March 21, 2005
Dear Friends of Plenty,
Tom Wartinger served as a Plenty volunteer in Guatemala in 1977 and later became an Emergency Room physician, created and managed a village health care project in Lesotho in the mid 1980s, was Chairman of the Plenty Board from 1989 to 1992 and again from 2003 until his sudden passing while out hiking on December 7, 2004. The following is part of a letter he wrote to you all in 2004 that has never been published. Tom was always a deep thinker and serious seeker of spiritual truths. He was also a dynamic wheel under the Plenty wagon, and a dear, sweet friend and we dedicate this Bulletin and Plentys year ahead to Tom who we are certain is somehow still keeping tabs on us (he could be obsessive, in a loving sort of way).
Tom: "We are all mortal and conscious of our mortality. The natural or animal response to this apparent temporal vulnerability should be pure self-interest, survival of the fittest and lonely isolation. But many people try to struggle with and pursue a selfless self-sacrificing path. Why is that? Some would argue that this path is just refined self-interest cloaked in self-delusion an intricate mask thrown over the simple imperative of species survival. Those who consciously pursue this path must consider this as a real possibility. Maybe they suffer from delusions of righteousness, but some just keep persisting. They dont ask for praise or attention, they dont advertise it or try to convert anyone to it. They continually examine their own motives and suffer over every decision. What do we call that when we see it?
There are Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, animists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, pagans, gypsies, and druids who act in ways that express caring, kindness and charity to others. There are those who do "good works" and profess "right action" from a place of empathy and compassion. There are those whose spirituality is an ever-evolving search that defies definition. All of these diverse peoples either attempt selfless action or at least contemplate the attempt. They do this in the face of their apparent ultimate annihilation. Why then are they not all selfish, grasping, egomaniacs who play each encounter to their advantage and focus constantly on satisfying their appetites? Why would anyone even conceive of the idea of selfless action? I believe this impulse, this conscious awareness of "right action" should be the starting point to define the word "faith."
When I first served as Plentys Board Chair in the early 90s, as a newly graduated M.D. working in Emergency Medicine I wanted to snap those hippies into a well-oiled machine. I was frustrated by the lack of linear thinking. It was like herding cats. Over the last 12 or so years as I watched from a near-by hiding place I saw a pattern emerging: still working for almost nothing, on behalf of endangered cultures, still debating the content of right action, appropriate technology, cultural sensitivity and inclusion. Grinding over each decision, careful with each step, "keeping the faith," quietly, inauspiciously and asking for very little in return. Plenty wants to do much more and will always strive to find the right path. Please help with your input, your conscientious hard work and your financial support. Keep the faith.
The enclosed Spring Bulletin is a testament to Toms leadership, conscientious hard work and his generous financial support for Plenty. Over the course of his most recent Board Chairmanship, Tom hoisted the ambitious CAFSI project (Central America Food Security Initiative) on his broad shoulders and helped carry it to the top of Plentys agenda, personally visiting the Huichol Center in Mexico and UPAVIM and ADIBE in Guatemala and putting thousands of dollars of his own money behind the efforts of these groups to improve the nutrition of their communities. As I write this letter, Chuck Haren, Plentys food programs and agriculture specialist, is flying to Nicaragua for three weeks to assist SOYNICA, the fourth member of CAFSI.
In her fascinating report on her experience as the first Karen Flaherty Scholarship Plenty volunteer, Celena McIntyre writes movingly of her realization of the importance of the relationship and collaboration between the generations of elders and youth, the passing of the torch and the sharing of the vision of "selfless action" that Tom describes above.
In her interview, founder and Director of the Huichol Center, Susana Valadez, speaks about the efforts of the Huichol Center to help keep a new generation of Huichols connected to their cultural and spiritual roots while they are "navigating the rapids of radical social change."
These are the kinds of perspectives, insights and commitments that inspire our hearts and direct our path.