This I Believe

Linda - Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
Entered on September 7, 2007

I believe in Paul. Paul is my neighbor and an all-around good guy. He has raised the bar on the concept of loving thy neighbor to unparalleled heights, and I feel privileged to call him friend. When my husband and I moved to our current home 3 years ago, Paul was the first one at our door to welcome us to the neighborhood. He was a recent arrival himself, but his modus operandi is simply to introduce himself to everyone he meets and find out what they have in common. In our case, the commonality was my Scandinavian ancestry, which immediately admitted us to a wonderful circle of people in the community; including a half-dozen Norwegian doctors who belonged to an international work exchange at the local hospital, a Swedish airline pilot and his American wife (also a pilot), and an assortment of other local residents from all walks of life. In our first year here, we dined in more of our neighbors’ homes, went to more parties, and generally felt more a part of the community than we had ever experienced in any of our previous homes. Paul was always calling on the spur of the moment to invite us to a potluck picnic, go hiking on our section of the Appalachian Trail, or sit in on the proceedings of the town council.

The last is important because Paul is also a dedicated proponent of local activism, which he practices personally and professionally with grace and enthusiasm. He is a professional civil servant who takes the title seriously. He works for the United States State Department, trying hard to compensate for the ‘ugly American’ image that so much of the world sees. When we first met, he was a liaison officer, meeting visiting dignitaries and putting them at ease, a job he clearly loved and was excellent at. Then he found about an opportunity for a short-term position on the embassy staff in Rwanda. He had been trying to get into the diplomatic corps for years, and this was a step in the right direction. In fits and starts, the opportunity finally resolved itself into a 4 month assignment. Paul was ecstatic. We missed having him in town, but the email reports he sent back periodically were wonderful. Seeing the people and geography through his eyes was almost like being there. But he wasn’t behaving like the average bureaucrat; Paul got to know his staff and took them on outings. They were local people who got to go to the nearby national game preserve and see elephants, rhinoceroses, and lions for the first time in their lives. Paul knew all their names, their children’s names, what they did, and what their lives were like. He insisted that they attend public events, like concerts and embassy movie nights. In short, he treated them like real people.

After returning home, he was rewarded for his successes with a 2 year assignment as a cultural attaché in Zimbabwe, which is now half over. Once again, Paul refuses to maintain status quo: he feeds his staff at his table, buys school uniforms for their children, includes them in social and cultural activities, and tries to make all the difference one man can make. Paul has redefined the title ‘civil servant’ – taking the literal meaning to heart and making his way in the world with utmost compassion and civility, while doing his best to serve both his country and his neighbors, wherever they are.