the choice that her sons and other American troops had made and to support them in a visible way, on a large scale. And so she founded Care for Our Troops – Western Massachusetts.

Care for Our Troops sends out monthly care packages to American service men and women serving abroad.  I found out about CFOT from my friend Marianne, whose family has been involved with the group.  I started attending the monthly “packing parties” last month.  How it works is this:  volunteers gather together once a month in West Springfield, armed with whatever food or health and beauty aids or reading material they’d like to donate.  They lay everything out on the tables and then fill large Priority Mail boxes with as much stuff as will fit inside them.  The boxes are pre-addressed: anyone in the area who knows someone who’s serving can submit his or her name and address, and CFOT will send them packages for as long as they’re deployed.

When I began taking part, I immediately understood how helping out with this effort immediately transforms your state of mind.  Simply going shopping for food and other items to donate is very moving to me.  Knowing that these troops are far from home, it seems so important to choose items I think they’ll enjoy. I always want to send things that will help them feel cozy and pampered.

Michele clearly feels that way, too: this is a woman who devised a way to send out mini apple pies. Volunteers donate the apples, and then she makes up the pie filling.  She puts this filling into small canning jars, topping each one with a layer of crust, and bakes them, then seals them.  She told me, “We tested them on ourselves before we ever sent any.  We made them, let them sit on the shelf for six months and then tested them to make sure they were okay.”  Michele baked enough of these tiny pies for this month’s packing party that we were able to put six of them into each box we sent!

Next month the theme for the packages is Christmas cookies. Michele collects cookies that the volunteers have baked, then she and her helpers shrink-wrap them, so that they’ll make it to their overseas destinations intact and fresh.  Michele’s thinking maybe 500 dozen will go out this year.  Unbelievable.

The mood at the packing parties is both joyous and purposeful.  Everyone seems so glad to be doing something that will make the soldiers happy, grateful to have a way to show their gratitude and appreciation, even if they don’t know any of these men and women personally.  The people packing these boxes do it carefully, mindfully, with love. At the end of the party – which only lasts about half an hour – everyone is smiling and laughing. Uplifted by this act of caring for others.

And so, as a way to avoid being overwhelmed by fear about her sons, Michele devised this marvelous, active practice.  Then shared it with all of us, so that we, too, could transform our worry or fear or sadness into a heartfelt gift that brings joy not just to those who receive the care packages, but to us, too.

Thank you, Michele.

(If you would like to make a donation to CFOT or participate in the packing parties, you can contact Michele at CFOTroops@gmail.com, or visit the group’s Facebook page.)

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