Francesca’s Choice

Flipping channels last night, I stumbled upon the tearjerker film The Bridges of Madison County. And though the famous novel it’s based on has been often derided as a kitschy, cliché-ridden tome, its popularity attests to its universal themes of love, loss, and longing.

In the well-worn story, Francesca, a beautiful Italian war-bride turned Iowa housewife is treading through her seemingly mundane existence, when Robert, a muscular, proverbially romantic photographer stumbles onto her front porch. They share four passionate days together while her husband and kids are away, and fall hopelessly for each other. Though Francesca longs to break free from her perceived banality and run off with the mysterious stranger, she agonizingly chooses to remain with her family. Over time, she chooses to view the affair as a wonderful, if vexing, interlude to an overall meaningful life.

Francesca’s choice to stay does not mean that every couple should remain married, or conversely that an affair means a marriage is inescapably broken. Yet her choice was right for the people she touched….and though hard to swallow, arguably right for her too.

So how, you ask, does this connect to the themes of Nonprofit Leadership?

Very little, except, perhaps for one salient point: Whether we are a board member, program manager, caseworker, executive director/CEO, or volunteer, we are touching people’s lives. No, not in a way a corporation does, by vainly connecting selling soft drinks to people’s happiness. We do it by going on a truck to the dark side of town, handing out sandwiches to the homeless. Or by lighting a shy nine year old child’s flame that she has a place in the classroom-and the world. And we do it in countless other ways.

Make no mistake, everyone in this world touches people. However in the nonprofit world, we have the wonderful, yet daunting opportunity to touch people in ways many people cannot or do not. Therefore, our choices must be driven by what’s best for the people we serve… and ourselves….in that order.