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. 

All of this made me wonder about a culture that so deeply honored love and compassion that a whole foundation could be established to teach these virtues. 

  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.  

 I arrived to find a beautiful young woman with a warm smile waving to me from her wheelchair.  When we met, she told me that she first read Letters to Sam while she was in the hospital shortly after her father died.  Her eyes welled up with tears when she said that as she was reading the book, she felt as though it was her father talking to her through the pages.  She told me she wanted to meet the man who felt like her "living father".  With this, we both held each other and cried.  At the end of the interview, I found out that she was the same age as my daughter Debbie and I was the same age as her father.  Her name was Amily Wu and she has been in a wheelchair for five years as a result of an undiagnosed nerve disorder.  She told me of her anguish when she was first paralyzed and how her father comforted her.  And although he rarely hugged her, she felt the same kind of loving warmth when we embraced.  And as we chatted after the interview, she told me about a moment right before her father died when she took his hand and held it on her face, almost exactly what happened shortly before my father's death when he took my hand and kissed my thumb -- the only place I have sensation.
After Amily and I hugged goodbye, she took my hand and told me that I looked tired and should rest.  The voice of a loving daughter. I believe in love at first sight, but familial love? 

 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.   

Last summer, I had a talk with my grandson Sam about autism as I was curious about what he understood about the disorder.  After hearing his thoughts, I asked him if he felt different from the other kids and he said he did.  But when I asked him how he felt different, he thought about it for a while before he looked up at me and said: "pop, I think I am more kind."  And indeed, he is.  

 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.  

 Tuesday's Web chat will be about kindness.  What our understanding of it is, how we have experienced it in our lives, and what it is that prevents us from being kinder to one another.