This post comes to you from a corner of the couch, where I am happily curled up with a sleeping dog, an uncalled for number of pillows and an old blanket passed down from my late grandmother. And what better place to be? Here in Cambridge we are battening the hatches for a snowstorm that should come in this evening, giving us that one more excuse not to go into the office tomorrow. Snowstorms are terrible for commuting but great for reflection.
In anticipation of a snowy day tomorrow, I was in the office today going one-by-one through the donations and notes that all of you sent in for Growth Through Learning. Being a very, um…streamlined operation, we don’t have specialized departments or mass-production tools like, say, a postage meter. I won’t lie to you–there are moments when I would love to turn something over to the marketing department or call up human resources about that upcoming state filing deadline. But today was not one of those moments.
I love opening each envelope by hand to see what is inside. The checks are great, of course, but you would be surprised to know how many of the donations come with little handwritten notes, holiday cards, bits of history from longtime supporters. Today, I opened one note from a wonderful woman who is the sister of our late founder, Roger Whiting. In her note I was given just a glimpse of what this organization first looked like in the imagination of a man who had just come back from his first trip to Africa.
One of my favorite things to find in a donation letter is a note asking that we accept the gift in honor of someone else. We tend not to be so impressed by the “in honor of” language here as people are in East Africa, and I think that is a shame. In reality, a gift given in honor of someone else says a lot about everyone concerned. Honor often begins with love or affection; we receive many of these gifts given in honor of a grandparent, a child or a sibling. By its nature, however, honor is never a private thing. To honor someone is to make your respect and affection a matter of public importance and to ask that public to consider that this person demonstrates something worth emulating.
Those of us in the United States are sometimes uneasy with such public proclamations. We often honor one another in quiet, discreet ways to avoid any suggestion that we are attention-seeking (attention-seeking is a grave error here!). But I think the East Africans have it right. Honor comes from the need to make public the very best in us; to reinforce the qualities that foster trust, friendships, generosity, compassion for others, leadership and all of the other character traits that bind people together. Honor, it turns out, is an excellent antidote to the onslaught of forces that break us apart.
Thank you to everyone who sent in a gift. I hope you are all well-cared for and in good company this holiday season. I leave you all with a photo from our September trip. This is Caroline Lentupuru and (behind her) Elizabeth, who rose at sunrise every morning we were in the Rift Valley to make a breakfast of toasted bread, Kenyan fruit, homemade pancakes and local, wild honey that we all ate together in the shade of a tree. To our Rift Valley friends– you’re a long way from the snow-heavy air of New England but never far from our hearts!