When I was quite young and television was still in shades of black and white and grey I remember being fascinated by a program called The Millionaire. The premise of the show was that a generous and enormously wealthy benefactor would select individuals to receive a check for one million dollars. We never saw the donor because the transactions took place through his executive secretary. The premise of the show was to demonstrate the ways in which humans react to becoming suddenly rich. That million dollars of the nineteen fifties would translate to about nine and one half million in today’s world which would certainly make a difference in somebody’s life.
I remember fantasizing even as a child about what I would do with a million dollars. Back then my ideas centered on fostering my own selfish interests but my thoughts on such a matter changed as I matured. Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof I often considered what I might do if I were a wealthy woman. I even joked with God insisting that I would be a wonderful candidate for a sudden infusion of riches because I would still live a very simple life and be more inclined to share my money than many of the people who actually have it.
Much of my focus would be on education. The return from helping promising young people to follow their passions and earn degrees is stunning. I think of my former students and the contributions they have made to society that may not have been possible had not someone first donated to to the programs in the schools where they first began their learning journeys. Then as they matriculated to the various levels of university life the kindness of strangers made it possible for them to become engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, counselors, computer specialists, engineers, lawyers, business men and women. Perhaps there is no other investment that pays such huge dividends as helping a bright young student to become expert in some area of study without the worry of incurring huge debt in doing so.
I have been following Bill and Melinda Gates’ efforts in furthering education for many years. On one occasion I had the privilege of actually addressing them when they came to visit the high school where I was the Dean of Students. They were both humble and dedicated individuals whose intention to raise the level of educational excellence in our nation’s schools is backed by huge financial investments and not just critique of a sometimes struggling system.
I saw them once again when I attended the graduation of one of my students from Stanford University. They spoke on that occasion of their work in global public health. I was actually moved to tears by the stories that they related and the realization that they have consistently used their good fortune to fund worldwide programs designed to eradicate ignorance and disease. Now as we face the prospect of launching a massive vaccination program that may have the power of ending the scourge of the Covid-19 virus I realize that their foundation’s funding has created the kind of environment that made Operation Warp Speed possible. It tells me that these are the sort of things I would want to to if I also had a great deal of money to share.
I really don’t need much in the way of possessions. If I suddenly became a multi-millionaire from my writing (a pipe dream for sure) I would make a few repairs and enhancements on my home and buy a Tesla for my husband. I might invest in a small cabin in Colorado where I would spend my summers and maybe a little beach house in Galveston for watching sunsets over the ocean. I would travel while I am still able. Beyond that I would pay for all of my grandchildren to attend college for as long as they wish. From there I would find worthy causes in education and public health and make investments in revitalizing areas of the country where despair has left a trail of unemployment and addiction.
Of course it is as unlikely today that I will suddenly find myself sitting on a small fortune as it was when I was a little girl. I am an ordinary soul with a middle middle class way of life. I live comfortably and count my blessings. I suppose that my contribution to the betterment of the world has been more intangible than financial. I have taught people “how to fish” so to speak rather than buying them a fishing pole.
We each have roles that we might play in spreading whatever wealth we may possess. The important thing to remember is that we have choices in how to distribute our riches to make the world better for more and more people. Each bit of generosity multiplies exponentially when we all make it a priority to choose to share. We don’t have to be millionaires to make a difference in someone’s life.