The five of us spent a long weekend this past July exploring the western side of our home state of Virginia, puttering down and then back up the Shenandoah Valley. It was a fun few days of exploring places we had never been before. We found downtown Roanoke to be delightfully eclectic and Natural Bridge State Park to be rightfully impressive but, more than any other stop on our trip, we really loved the little town of Lexington, Virginia.
Lexington is home to two universities that sit, quite literally, side by side: Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. We set out to explore both while we were in town. We learned that Washington and Lee was named to honor, in part, George Washington. He saved the school from what was certain closure in 1796 through the gift of about $20,000 in stock. A gift that, at the time, was tremendous. It allowed the university to stay afloat and continue operations.
A friend had recommended touring the Lee Chapel while we were on campus so we headed there next. We were probably the only ones on the tour that didn’t know Robert E. Lee’s history with the university or that he was buried in the basement with the majority of his family members only one floor removed from where we were standing. The chapel itself was simple but lovely and, as we learned from the docent, had been saved from ruin in the 1960s by a corporate benefactor that funded the restoration of the trusses that give the chapel its beautiful curved interior ceiling.
A building we would not be standing in on a campus that would no longer exist if not for the generosity of others.
When our summer travels took us back to the Midwest earlier this month, we decided to break up the long drive with an overnight stop near Pittsburgh. I booked a hotel and messaged a lovely friend I met earlier this year that I remembered lived nearby. I asked if she’d like to meet up for dinner and we made plans to pick a restaurant. When I mentioned I’d have my family with me, she didn’t even hesitate to suggest that we all congregate at her house instead and order in pizza. “The kids can jump on the trampoline and run around,” she explained. I’d never been to her home or met her children or husband nor had she met mine but when she realized we’d all be there, after traveling a fair distance in the car, she was quick to offer an evening that would be easier on everyone.
During that same trip home, a neighbor from the street I grew up on made the same offer when I asked about grabbing lunch together while we were in town. I used to babysit her kids when I was Henry’s age and I had not seen her or her husband in way too long. She didn’t even blink before suggesting we all congregate at her house for lunch. Which we did, spending a glorious afternoon in her home and on her back deck, enjoying great food and great company and gorgeous midwest summer weather which is better than anyone else’s summer weather anywhere. It was so much more pleasant than navigating a restaurant with my three kids.
Two generous women, crafting some of our favorite memories of the trip through something as simple as hospitality.
Millie has recently taken up skateboarding. She borrows Charlie’s board and helmet and tools around the garage or the nearby school’s playground. I’m not surprised. Millie and skateboarding: makes sense. Last weekend, she convinced Bob to take her to Starbucks and then over to the skate park in the neighboring town. Bob said yes. Bob always says yes.
Now, the skate park is an intimidating place. The first time we took Charlie there, he was too overwhelmed to enter the fray. But, Millie wanted in. In with all of the people that really know how to skate. The experts whizzing by without helmets and knee pads – or shirts – doing fancy footwork and trick moves. It’s all very busy. Except for the teenager there early that Saturday morning that wasn’t too busy to spend 45 minutes teaching Millie some basic skateboarding skills. Bob relayed the story about how kind and patient this kid was. I was surprised and also touched at how much time he had spent with her.
Turns out, Bob said the kid was there with his father who was also helpfully pointing out useful things his kid could teach Millie.
Generational generosity, taught by example.
I’ve been looking for more ways to be generous. Looking for more ways to give of my time, my talents, my voice, my money. It’s so easy to get busy and frazzled and to forget. Forget to help. The teacher that needs a room parent. The friend that needs a night out. The kid that needs an unbelievable amount of patience.
Generosity is rarely about the big stuff, like saving a university. It’s really all about the other stuff – the smaller stuff.
My hope is that we all find ways to be more generous. To recognize a need and step in to fill it.
Can’t hurt, might help, as the saying goes.