Recently I found myself in the elevator at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, the doors closing on the name of yet another mega-Wall Street donor whose name was etched in marble, no doubt honoring a mega gift that built that wing of the hospital.
When I got upstairs I talked to a lovely couple. The wife was a patient in the hospital who was at risk for giving birth to her twins at 26 weeks – more than 3 months before her due date. She is a first grade teacher in the Bronx, worried that her students depend so much on her, worried that her sudden departure from the classroom would leave them without the support they needed. Her husband is a social worker who does work for a number of local organizations in addition to some longer stints in India.
Where were their names on the wall?
Yes, I get it. If someone chooses to part with tens of millions of dollars – maybe more – of their own money then by all means let’s write their names wherever they want to write them. And maybe everything is working perfectly: the big name on the wall allows patients in need to get world-class care, so who cares what’s written where in what size font?
But walking through that grandiose hospital lobby, the names of subsequent Wall Street titans vying for all-caps supremacy in their etched legacy, I wished we had the same amount of space to write the names, in boldface, of people living lives of service: the teacher, the nurse, the social worker.