This I Believe

Esta - Reston, Virginia
Entered on August 3, 2006
Age Group: 65+
Themes: gratitude

I believe in the value of “Passing It On”. When great gifts are given to us, we can never repay the giver, but we can and we should pass on the gift the best way we can.

Many years ago I was a teacher at a private girls’ school in Australia. I was divorced, raising two young children on a female teacher’s salary and tutoring private students every night to try to make ends meet. In an attempt to gain more experience, I applied for a Fulbright Teacher Exchange Scholarship to America. I had little faith in my suitability as a candidate, but to my surprise and delight, I was accepted. What a thrill, what an opportunity, BUT–in the midst of my excitement, I realized that while the scholarship paid MY way to America, it did not pay for my children. I would have to abandon the idea.

One evening, before I had gathered up the strength to reject the scholarship, I received a phone call from the father of twin girls in my senior year literature class. He wanted to come and talk to me. He was a wealthy and influential man so I was excited at the prospect that he wanted me to pay me to give his daughters private tutoring. When we met in my office the next evening, he sat down and went straight to the point. “You may not interrupt me and you may not say “no” to what I am going to do.” I nodded affirmatively, expecting perhaps tutoring TWO nights a week for the girls. He continued, in the same directive tone of voice. “I have cancer and probably will not survive more than 6 months… No…no… don’t say anything. It is my turn to speak. I have heard about your offer of a Fulbright Scholarship.” He reached in his pocket. “You have been a great teacher and a great inspiration for my daughters”, he said, “and now it is my turn to pass it on to your children.” He handed me a check that easily covered the cost of my children’s fares to and from America! I was dumbfounded. He stood up immediately and walked towards the door. “I do not want you to say anything,” he said, “But I do want you to promise me that you will pass it on!”

I fell in love with America; I fell in love with and married an American and I began work in a new field: training people in the poorest countries of the world to write and produce radio and TV dramas that encourage life-saving health-related behavior change. And I have had the joy of seeing the results of this work, as women are given better ante-natal care; children are vaccinated; young people learn to protect themselves from HIV. Whenever those with whom I work thank me for the skills I have taught them, I reply with Chester Guests’ words: “Don’t thank me, but please, promise me that you will pass it on.”