The other night I was fortunate to participate in The American Place Theatre's 2010 Literature to Life Gala honoring the extraordinary Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. For those of you who aren't familiar, The American Place Theatre was founded 50 years ago by Wynn Handman and is the reason why Off-Broadway exists today. For the past 15 years or so, APT has been focusing on a project called Literature-to-Life in which Wynn adapts a significant piece of American Literature into a 1 or 2 person stage play that is performed mostly for students and schools across the country. I have the honor of helming Lois Lowry's The Giver.
Three Cups of Tea is inspirational account of how one man (Greg Mortenson), after attempting to climb K2 in honor of the loss of his sister to epilepsy, meets a group of children in a small village and promises to build them a school. From that promise, Greg succeeds in bringing education to remote communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, focusing primarily on promoting education for girls. He has provided eduction to 58,000 children, including 44,000 girls. He survived an eight day armed kidnapping by the Taliban in Pakistan’ Northwest Frontier Province tribal areas, escaped a 2003 firefight with feuding Afghan warlords by hiding for eight hours under putrid animal hides in a truck going to a leather-tanning factory. He has overcome fatwehs from enraged Islamic mullahs, endured CIA investigations, and also received threats from fellow Americans after 9/11, for helping Muslim children with education. Despite these challenges, Greg persists with his mission.
Needless to say, Greg Mortenson is a very special man.
At the gala, A.P.T. actor Curtis Nielsen performed a 20 minute excerpt from this amazing tale. A group of children from a NYC public school were incorporated into the evening, and each shared how they promise to make a difference and honored elders who have made an impact on their lives. It was an extremely moving evening.
After the performance, Greg Mortenson spoke to the audience about his work, how important it is to contribute to the community, and how much faith he has in the next generation. Something that he highlighted was how exciting it is that schools are incorporating programs whose purpose it is to better our existing systems such as green engineering and architecture, ethics in business, etc. Who is demanding these programs? The students themselves.
One thing that really struck a chord with me was a comment Greg made about learning from our elders. He asked the group of students sitting in the front row if any of them had spent 10 hours this year taking time to talk and listen to an elder. The result---none. He gave them an assignment for the summer: Spent 3 hours listening to an elder speak about their experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, during Vietnam, during their first days of school.
This assignment got me thinking--How much time have I spent sitting with the elders in my family, listening to stories of their past? How much time do I have left? How much have I taken for granted? Though I check in with my grandparents every so often to see how they are doing and to let them know I'm thinking of them, when was the last time I asked to hear a story from my grandfather about his experience during the War?
Life, especially city life, moves at such a fast pace. We let opportunities fly by. We take A LOT for granted. Let this be a reminder to pause and take time to appreciate the life you are free to live and the people you love, and remember to cherish your elders.