“Abundance is created when we have the sense to choose community, to come together to celebrate and share our common store. Whether the scarce resource is money or love or power or words, the true law of life is that we generate more of whatever seems scarce by trusting its supply and passing it around.” – Parker J. Palmer
Earlier this week, my former colleagues at Partners In Health marked the birthday of one of the organization’s founders, and its principal funder. Tom passed away in 2011, but the commemoration of his birthday and the celebration of his life are becoming a tradition at PIH. Telling stories about Tom helps to bring him alive for people who did not have the privilege of knowing him personally, as I did.
When I think about Tom – which this week has been often – I think about generosity, in the fullest sense of the word. Tom gave money, yes, and a considerable amount over the course of his long life. But he gave generously of his trust. Tom never needed to witness someone’s suffering first-hand to know that it existed, and to be moved to respond. Tom also gave generously of his time. Some of my favorite memories involve Tom stopping by the office with a sandwich and just hanging out, telling stories about the Kennedys and World War 2. He gave time and attention to the homeless community in Harvard Square and to the individuals and charities he supported. He didn’t just write checks: he showed up, and he spent time.
Having Tom so front-of-mind this week has made me realize how dependent I am on the generosity of others: as a non-native and a stranger to the city; as an untested colleague; as a new friend. It is easy to overlook, as my transition and integration here don’t seem so very difficult on the surface. But with just a bit of reflection, I remember the waiter who saved us from a long night of guessing and Googling, and instead translated the restaurant’s entire Dutch menu table-side. I think of the colleagues who patiently explain office relationships and politics and cultural differences, and try to prevent me from making any fatal mistakes. And I see the one new friend I’ve made, who (though I don’t think he knows it) is single-handedly responsible for getting me to start biking around Amsterdam. Without these people – and dozens more – my experience here would be more confusing, less welcoming, and decidedly much less fun.
So I owe a debt, now, and need to extend that same generosity in return. To be a curious and respectful foreigner; a thoughtful and motivated colleague; a caring and present friend. And as Tom’s life showed me, such things can be found in abundance, if only we trust that sharing our gifts increases their store.
Finally, there’s a reminder to be generous to myself – to allow myself to make mistakes and get lost and feel alone and reach out for connection. We’re at the very start of a long journey – a little pacing and a little patience will help us on our way.