My friends, my world-class governors:

It is not only a joy but perhaps the most significant moment of my life to be with you here this  evening as we prepare together to take on the leadership of our great organization.

There are certain moments in one’s life that are so pivotal, so transformative, that they become the temporal milestones by which all of our subsequent experiences are measured.

When we look back at the events that form our lives, we divide them all into “before” and “after.” We can point at one moment and say: That is when everything changed.

I believe that for all of us here tonight, this is that moment.

Outside, the world carries on: our homes, our businesses, our families, our clubs. But here in San Diego, our worlds are shifting. Our vision is sharpening. Our understanding, our ambition, our drive — all of these are expanding.

During this week, you and I will begin to understand the breadth and depth of this organization and the complexities and complications that surround it. Perhaps in the past we may even have spoken about things we saw as being wrong with Rotary; now, we have both the privilege, and the awesome responsibility, of trying to make those things right.

Yet as our horizons stretch out before us, we know that they are not without limit, for we have but one year to lead. Three hundred and sixty-six days — each one of them numbered, without price, and never to return.

When we know that our time is limited, it becomes so much more precious. The drive to achieve, to create, to leave behind something that says, “I was here; I mattered,” becomes so much stronger. And that is why so many see their year in Rotary office as the chance of a lifetime to make their mark.

But what I say to you is, if you really want to make a difference, then use your year not so much to make your mark on Rotary, but to bring the work of Rotary forward — to make its mark on the world.

We are all mortal. Our time on this earth is finite. And yet, we forget. We spend our days, as the poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, in stringing and unstringing our guitars, while the song we came to sing remains unsung.

What will it take for us to see every hour, every day, every year that we have been given, as a gift — one that is precious, fleeting, and irreplaceable?

From the moment we are born, we receive gifts. The first gift is life itself. And then we receive gifts of love, of caring, and the nurture of our families; of education; of health; of every talent and ability that we learn and acquire. As we move through our lives, our parents, our friends, our spouses, and our children, our livelihoods and our material wealth — all are gifts to us.

Sometimes, a gift is so tremendous that we are overwhelmed with gratitude — as I felt a few months ago when we were blessed with our first grandchild — and as I feel tonight as I stand here, with all of you.

I know that you are thinking now of how many gifts you all have to be grateful for. And I ask myself and I ask you: What do we do in return?

Will we come to the end of our lives and realize that we have wasted our gifts, achieving nothing that will outlive us? Or will we look back and know that when we pass from this world, the good that we have done will remain?

We have only one chance at our lives. And we will have only one chance at the 2015-16 Rotary year. The time is so short, and there is so much to be done.

Our first challenge, our greatest challenge, is the eradication of polio.

When we made the promise to eradicate polio, more than a quarter of a century ago, we had 125 endemic countries. More than a thousand children were being paralyzed every single day.

Today, we have three countries that are endemic. And in all of last year, we had only 333 cases of polio.

Almost all of them were in one country: Pakistan. There, our fight is not only against the polio virus but against the forces of ignorance, brutality, and oppression. Our challenges lie not only in getting the vaccine into the mouths of children but in getting the health workers safely past those who want to kill them. The government and people of Pakistan are striving, along with Rotary, to reach a polio free future — while the Taliban on motorcycles shoot the women who are on their way to immunize babies, and now have resorted to killing innocent children in their classrooms.

No one could have envisioned 25 years ago that it would come to this. But the work of 25 years, the faith and dedication and trust of millions, will not be brought low by so lowly an opponent. We will battle on. We will prevail. Because a future without polio is a gift that we have promised to the children of the world. And indeed, it is a gift that we will give.

We know that Rotary has tremendous potential. But we also know that in so many clubs and districts, the reality of Rotary is not the way it ought to be.

I believe that we have to find a way to bring back the fundamentals that built our organization: the emphasis on high ethical standards in all aspects of our lives, and the classification system that encourages a diversity of expertise in each club.

Too often, these ideas are viewed as little more than inconvenient obstacles to increasing our membership rolls. But they have been essential to Rotary’s success, and we ignore them at our own peril. For when you have a club formed of people whose honesty is unimpeachable and whose breadth of expertise allows them to do anything they set their minds to, then you have the kind of club that is truly a gift.

But we are all too aware that we cannot talk about Rotary today the way we did a century ago and still expect it to grow. We live in a new reality now. The new focus on branding is indeed necessary.

We need to reposition our image, which we recognize has faded in many parts of the world.

And sometimes, there is a disconnection between how we as leaders see Rotary and how the Rotarians in our clubs see it.

We want to raise more money for our Foundation to do even more good, but we know that if we ask too insistently, or for too much, we will drive away members.

