Reprinted from The Delaware County Daily Times January 23, 2020
I have been a member of Rotary for more than 30 years, initially in the Upper Darby Club and more recently in the Rotary Club of Philadelphia. And after all these years, far too many people, including some of my friends, still cannot understand why I have been affiliated with an organization/club which mandates attendance at regular meetings, requires dues, and encourages participation in a wide array of community service and humanitarian activities, many of them on weekends.
My only explanation is that like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, who lacked a heart, some people will never understand Rotary. For the greatest joys in life come from giving, pure and simple, from your heart.
Rotary has been about caring outreach for more than 100 years. Rotary’s 35,000 clubs in 200 countries offer a myriad of ways to do just that locally and internationally. And the only payback in Rotary is the many thousands of annual heart-warming experiences for its 1.2 million Rotary members worldwide.
I could easily recount hundreds of examples of my Rotary activities over three decades, such as, stocking shelves at Habitat for Humanity’s store, planting trees and doing clean-ups in parks, painting the interior walls of a school, and preparing food for the sick and elderly. There was also supplying toiletries for the homeless, building immigrant literacy, restoration of school music programs in schools, distributing many thousands of books to kids in inner city schools, rebuilding public school libraries, and putting flags on the gravesites of veterans on Memorial Day.
And, what is remarkable here is that I believe that members of the 50+ Rotary Clubs in this area could also build similar lists of their humanitarian outreach.
All of that having been said, my fondest Rotary memory involves a mentorship with Makoto Kuwabara, a young man from Japan who came to Philadelphia with a Rotary scholarship to begin his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. Makoto promptly informed me that his wife (Chihiro) would shortly be joining him to be by his side while he pursued his master’s degree.
Shortly thereafter, after Chihiro arrived in Philadelphia, I inquired how things were going, and Makoto told me his wife was very sick with vomiting and nausea. I knew that Chihiro had given up a good job as a flight attendant for Japan Airways and coupled with coming to live in the USA, I assumed she was reacting to great stress. I urged Makoto to immediately take her to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.
On my follow-up telephone call, I was flabbergasted to learn that the medical diagnosis was that Chihiro was very pregnant. On top of that, Makoto was quite upset because the hospital had given them a follow-up appointment several months down the road.
So, I took the extra Rotary step and arranged a private appointment just a few weeks away with a friend of mine who is a Delaware County obstetrician to help the expectant couple. On the way to the doctor, I lectured them about asking many questions. This was their first child…no time to be shy about this!
Once we got there, the Japanese couple begged me to come with them into the examination room. I was terrified and reluctant. But Chihiro and Makoto “teared up” and then literally dragged me with them to meet the doctor.
I was then very pleased when my Japanese pupils thoroughly quizzed the doctor in many areas. I had trained them well! However, when the doctor exclaimed “Let’s have a look at the baby!” and instructed Chihiro to pull up her blouse, I wanted to run for cover. I had just met these two young people. But there was no way to escape from the small examining room. I was trapped. And then, through the wonder of modern technology, the parents to be, the attending doctor, and the adopted Rotary grandfather (that’s me) were looking at a fetus.
The ultrasound machine soon showed the “baby-to-be,” but it began beeping loudly and regularly. The two parents, still following my “exceptional training,” calmly inquired about what the machine was telling us. And the doctor answered: “There is no problem. We are listening to and seeing the heart of your child.”
In that marvelously beautiful moment, I had one of the most memorable Rotary experiences of my life, one that deeply touched my heart.
In the picture above at right that’s Manaka (left) who now lives with her parents and a younger sister (Hiroka, left) in Japan. Through Skype and email, my wife, Joan, and I still communicate with the Kuwabara family. Manaka has now become a prominent actress, staring in the role of the young Cosette in performances of Les Miserables across Japan. And her sister Hiroka is her understudy.
In summary, Rotary is all about the heart, reaching out and getting richly rewarded in return.