"Do a little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world" – Desmond Tutu

Greatness? Fame and fortune? Fortune from fame? Fame from fortune? It does seem that often enough in human history, and even today, people come to believe that a connection exists between fame, fortune and greatness. There is a tendency to see as exemplars those who seek in one way or another the spotlight on life’s fashionable or established stages — stages where opening night and going dark are seemingly just moments apart. Of course, there are those who value something else — have another passion or talent that drives them, and who by accident also end up with fame and/or fortune.

Anyway, by linking fame and fortune to greatness we also link them to power and influence — placing the ability to control and shape in the hands of those who are not really interested in much beyond themselves and retaining the power others have given them. Many admire those who have fame and fortune. Unfortunately, in turn, the words of those with fortune and fame may get more attention than the words and deeds of those who weave the fabric of life around us day to day – those who hold within them a different kind of greatness — a singular power to shape the lives they touch and, in turn, to shape the world around them by the rippling impact of what they do. Imperfect people thought they may be (that we all are).

The woman on the front of this card came to the U.S. from County Mayo, Ireland, alone, when she was about 17. She didn’t know anyone in the U.S., and she indentured herself (more by misunderstanding than intention) to earn the money for the trip. In the picture, she (Nora) is coming out of the kitchen of a three-room apartment in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she lived for more than 60 years with her husband (Fred), who came to Ohio from Baden-Baden, Germany. They lived in one of four three-room apartments in an old house, in a neighborhood of immigrants and others struggling to make ends meet. Bathing and laundry took place in a shared utility sink in the attic two flights up. They also shared those three rooms with their seven children.

In the picture, she has on one of the aprons she wore most days, and she is holding on to one of the big pots that played a central role in most of her cooking. She is old enough in the picture to also be cooking on occasion for her sons and daughters in-law and at least some of their eventual full complement of children. Her pots were filled with meals influenced both by her tradition and available resources. She was frequently laughing and seemingly endlessly delighted to be doing things for and with those around her. Maybe because she felt fortunate and, indeed, she was, she was more than a bit of a character – a resilient one. In later years, when a few more resources would have allowed her and Fred to move into a newer place, they stayed where they were, bought that old house, and shared it with one of their daughters and her family. Home is home.

The writer of this card is Nora’s granddaughter (the daughter of her youngest son Joe, who by some odd combination of choice and chance, survived World War II). It is likely that Nora could not have imagined the context in which her granddaughter would live in the U.S. as 2020 dawns, and where her life’s path has taken her. Then again, Nora could not have imagined her own life when at 17 she decided to leave Ireland by herself (she never went back, never mentioned her Irish family but she did mention missing feeding the chickens). Nora’s life and the many little bits of good she did were part of the quality of many days for many people. She was part of what shaped the lives of people who then spread out into many parts of the nation and impacted the world around them.

This is one story in a world that holds countless such stories — all different and yet.... Looking at individuals and their stories gives one a different understanding of what great deeds really are and who does them — how the world changes and evolves in more lasting and more significant ways day to day by those committed to making a positive difference. We all are imperfect beings that as groups are capable of creating horrors but as individual are also capable of many small impactful acts of personal courage or care to give life to individual beliefs and values.

But, in the end, what is powerful is that there are so many Nora’s. There are many individuals aspiring to the positive who, in their own unique ways and with their own distinctive origins, life histories, pathways in life, unimaginable hardships and challenges, shape the lives of those around them (we just need to broaden our understanding of who is family and who is neighbor). Together the vast number of little bits of good they create can indeed be a force that can overwhelm the world. You can see them if you look day to day in so many places that you visit and living in the complex and interconnected ways that link individual lives to one another in the houses and apartments you pass each day. Each of those lives is irreplaceable, a wonder, with the potential to shape worlds. They are the doers of a different and more meaningful kind of great deeds that may yet give us a kinder world in which many more understand what really matters – what greatness should be all about (including those who have the additional responsibilities and accountability that accompany having resources, talent/capabilities, power or influence).

With that in mind, may your year ahead be filled with many little bits of good that you add to the lives of others and that others add to yours.

Signature of Joyce Feucht-Haviar

Dean Joyce Feucht-Haviar
and all those cause advancers
and possibility creators that
the Tseng College comprises

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