Anna Perlini is a co-founder of Per un Mondo Migliore, a humanitarian organization active in the former Yugoslavia since 1995.
You wouldn’t think he was speaking to a gathering of elderly people, some in wheelchairs, some unable to talk, others afflicted by dementia or Alzheimer’s.
His hands gesticulating in the air, his voice passionately describing some deep concept, then the blackboard and the chalk: “Who can tell me what peace means? You, Alberto, yes, tell me and I’ll write it down. Wonderful! Come on, everyone, we’ll send this to the local newspaper!”
On my birthday, I often experience mixed feelings—on the one hand, I wish I could escape to a lonely island; on the other hand, the extra attention does feel good. Either way, I’ll say with Todd Stocker: “A happy birthday is measured not in the amount of gifts one gets, but in the amount one is loved.”
Paolo, a dear friend and colleague of mine for the last 18 years, has made it a point and a personal goal to remember people’s birthdays either through a phone call or an SMS. He keeps a list and updates it as he meets new people.
I’ve always been impressed by people who can forgive. When I was a kid, it was that friend at school who didn’t get back at others when they made fun of his awkward ways and pimply face. Later on, I had to learn to forgive when my boyfriend left me for no apparent reason and without explanation. Then followed marriage, which offered endless opportunities to forgive and be forgiven. Working as part of a team has also been a good platform to practice forgiveness.
One day about three years ago, my father invited his five children, married and parents themselves, to accompany him and my mother to the Holy Land. He was already 85 and hadn’t been traveling or flying for quite a few years. Up to that point, I think he had been feeling old and a bit worried and fearful and had sort of closed that chapter of his life. But that day something happened, the result of a combination of his desire to visit again the places his beloved Jesus had grown up in and his eagerness to take a trip with his family, something we hadn’t done since we had all been pretty young.
When my children were young, we read about an old tradition that existed in various parts of Europe since the Middle Ages. Groups of children and young people would go house to house singing Christmas carols and sometimes collecting donations for charitable purposes.
I first met Danica and Milic over 13 years ago. They were already affectionately known as “the grandparents on the mountain,” because the name of the small village where they live, Suhodol, means “dry hill.” To reach it, you have to drive on a steep trail, and during harsh winters, there’s no way to get there by vehicle. They don’t have running water or indoor plumbing, and like many people in the area of Croatia bordering Bosnia, they have a sad story of fleeing from war and destruction, living in refugee camps, and finally returning home to their village and their burned-down house and having to start building a life again at an age when people usually retire.
I first met Marina almost 20 years ago at a workshop organized by a Japanese NGO for Bosnian refugee women. She was warm and friendly and was definitely adding her own very original artist’s touch to the event, even though she was just helping these women make some simple greeting cards. A few years later, she accompanied two busloads of the same refugee women to Italy as part of an exchange program. That’s when I got to know her humorous side! She was always livening up the atmosphere with jokes, songs, and her full contagious laugh.
When my father had me listen to Beethoven’s 6th Symphony1 for the first of many times, he was undoubtedly trying to impart to me his passion for classical music.
I was ten years old when I first heard of Albert Schweitzer, and I was really impressed by his dedication—to the point that I started contemplating becoming a doctor like him and following in his footsteps in Africa. Those were the days when in order to know more about something or somebody, you had to look through books, encyclopedias, and most of the time, go to the library. In other words, curiosity didn’t find immediate satisfaction, and there was a certain amount of serendipity and mystery involved.
Just before I left for India, where I was going to spend a number of years as a volunteer, a friend gave me a very original and, I thought, useful farewell present. “I’m kind of worried for you,” she confided. “You’re going to a difficult country and this might come in handy.”
On the small box was an inscription: “The smallest gold coin in the world.”