side bar
Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Mail Bag

Letter to the Editor: Presents of love gift the mind

The Daily Cougar was contacted earlier this month about the possibility of running guest essays by faculty members for UH’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. this week. Five faculty members wrote on the ways they help others, and one essay will run each day this week.

—The Daily Cougar editorial board

It’s tempting to respond to the question “What are you doing for others?” with an impressive list of voluntary efforts, contributions to this or that organization and countless community activities that would put a glow in anyone’s halo. And while I could certainly spend my allotted space describing the numerous ways I engage in those sorts of “doing,” in my experience, it isn’t the more impressive activities but rather the smaller kindnesses that often make the biggest difference in someone’s life: the extra time I spent with a student who really needed someone to talk to about things other than school; the shoulder I offered a stranger in the doctor’s reception area as she waited for the results of a biopsy; the child’s hand I held as she stood petrified at the top of the escalator in the bookstore; the UH Women’s Resource Center several friends and I worked so hard to open in the hope that it would provide future students with the resources that weren’t available when we had desperately needed them; the English language lessons I am giving to the woman who does not want to clean my neighbor’s house anymore; the classes I teach that focus much less on dates and names and military tactics and much more on human beings permanently scarred by notions of race and prejudice or irrevocably lifted by the kindnesses of others.

When my family moved to the United States many years ago, we came with nothing but what fit into two small trunks. We were very, very poor and without any friends or relatives close by. My father warned my sisters and me that our first Texas Christmas, less than six weeks away, would be scant. Nonetheless, that Christmas Eve the six of us sang carols in the matchbook-size rental house we called home, my father read the Christmas story from the old family bible he had brought across the ocean and my mother reminded us that the richest lives are those filled with love.

In the years that followed — but especially during the 15 years I have been fortunate to spend in the classroom — I understand more clearly what she meant those many Christmases ago: Love teaches us courage and empathy, motivates us to give more selflessly of our time, encourages us to foster personal connections and urges us to find ways — however small — to make our families, our communities, our world a better place. Often times, we do not know if our gifts of love make a difference, but that isn’t really the point — we give them nonetheless. Every once in a while, sometimes years later, we learn that the love we gave did matter.

At the end of last semester, in the midst of the frenzy that accompanies final exam week, an envelope appeared in my faculty mailbox. Inside of it was a note from a student I had taught nine years ago.

She wrote, “You never knew it, but you had a huge impact on my life. Thank you for being you.”

I could have been offered the moon and stars at that moment, and I would have responded that I was holding the biggest gift of all in my hands: the gift of love reciprocated. Our culture fosters competitiveness and describes successful people as those who do not need others, but we human beings require connectedness. Our need for others is unquestionable as is our need for love.

The very last words my mother said to me before she died so unexpectedly a few years ago were, “It’s all about love; that’s why we’re here.”

Dr. King, most assuredly, would have agreed with her. The “light of creative altruism” that he wrote about is love. What am I doing for others? Simply put, offering love.

— Irene Guenther, history professor at the Honors College.

Back to Top ↑
  • Sign up for our Email Edition

  • Polls

    What about UH will you miss the least this summer?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...