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March 26, 2014

Let the circle be unbroken

Ada —    “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

   I’ve been visiting our exchange partner universities in Brazil.  Quite frankly it has been a very humbling experience.  I’ve visited university after university; student after student, and I’ve received nothing but warm hospitality.  Our former students and their families pour out gratitude toward me.  

   And I’ve done nothing to deserve it.

   These students have had wonderful experiences with Pittsburg State, and there was only one of them who I’d ever even met before.  To the rest, I was a symbol of the wonderful experiences they had had because of the work done by other people.  

   There are stages of learning.  We can mouth the words and go through the motions before we have a full understanding, but there was a moment there in Caxias do Sul when I had the realization that none of the hospitality I was received was about me.  

   It did feel like a bolt of lightning went from my head all the way down to my feet.

   I don’t know how others react to situations like this. I got just a little bit scared. The way I react will reflect not only on me but on my university and my community.  

   And the gratitude these students feel is due to the efforts not only of the university but also the community as well.  I heard it in Caxias do Sul, and I heard it two days later in Sorocaba: the students love the bicycles they get from Don Smith. It had been ten years since one of these students had been here, and he is still grateful for the bicycle.

   They themselves had received something because of something someone else did, and it had an effect on them.

Joy, love, gratitude: You cannot put them in a jar; you cannot weigh them. Some smart aleck somewhere will say they are just chemicals in the brain, but if that is true, how can they pass through the air by means of a smile? How can they come in the ear through the sound of a song?

  “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days,” saith the Preacher. He was saying that if you do good, it will come back to you. That is true, but doing good also has a multiplying effect sometimes. When you plant a seed, sometimes that seed falls on poor soil and nothing happens, but sometimes it falls on good soil and comes back manyfold.

   Many of these students from Brazil, from abroad, have been raised well. They have parents that not only care but know how to care.  They don’t raise their children as if they were raising a wild squirrel by throwing it a French fry now and then. They teach them: “Yes, sir,” “Yes, ma'am,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” and so forth.  

   They’ve taught them the very important concept of gratitude. It warms my heart; it inspires me; it makes me humble. It makes me grateful.

   But I am only a vagabond in this land far south of the Amazon. I stay in one place only a small measure of days before I hop a plane for someplace else. I am not set up to reciprocate gratitude. All I receive gets built up inside me and cannot yet be shared until I get home.

   And so I receive another epiphany.  Receiving love and gratitude for something you’ve not done builds up pressure to reciprocate.

   When I get home to a place where I can reciprocate, I must find a suitable symbol to receive what I have to give. They must be people who can’t do anything for me or this doesn’t work. Let the circle be unbroken.

   Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, has been married to the same woman for nigh on to three decades; he and his wife have three daughters and one grandson. Bobby blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com.

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