ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts begins her summer vacation today. Here are some contemplative thoughts she wrote on her way home from her recent trip to San Francisco. Amalia returns to the ELM office on Tuesday, July 16.
I’m sitting in the airport in San Francisco, waiting for my (delayed) flight to take off. The extra time has given me a chance to reflect on something I’ve been thinking about all day: kindness.
My work today took me from the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco to the winding hills of Berkeley and back via downtown San Francisco. I witnessed three simple kind acts: a stranger pulling over his car to alert my lunch companion that she had dropped some money on the ground; two young men catching the attention of cyclist on Market street because his BART card had fallen out of his pocket; and lastly, a woman stopping on the sidewalk as two confused looking tourists poured over a map to ask if they needed some directions. What causes us to go out of the way for others? I don’t know – I simply loved that I was witness to each of these acts.
I’ve more than witnessed some big acts of kindness in my job – I’ve been the beneficiary of them. Since I started my role with ELM in 2006, I’ve spent my share of time on the road. And thanks to some very wonderfully kind friends, we’ve been able to stretch the ELM travel budget further each year. Nearly every time I’ve visited San Francisco for ELM (and it’s been a good number of trips!), I’ve been the guest of my friend Scarlett. Scarlett is not Lutheran and her interest in ELM doesn’t go far beyond her support of me. But Scarlett is providing important support. Thanks to her, ELM has been able to send me to San Francisco numerous times for little more than the cost of my airfare. Scarlett usually welcomes me with a fine meal (this time around, her partner Vanessa baked an olive oil-rosemary-chocolate-spelt flour cake that may have changed my life!) and gladly lets me convert her living room to my space. She has truly given me a home away from home several times a year.
I’ve got a second home in Chicago as well, thanks to the generous hearts of Clare Tallon & Daniel Ruen. Clare, Dan and I all lived together at Holden Village. One of the many ways they support the work of ELM is through the hospitality they show me on my many trips to Chicago. I usually arrive to a hand-made sign from their kids welcoming me back, and the whole family has taken to calling the guest room “Amalia’s room” (other guests of theirs, please don’t burst my bubble on this!).
Work on the road can be draining and some evenings you need nothing more than to sit with old friends on their couch in your “comfy clothes.”
The kindness extends beyond these hosts I’ve mentioned. This weekend alone, I’ve been the guest of a delectable meal at the home of Jim Kowalski and Bruce Jervis; and had several tabs picked up for coffee or lunch. My cousin and her husband enthusiastically answered my last minute inquiry about getting together. Instead of meeting me out for a drink they invited me to their home. We shared some local delectable food and a bottle of wine from their recent vacation to Germany.
This kindness not only supports ELM, it nourishes me so that I can continue in this work. In addition to kindness, I’ve been thinking a little about nourishment today too…this Friday I’ll begin a two week vacation. I’m ready to step back, dip my toes in a few Midwestern lakes, catch up on some reading and creative writing, and spend time with friends and family. ELM will keep humming along with the help of Rachael in the Chicago office and our wonderful board and supporters around the country. I wish you moments of kindness and happy summer days and will be back in touch July 16th!