We want to attract younger members, but we do not want to alienate the older members who now form our backbone, or lose sight of the recently retired who still have so much to give.

We want to encourage club members to participate in activities beyond the club level, to become more involved in the network of Rotary, but we do not want membership to become a burden that demands too much in the way of time and resources.

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. And yet somehow, these answers must be found — and we are the ones who must find them. You are the eyes and ears of the Rotary world. You know what your clubs need, and what they have to offer. You are the ones who can bring together what Rotary is and what it could be — and help us to chart a course forward, together.

I will ask all of you to give a great deal in the days and months ahead. I will ask you to give your faith, I will ask you to give your dedication, I will ask you to give your commitment and your compassion.

I will ask you for all these gifts. And I will ask you for more, even more than that. For I will ask you, in this Rotary year, not merely to give these gifts — but to be a gift yourself.

We in Rotary aspire to great deeds. We look up to and admire the towering figures of history who gave such great gifts to humanity: Abraham Lincoln, who gave the gift of human dignity to so many; Mother Teresa, who gave the gift of compassion to the forgotten; Mahatma Gandhi, who gave the gift of peaceful change to the oppressed.

All of them gave their lives to others, and their very lives became gifts to the world.

We know that we are not like them, and we do not aspire to live the lives they led, but we can be inspired by their example. We can be inspired to say, “How can I, in the life that I live — and without neglecting the responsibilities that are so dear to me — how can I, too, become a gift to the world?

We can. And we will.

For, my friends, this will be the challenge that we will embrace together. It will be what I ask of you. And it will be the theme that will guide us: Be a Gift to the World.

In Rotary, we give of our resources, but more importantly, we give of ourselves, because there is such a difference between a handout and an outstretched hand — especially when the outstretched hand is warmed by a caring heart.

As children, we understood that the simplest gift, crafted with care and love, was more precious than the most lavish gift given without thought.

And here in San Diego, we understand that our service is only of value when it carries each of us with it.

And that is why, encouraged as I am, I ask you, I implore you, to Be a Gift to the World.

As I considered my theme, I thought of the lessons I have learned through my Hindu faith. And I want to share with you the story of Sudama. Sudama was a very poor child and a bosom friend of Krishna, who was born in a royal lineage as an avatar, an incarnation of the divine. As the two boys grew up, they drifted apart, and while Krishna became a military leader and king of great repute, Sudama stayed as a humble and somewhat impoverished villager.

Many years later, Sudama was going through some bad times and found himself without even enough money to feed his children. His wife reminded him of his childhood friendship with Krishna and suggested he go to him for help. Though initially reluctant, Sudama finally agreed. Not wanting to go empty-handed he carried with him some beaten rice tied in a piece of cloth to share with his friend.

Krishna is overjoyed to see Sudama, and receives him graciously and with much love. Overwhelmed by the grandeur around him, Sudama is too embarrassed to bring out his gift, but Krishna asks him, “What are you hiding?” The cloth unrolls and out comes the rice, which Krishna joyfully consumes.

Some hours later, Sudama leaves — having forgotten entirely to ask for help, but full of joy in his friend’s enduring love.

He returns home, realizing slowly along the way that he neglected the task that he set out to achieve, and his children will still be hungry. But in this, he is wrong. For when he stands finally before the hut he left, it has become a beautiful home, and standing before it is his family — well dressed, well fed by the bounty within their gates, and waiting to greet him.

Why? Because Krishna understood what Sudama had brought him as a gift. He had brought everything he had to give. And in return, Krishna gave him everything he needed.

From this we learn that it is not the material value of the gifts we give but how much of ourselves we give with them that will matter to the receiver.

And we all have a choice: whether to keep our gifts to ourselves or to use them, to Be a Gift to the  World.

And I say to you: Use your gifts. Use them thoughtfully, use them wisely, use them generously.

Use them so that the girls who now sit at home will walk proudly next year to school.

Use them so that the fields that are now barren for want of irrigation will grow next spring, green  with agriculture.

Use them to break the cycle of poverty, lift up the destitute, and give the gift of hope to all those who live in the margins of society.

All of you have been given so many gifts. And you have now been given this great gift of one year to take all your talents, all your gifts, everything that you are and can become — and Be a Gift to the World.

You have one year to take that potential and turn it into reality. You have one year to lead the clubs of your district and transform the lives of others. You have one year to build monuments that will endure forever — carved not in granite or marble but in the lives and hearts of generations to come.

This is our time. It will not come again. Let us grasp it.

Let us Be a Gift to the World.

Thank you.

 

Source - Rotary International

Courtesy - www.eflashonline.org