I’ve had the good fortune to meet many people over the years who’ve truly made a difference in the world. I met another one today, in a nursing home in Bellingham, Washington.
Bob Luitweiler is 87 and ill with cancer–but he still talks about the alternative school he’d like to start. He demands a lot from his visitors: hearty, probing conversation that goes deep about personal lives and about the state of the world, punctuated by references to various books and magazines that surround his sickbed. He sprinkles his conversation with several snippets of other languages, and we have a long talk about whether to be optimistic that people will come out of their self-centered cocoons in time to avert the coming environmental crisis (I’m more optimistic than he is)–and about life in the post-Word War II, pre-NATO Denmark of alternative folk schools, peace, community, and an excellent safety net.
Bob is the founder of Servas, an international traveler/host network that fosters peace through international communication. As a member of this organization since 1983, I have enjoyed fabulous times both as a traveler and a host–and when our host offered to bring us over, I was delighted. It has made traveling not only much more affordable, but also much more of an experience of abundance. Servas was started as a peace organization after Bob (who has been to 53 countries and speaks something like seven languages) experienced that remarkable culture of Denmark in the days following World War II, and now offers no-cost homestays in over 140 countries. We’ve enjoyed this very special way of travel in four different continents so far, including stays in Paris, London, Prague, Athens, Jerusalem, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and numerous small towns, backwoods cabins, and more.
Knowing that he was ill, I expected we’d visit for 20 or 30 minutes–but Bob didn’t want to let us go. He seemed thrilled to have a deep conversation, and when we finally excused ourselves after an hour and a half, he was deeply disappointed. He said he wanted to know us better and asked if we could come back another time before we leave the area. (Postscript: he called the following morning to tell us that our visit had been “the greatest gift of the last six months.”)
Clearly, this man who has accomplished so much has a lot more he’d like to do before his time is up.