“Sure….. sure, Jerry….. I’ll be happy to meet with him….. what is his name again? Oh, okay- Tom.”
“Why am I meeting with this guy?” I think to myself. “I guess he loves orphans, and that is a good enough reason. Plus, my friend Jerry thought it would be good. Friends help friends.” I reason.
A few days later I walk down to the Starbucks a half a mile away from my North Arlington, Virginia home in the hopefully-soon-to-be-thawing East Coast weather in early March. I am dressed casually (usually a mistake in the D.C. culture) and sure enough when I walk into the jammed and cramped Starbucks there he is- in a beautiful suit, tie, complete with a briefcase.
“Hi…. I am guessing you are Tom.” I say as I extend my hand.
He smiles and greets me warmly, and then loosens his tie. I am glad that my California-side helped him relax!
I get my coffee and we sit down facing each other at a small table for two. He launches into his story as though I were his trusted therapist, or priest, or best friend. I am somewhat stunned by his instant vulnerability.
Jerry said I could talk to you and tell you anything…… so that’s what I’m going to do. OK?
He doesn’t wait for a response from me.
Well, I’m an East Coast person. All my life. You can probably tell by my name I’m a Catholic….. well, sort of…. I used to be….. I guess I still am, but not really practicing. I’m not actually sure what I am or what I believe.
The information is tumbling out of him. It has its own tide and he is being swept along in it. He is nervous. He talks fast. There is no doubt that he is from the East Coast- his mannerisms, accent, dress. Everytthing. East Coast to the bone.
Well, something happened to me. I don’t understand what it was…. and Jerry said you might be able to help me understand it. It’s kinda weird. But before I tell you about “it” – let me give you a bit a background on me, so you have some context.
I grew up a Catholic and like many young men in the 70’s I was deeply immersed in my own religious tradition. It was an exciting time. We used to have “young people spiritual retreats” at a Monastery, and I never missed one. I loved them. We would meet for a whole weekend and share from our hearts. It felt very safe…. and caring…. and loving. And we would sing songs….. spiritual songs….. with guitars accompanying us- and it just felt so good. So right. Then on Sunday we would have Mass, and the young priests (who really related well to all of us) would lead us in worship and Eucharist…… I’m sorry, do you know what “Eucharist” is?
“Yes, isn’t it like a communion service for Christians?” I offered.
Yes…..exactly. Well during Communion, or what we call Eucharist, I would also feel such a deep peace and love in my heart. It is hard to explain- but it felt like everything was right with the world, and I was accepted as I am….. and more than accepted…. loved…. deeply. I could feel it literally in my heart.”
And here, he touched his heart as he said it…… staring intensely into my eyes to see if I was understanding the depth of what he was trying to explain.
“That’s wonderful.” I said. Somehow he knew I actually did understand. His words tumbled on, and somehow the clank or cups, and whirring of the Frappacino machines faded into the distance.
Well, then as time went on I lost contact. With the Church. With God. With myself. I became very successful as a businessman and thought a lot about myself! I was completely self-absorbed. I lived a frantic life. I got married. We had children, one of who was severely challenged and took lots of care. My wife gave most of the care while I was working 80 hour weeks and traveling around the world. A distance began to grow between us.
I took a trip to Romania, and somehow during the trip I wound up visiting an orphanage. You probably know that under the Communist Dictator, Chaucheskou there were many orphans. They were put in horrible orphanages and suffered terribly. As I was standing there in one of the orphanages, with ragged little children all around me grabbing and holding on to my legs….. something broke inside me. I knew what I needed to do with my life. I knew it beyond a shadow of a doubt…. in an instant. I needed to quit my job and help these kids…. and kids like them.
I called my wife from Romania and told her about my experience and that I had to quit my job (which gave us a very comfortable lifestyle) and dedicate myself to advocating for children like this. I expected her to be resistant- but she wasn’t. In fact, she encouraged me to follow my sense of what I was being called to do.
So I did.
And then eventually I met Jerry- who, as you know, has been caring for the plight of orphans around the world for a long time. And now, I am the CEO of the largest advocacy group on behalf of orphans in the world. I speak at the United Nations, and before Congress-about the desperate need of these little ones.
