Holiday Reflections

This is the first time in 13 years that I will spend the holiday season in this country. So if you see me shaking in a corner, please turn off the Christmas music, I’ll be okay soon.

One aspect of the holiday season is giving. And many years ago my husband Will and I decided that instead of giving our kids “stuff” each year, we would give them the experience of travel.

We have gained so much from our travels.  All of us are thankful for our personal blessings. We are grateful for the benefits of living in the United States – freedoms that we can too often take for granted, definitely infrastructure. We are appreciative of the strengths and beauty of other cultures. We are humbled  by the generosity we have been given by the people we have met as we traveled.

On many occasions – in India, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Chile, Japan —  people have invited us into their homes. And others are eager to help us to make us feel welcome – though sometimes in funny ways. In Jaisalmer India, they set a special table for us Christmas eve – completely filled with junk food and soda – so you can guess what they think of American eating habits. Last year in Sri Lanka, we stayed at a small guest house (there was one other family there) where they prepared a traditional meal with turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans, brought to our table on lovely platters. But all cold – and not just room temperature — but completely cold as if it had been prepared ahead and refrigerated. We recognized their hard work and effort and ate everything with gratitude.

Because we have been well treated, we want to be generous in turn. It was hard to explain to our kids that giving money or even pencils to beggar children was not a good thing. Instead we talked about other ways we can help. In Argentina, we saw the devastation Beavers have made to the forests in Ushuaia and I came home and made a donation to a local environmental organization. Another time, we were walking through a small village in Cambodia and noticed everyone looking at us and pointing. “Haven’t they seen westerners before?” I asked our guide. “Yes,” he replied, “But they are all commenting on your daughter’s hair.” For those of you who have met Sarah you know she has amazing long, thick curly hair. Both this time and others, she consented to let people come closer to have a look. For we learned that just as we come to other countries to see how they live and dress and eat, we are ambassadors of our country and our hosts want to learn about us too.

So our travels have taught us that generosity takes many shapes and forms.  Generosity can be like Social Venture Partners – about philanthropy and volunteering. But generosity is also about opening your home to strangers. And about opening your heart and mind to learn and listen, to be respectful and grateful of different cultures. So we have learned that there is not usually a best way or a better way but a different way. And we are all richer for the diversity.

I would like to finish with a toast — here’s to a happy, healthy – and generous – new year.

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