I have been privileged over the last few years to be an Advisor to the Listen Give Initiative and I've really enjoyed watching the Never Alone Global Campaign Project take shape. Earlier in the week, I was flattered to be asked to contribute a photograph that demonstrated bringing people together and working together. I had some thoughts immediately of favourite shots I've taken but as I worked through them yesterday, I didn't choose any of the shots I would define as my best shots, technically perfect, taken on expensive kit. I chose instead snapshots of my boys playing football with kids in Nepal and laughing with some boys their age in Bhutan. Because that is why we travel. To connect. To have those moments of realising that we are all one people. We are never alone.
But I almost sent a picture of my son's jacket hanging on the bannister, a simple square of cotton in the pocket...
Holidays are always filled with a little family drama but one little scene from Christmas Eve dinner has stayed with me. For the last ten years, we've gone down the street to the golf club near my mother's house for Christmas Eve dinner. It's a nice excuse to dress up and no one has to cook or clean for the day.
The boys were nicely turned out in slacks and blue blazers. The eldest has a nicely folded pocket square peeping out. He's always liked to do this and I didn't think anything of it. Sometime after the first course though, his brother looked at him and told him it looked a bit ratty and that he should get a new one.
Calmly and gently, the eldest looked at his brother and informed him that the handkerchief was the most precious thing he owned. This simple cotton square. Maybe its a bit frayed at the edge. But this simple square is the most precious thing he has because it was a gift. A gift from someone that wasn't a member of his family.
Last summer he travelled with a small group from school through central Asia. They did some trekking and some touring in Kyrgistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. While in Uzbekistan, they stayed in a small mountain village and helped with the building of a reservoir. The only part of the trip I really heard about was the time in the village because that was where he was able to spend time with people and go beyond simply playing tourist to the real purpose of travel - a better understanding of how we are all connected to one another. When he was leaving the village, one of the girls gave him the handkerchief. It is the smallest of gifts but it means the world to him because it represents a connection with someone. That someone valued him enough to give him one of their precious possessions has meant the world to him.
I've thought about this brief moment between the two boys a lot. It lasted less than a minute. But it showed me how beautifully he has grown up. He recognizes that it isn't how much you spend on someone but that a gift comes from the heart. I can see how travelling has taught him to appreciate people for who they are not what they have. I can see that he understands that the greatest thing that can happen is finding those moments of connection with another person. Those moments when you leave little fingerprints on each other's hearts.
I almost sent a picture of a small piece of cotton...