Several months ago I received an e-mail from Mr. Chou Chin-Haur founder of the Chou Ta-Kuan Cultural and Educational Foundation in Taiwan. He told me I was selected as one of 12 people around the world to receive the "Fervent Love of Life award" and they would be honored to fly me and a companion to Taipei for eight days. He then compared this award to the Nobel Prize for love in Taiwan. Of course I did some research about this organization and found that it was one of the largest and most respected in Taiwan and was established following the death of Mr. Chou's son from cancer when he was 10 years old. From the time of this child's diagnosis when he was seven years old, he began writing poetry about hope, gratitude and love. Even after he knew he was dying, he wrote poetry about love for the world. His poems are so compelling, that high school children throughout Taiwan study them.
I arrived in Taipei, a city of 23 million people on a Monday morning at 5 a.m. to be greeted at the airport by Mr. Chou himself. What struck me most on the way from the airport was that I didn't hear any horns blowing. In this city as crowded as New York, people just seemed to accommodate one another. I later learned that there is actually a law against blowing horns too often.
Because this foundation and this award is so prestigious and because "Letters to Sam" sold so well in Taiwan, many in the news media were anxious to interview me. Of course some of the questions were about my experience with adversity and resilience, but all of the interviews ultimately focused on love and compassion. The following day was a very large press conference with all of the recipients and many influential people in Taiwanese culture. It was during this press conference that I learned about my fellow awardees. Each one of us endured great adversity and had devoted our lives to the greater good. And every speaker talked about the healing power of love and devotion.
Many times when I give a speech, I use the metaphor of a dilated heart as an experience we all have when we feel selfless love. This is the kind of love we experience when we see our child for the first time or feel deep gratitude for a sunset, a lover or life itself. I had just become aware of having these kinds of feelings when my interpreter told me that someone from a radio station wanted to interview me in the lobby.
The week was filled with many memorable events including visits to a homeless shelter where hundreds of men and women sang Amazing Grace as they waited in line with their rice bowls, an audience with the president of Taiwan where I was given the honor to address him directly and many others. But it was at lunch the day before we left when the hosts brought in a famous calligrapher to paint a banner for each of us. When I was presented mine, I was told it said: "kindness".
And although they characterized me that way, that was my experience of the people I met. They were kind. This is more basic more simple and in some ways more profound and even love or compassion -- simple kindness.
So here I return from a culture that celebrates kindness. And now I will give it my calligraphy framed, spend more time with my grandson and devote more energy to practicing the lessons of kindness.