I watched a network news story the other day that was quite moving. At least, it had me until the end. Then, with a single concluding statement, the correspondent lost the magic of the tale, or at least with me. Now, maybe you’ll think I’m being way too critical on this, but it’s been irritating me ever since I saw it on June 27.
The story is captivating because it reveals the loving heart of a woman who is compelled to make a difference to orphans in Vietnam. Tracy Foster has begun her own foundation, Project Being There, to raise funds for assisting St. An’s orphanage, which is run by some very poor nuns. Her help ranges from crayons and candy to scholarship opportunities for kids to remain in school. She admits to being a “rookie” in this philanthropic work, which makes her story even more admirable; she is out of her comfort zone in order to make a difference in the lives of these kids. She’s simply a mom who feels the tragedy of little kids without families. As the adoptive mother of three Vietnamese children herself, Tracy openly wonders whether anyone would be there for her children had she not adopted them.
The news story touches upon her work, her motivations and the loving care that she brings to this newly-adopted endeavor, and how she has come to see her own kids in the faces of those in the orphanage. As the story closes I found it difficult not to be moved myself. And then, the final line of the story is delivered in the words, “…giving us all a lesson in American generosity.”
I looked up at the TV and said aloud, “What?!” This lovely, feel-good story is about a lot of things: it reveals the caring feelings of a mother, the perseverance of someone who is determined to act upon those feelings even outside her comfort zone, the easy connections that we make with other human beings when we simply allow ourselves to do so, the universality of a loving heart, the universality of all children, and more. But the suggestion that somehow this story reveals some uniquely-American characteristic of generosity left me cold. American? Generosity?
A major part of the attraction of this story is the “everyman/woman” element, that it could be any one of us affected in this way if we could just allow ourselves the opportunity to become so. Tracy Foster went to Vietnam on a presumed one-time basis and found herself transformed by the experience. It could happen to anyone. Even you or me. And that’s very uplifting news, to know that even you or I could somehow put ourselves in a position to impact the lives of little children. What could be more giving, of greater value, than that? Tracy Foster happens to be a U.S. citizen, but the very point that she makes in this story is that there are no boundaries, no nationalities to be considered here. There are only children in need.
To suggest that Tracy Foster is acting out of generosity diminishes her motives, in my mind. If she sought to simply be generous she could raise money for her favorite charity. What is fueling her passion is something far deeper than generosity; it’s not why one would adopt a child and it’s not why one would commit herself to helping so many others. No, the real motive is to be found within the real lesson of the story.
The lesson to be gained from this tale is that we belong to the same family, no matter where we may live. It’s the human family, and we are made up of brothers and sisters and moms and dads who are all very much alike, despite how different we may look and sound. When we give ourselves even the slightest glimpse of that reality, our motives, our priorities, our actions, our very lives can be changed. The caring to be found in the human heart is not North American or Nicaraguan or Vietnamese, but human, that’s the real point of the story. Tracy Foster allowed herself to experience the reality of that, and it has made all the difference to both herself and the little children she serves. I doubt very much that she views her newfound passion as an act of generosity, American or otherwise.
There is deep within the psyche of each of us a tangential thread that links us irrevocably to one another. Sometimes we choose not to acknowledge it. Often it manifests itself inconveniently and at just the wrong moment. It is not a fact of expedience or ease. But is has the power to grab us at the most unsuspecting moments and to turn us around, to re-direct us in ways we might never have anticipated. That’s both the storyline and the lesson from this news segment; I only wish that the reporter had understood it that way.
Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. Maybe I need to get out more. Or maybe it’s the news correspondent who needs to….