Two days after I returned from a weekend in Washington, D.C., the first lady came to Detroit.
And just as observations from our capital traveled home with me, I hope she carried a bit of Detroit back to the White House — the beauty of the Detroit Institute of Arts, perhaps, where she lunched after speaking at Wayne State University.
For a visiting Detroiter, Washington, D.C., surprises in several ways: high prices, for one thing ($14 for a Bloody Mary at one brunch spot), and the crush of people on the sidewalks at all hours. Among the teeming pedestrians, it’s easy to spot the visitors; they’re they ones looking up, reading lofty inscriptions on public buildings. Those words include a quotation on the Union Station edifice that reminds us to carry the wisdom gained from our travels back to our homes. Returning with me was a reminder of the benefits of public transportation. Along with providing practical travel from point A to point B, mass transit encourages walking. My Detroit friends now living in the U.S. capital are even slimmer than before. They credit their regular walks to and from Metro stops.
City subways and trains lift us to a standing position. And Washington’s grand statements also urge us to stand for something. They remind us to be a nation of big ideas.
I’m fond of the inscription on the former Washington, D.C., Post Office. It says, in part, that a postmarked letter is much more than ink on paper. It’s a:
Messenger of Sympathy and Love
Servant of Parted Friends
Consoler of the Lonely
Bond of the Scattered Family
Enlarger of the Common Life
Carrier of News and Knowledge
Instrument of Trade and Industry
Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance
The engraved sentiment easily applies to more than the U.S. mail. Philanthropists who write checks and volunteer their time are enlargers “of the common life.” For that reason, leading Detroit benefactors are honored in this issue. Their acts of giving are based on lofty ideals and simple truths.
The United States is not just an ATM machine where you take it out, one metro Detroit philanthropist told us. Said another: “Giving of your time, not just money, is just part of not being a selfish person.”
Giving can include mentoring our next generation, as Michelle Obama urged in her speech here. Supporting metro Detroit cultural institutions is a form of mentoring. We expose our children to the arts so they become better citizens, better human beings, says philanthropist Al Taubman.
Giving, in all forms, is a simple concept that’s well-explained by a complex man. As Albert Einstein put it: “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.”