My book club recently read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It’s a delightful book about an aristocrat under house arrest in the austere Metropol Hotel in Moscow. The prose is entrancing and the story captivating, if not a little slow at times.
What struck me was the idea of living in a place for three plus decades without ever venturing out of the hotel doors. Just imagine how much your community has changed in three decades. Is the restaurant you frequented when you were a kid still serving up meals? Does the bartender at your favorite watering hole remember that you take your bourbon with a splash of water and a twist of lemon? What about the house you grew up in…is it still standing? If so, is it the same color? Have the trees grown?
Very little is as it was. So, imagine walking through a hotel’s revolving doors and out into the world after living in a 200 square-foot room for thirty years…the walls covered by pictures of family members gone long ago.
In the book, Count Rostov’s first venture out of the hotel is to the emergency room following a nasty fall by his young charge. When he tells the cab driver to go to St Anselm’s, the cab driver looks quizzically at the Count and says, “are you sure?” While St Anselm’s catered to Russian royalty thirty years prior, it had fallen into disrepair due to lack of resources and employed the sketchiest of doctors. How could the Count have known? He’d not had a front row seat to the deterioration of the hospital…or the loss of his childhood home to fire, or so many other things that had changed since he was last free to explore his surroundings.
I could almost relate to the Count’s bewilderment at the unforeseen changes during his confinement. A few weekends ago we traveled from our new home in Minnesota to our old neighborhood in Iowa. There were whole subdivisions that didn’t exist just twelve short months ago. New grocery stores have popped up…and there has been an explosion of child care centers…there is a baby boom in Central Iowa!
And even tiny Crosslake, MN is on the move. I’ve found myself involved in a community project that will change the landscape of Crosslake for years to come. More affordable housing in an area that caters to the wealthy, an international loon center to celebrate our state bird and its freshwater habitat and a new community school to accommodate the growing attendance demands. These things represent responsible growth around a chain of lakes that are the gem of the area. And they represent change. Satisfying the “no growth” sector of the community while welcoming the incoming residents escaping the hustle and bustle of the city is a challenge, but dedicated volunteers are investing hours to do just that.
I’m proud and humbled to be among them and, at times, overwhelmed. Proud to assist my new hometown in finding its voice…its spirit. Humbled by the commitment of so many smart, passionate and very busy people. And overwhelmed by their generosity.
The volunteer force that exists in this cozy, north woods enclave is remarkable. Four committed women rallied their resources and will be opening a women’s’ clinic this fall. A local entrepreneur has donated the land for the new school and an area family bequeathed its heirloom cabin to the Historical Society to be used as a visitor’s center.
In the book, Count Rostov is a very generous man who takes on the responsibility of raising another’s child just as communism is taking its hold and as he contemplates his future and that of the young girl for whom he is responsible.
I’ve found generosity comes in many forms and from those walking many different paths. It comes from people who’ve won life’s lottery and those who feel blessed to have a roof over their head and food on their table. It comes from young children and senior citizens. It comes in small gestures and huge commitments. It comes in the morning and it comes as we lie our heads down to sleep.
Change is inevitable. We often have very little control over it. It sneaks up on us and can sometimes overpower us. Generosity is of our own choosing. We choose how to spend our time, our resources and our talents. For the most part, the people I’ve come across have chosen wisely. They are generously giving of themselves to affect change.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.