Via Basel: Recipient of Generosity, A Blessing
Twenty four years old, graduated from medical school and just done with my two years of compulsory military service while I was serving in the Iraqi Armed forces in Jordan, I immediately traveled to Lebanon and was delighted to arrive there safely with no problems at the borders. I had a legitimate passport, but I was still worried. What I did not have were two other important items. The first was my medical diploma and certification of my graduation, which was essential for my work as well as post graduate education in the West. That was a complicated and difficult endeavor, and it took over two months to get them from Baghdad and then authenticated in the Iraqi embassy in Beirut. I managed that feat, but the second item was finances. I did not have much left, and, instead of pursuing my education, I started looking for jobs in some Arab countries to last a few years, to help me get on my feet. There was a wealthy merchant family who were close friends to my uncles back home, and they had a branch of their company in Beirut, Lebanon, where I was staying. Over my time there, I visited one of the owners, a gregarious man in his 40’s whom I had met in the past, but really he was not my friend and not in my generation. I informed him of my plans as they progressed but did not actually ask for anything. He had contacts in one of the countries I was applying for a job in, and when I implied that working in that country was my likely decision he strongly advised against it. “You’re crazy,” he said. “Don’t do that.” Then he offered me enough money to get me to the UK and get started on my quest to work and study there. That was all I needed to change my trajectory, go to the UK for a year and then use it as a stepping stone to emigrate to the USA and finish my training in Orthopedic Surgery as well as start a new life. He may not have considered it a loan, since the amount was probably insignificant to him. But I did and paid it back several months after I started working. More importantly, his generosity had a major impact on my future, and I am forever grateful for it.
I was 60 years old, in solo orthopedic practice, when the malpractice crisis in our state hit with full force. It was early December, and through no fault of mine I got a late notice of a 70% increase in my premiums. Being on my own, I was in no position to challenge the insurance company and, on the other hand, could not pay up in a few weeks time. I was ready to go “bare,” without insurance, but the hospital I had privileges in demanded it. Maybe it was time for me to retire from practice and all its aggravations. But I loved my work and was in good health. An internist colleague of mine I had worked with for a few years was alarmed when I discussed it with him. I had taken care of his patients and family and we developed a bond of sorts. Without any hesitation he offered a financial lifeline on the spot, a significant amount by any standards. He did not ask for collateral, a contract, and refused any interest when I suggested it. I accepted, went back to work, paid him back several months later, with gratitude, and continued practicing for another decade.
I have received other gifts over the years in a multitude of ways from many others. The two above-mentioned benefactors were not family, or close intimate friends, and they didn’t even belong to my tribe or faith. They were, however, generous human beings who gave spontaneously and gracefully to help the other. It was my honor to be on the receiving end of their generosity at two different stages in my life. I am sure any one of you can cite similar stories of gifting and giving.
It is people like them that the world desperately needs today. On this unusual Thanksgiving Day, when so many of us are celebrating alone or in small groups, let us remind ourselves of all that we have received from this land as well as the multitude of generous beings throughout our lives, then turn around and give to others near and far, similar and different, with open hearts and extended hands. It is the recurring cycle of gifting that keeps our world humming with hope and love. A small suggestion: just call somebody you’ve had a disagreement with, or you haven’t talked to in a long time, wishing them well and asking if you can help in any way. Keep gratitude, gifting, and generosity flowing.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, and social engagement.