The Art of Generosity

A few weeks ago I was dining at one of our favorite restaurants. Our friendly waiter told us that he was exhausted. His wife’s family had immigrated from Shanghai and he had 17 people living in his tiny house, including one very bossy two-year-old. We marveled at his generous spirit, having put aside his own comfort for the needs of many. But his story is my husband’s as well. Without the generosity of his Aunt Sally, he would have never escaped from Communist China to a better life.

For several summers I was privileged to attend the Frost Place Poetry Festival in Franconia, New Hampshire. We were poets on the move, upwardly bound. We had talent, by God. Soon our words would be found in the likes of Poetry and the Atlantic Monthly, if only the famed guest poets would escort our poems to another level.

One man challenged our outlook with a gentle daily reminder. Donald Sheehan was the Director of the Festival and the embodiment of humility. I’ll never forget his understated wisdom: Take care of each other. Listen carefully. And if it comes down to heart vs head, sympathy vs intelligence, choose heart. While you are here for this week, it is your job to make one other person’s work stronger.

Whether author or artist, teacher or student, we are called to have a generous spirit. Yes, we want to make it in the world of publishing. Yes, we want others to fall in love with our work and to fall asleep with our words on their tongues. But to give back to another—whatever your talent, there is nothing nobler than this. The generous artist works to make another person’s work stronger....at least those are my words for today.

In memory of my mentor, Donald Sheehan