He Told Stories
Listen to “He Told Stories” by Fred Smith
Years ago, as a much younger man, I began a search for wisdom in giving. Although looking back, I realize that I didn’t know what “wisdom in giving” truly meant. I was really looking for advice and a jumpstart – not wisdom.
I had read everything available, but I wanted to find a person from whom I could learn not only the practical aspects but also the essential values of philanthropy. I had heard a talk by John Gardner, the author of Self-Renewal, who said, “Some people strengthen the society just by being the kind of people they are.” I knew then finding a person who did this work with excellence and integrity was important. It wasn’t enough to be smart, astute and experienced. I wanted to find someone with a particular kind of character. I was looking for a man like Sir Thomas More as described by Desiderius Erasmus: “…though your remarkably keen intelligence places you worlds apart from the common herd, still the incredible sweetness and gentleness of your character make you able and willing to be a man for all seasons to all men.” Not much to ask!
It did not take long before I heard about Curtis Meadows, then the president of the Meadows Foundation in Dallas. With no introduction, he agreed to see me and during that first meeting, he told me stories. He did not offer tips for effective giving or try to teach me about the essentials of philanthropy. He told stories about people and their relationships with the Meadows Foundation.
I heard very little from Curtis about himself, but I began that day to discover the importance of integrity, trust, humility, mutual respect and how to dodge the traps laid for those who desired to be benefactors. I went into the meeting looking for someone who could help me in a season of my life. I never expected to find a friend who has become a part of every important decision of my life since.
Something else Erasmus said about a man for all seasons was true about Curtis: “A cultured, loyal and winsome man, contented, happy, learned, eloquent, speaking but little and that fittingly.” I wanted a short-term resource and discovered a brother, confidant, and guide.
In August 2013, Curtis felt a tingling in his arms that turned quickly to numbness, and within 20 minutes he was paralyzed from the neck down. Rushed to the hospital he was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an inflammation across both sides of his spinal cord that blocks the nerve impulses. Since then, he has been confined to a bed and wheelchair.
Shortly after hearing about the attack, my friend Jeff Buford and I drove to see him. While there was some discussion about how Curtis was doing and our catching up about how his life and the lives of his family had changed, the visit reminded me of our very first 30 years ago. Curtis began telling stories – not about grant recipients but about the people who were helping him.
He knew about the struggles and challenges of the nurses, aides, and therapists who were with him daily. He told us about their families and the effects of living close to the edge where one missed paycheck or brief illness put them at risk. He told about what a major health problem or setback has done to completely unravel the lives of those he has come to know. But he also told us about their courage, perseverance, and determination to live without bitterness or anger.
In a way, despite the differences in status and wealth, Curtis and the people surrounding him now have all made the same decision. They trust God one day at a time. And as always, Curtis knew that these were the stories we needed to hear.
In our first conversation years ago, Curtis told me that “the gift without the giver is an empty gift,” and I realized once again the value Curtis places on relationships and also avoiding the temptation to become detached and aloof. He could have sent me a list of books to read. He might have only referred his physical therapists to agencies without hearing their stories. Instead, even now he is the best kind of giver – and the wisest giver I know. Perhaps the poet Mary Oliver says it best, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
Preparing now for a visit next week with Jeff and another friend, I realize once again what Curtis has become for me. Instead of someone who gave a little time to a young man looking for easy answers, he has become a man for all the seasons of my life.
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7