I love what I do, but I still felt an blank spot in my core. Then a few months ago Jerry called me and said, “Hey, Tom, you need to meet me at the National Prayer Breakfast next week in DC and I will set up some important meetings where you can share about the needs of the orphans.”
It made me a little nervous, to be honest….. I mean, to go to some “religious” event with a bunch of “religious” people mixing with politicians….. it just wasn’t something I was naturally drawn to….. it just made me nervous. I tried to get out of it, but you know Jerry. He is a force to contend with….. so on a Thursday in early February I found myself in front of the Hilton Hotel near Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. Even though it was cold outside the large revolving door at the front of the Hilton-I lingered. I didn’t want to go in. I smoked a couple cigarettes trying get up courage. Then I just decided, “I have to go in.” So I walked straight toward the revolving door, briefcase in hand. I went around and stepped into the lobby and the “it” happened.
Wham! I hit something.
As he said, “Wham!” he clapped his hands together loudly and all our fellow coffee drinkers in Starbucks looked over. It didn’t deter his story. He was on a mission.
I hit something!
“What? What did you hit? The door? Did it get stuck?” I asked, now rapped up in the story myself.
He looked at me like I must be crazy.
No! Not the door. I made it through the door and took one…. maybe two steps into the lobby! Then I hit “it!”
I don’t really know! It….. it felt solid…..it’s hard to get words on it…. but, it felt like I ran into a “wall of love.” Honest. A “wall of love.”
We sat there in silence, staring at each other. Letting it sink in.
Then he continued more quietly.
I know it sounds crazy, but that is what it was like.
“What did you do then?” I asked, truly wondering if I was with a mystic.
I went right back outside and smoked a cigarette!
We both laughed and relaxed a bit.
Actually, I smoked a few. Then I went back in and went to the meetings Jerry had set up for me. They were very high-level and I was supposed to talk about orphans, and I did, but I was like a zombie. I mainly listened to the others and took in what this thing was about.
Then he stopped, realizing that I might have no idea what he was talking about, and he asked,
Do you know anything about the National Prayer Breakfast? Do you know what I am even trying to say?
“Yes, I know some about the Prayer Breakfast…. I have been to a few…. I know the context you are describing.” In actuality I had been to about 28 years worth of Prayer Breakfasts, and that particular year I had been a speaker at some of the side-events around the Prayer Breakfast itself. I had served as a volunteer most of those years, but now had some semi-official role in hosting all of the guests from Latin America.
Tom was content that I understood the event.
So….. do you know what happened to me?
“Well, yes….. I think I do, actually…. but let me ask you something. Had you ever felt anything like that before?
He paused and looked up and away, thinking….. or feeling….. trying to remember if he had ever felt something like this before.
Yes! he said in triumph, as if an ancient memory had just come back to him full-force and unexpectedly.
Yes! At the Retreats….. when I was a young man….. at Eucharist! That’s it. I felt the peace, the love, the……. acceptance.
I smiled. A smile from deep down inside. We sat in silence.
Many years later I found myself telling this story to others and feeling the same impact that I felt when I heard it fresh from the lips of an astonished Tom. And two things hit me.
He had hit a “wall of love.” It was a wall of relationships dating back at least 60 years (and perhaps two thousand). Friendships attempting to be centered in the Person and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I had been a part of those friendships the past 25 years and had (by in large) benefited deeply from them. Imperfect friendships, to be sure….. but friendships founded on a deep Center and well-intentioned, if flawed.
And second, I realized that I may have been in that very lobby at the very time Tom stepped out from the revolving door and hit this “wall of love.”
And I hadn’t felt a thing. Not a thing. I was probably running around trying to fix some problem in the programming for the event. My filters were clogged. My mind was fixated- but not on a wall of love. Probably on a task to accomplish. And yet…. there it was…. without question….a wall of love right smack-dab in the middle of the Hilton Hotel Lobby. A wall of love which just about knocked Tom down, and clearly woke him up to a reality that he had known since he was a child…. but had apparently forgotten, or misplaced in the course of living his life.
Yet there “it” was. There it still is.