Dr. Mark Poindexter, “The Church, Depression, and the Death of Matt Warren,” and a blog post from Dr. Bill Peterson

“The Church, Depression, and the Death of Matthew Warren,” by Dr. Mark Poindexter, pastor of the First Christian Church of Martinsville, Indiana, followed by a blog post from  Reverend Dr. William D. Peterson, a retired Presbyterian Church USA Teaching Elder/ Minister of the Word and Sacrament, who blogs at Still Faith-Full [email protected].

http://dmergent.org/articles/2013/4/12/the-church-depression-and-the-death-of-matthew-warren

The Church, Depression, and the Death of Matthew Warren

By Mark Poindexter

The suicide of Matthew Warren, Pastor Rick Warren’s twenty-seven year old son, is a reminder of the devastating impact that mental illness can have. Pastor Warren made it clear that his son had suffered a life long battle with depression that had previously included suicidal thoughts.

As a parent, I simply grieve with the Warren’s over this most difficult loss.

As a pastor, I have stood beside parents who have lost a child and have witnessed their deep anguish.

I also saw my mother bury two of her children, my brothers, and the pain of their loss was part of her life every day. The grief over losing a child becomes quite complicated when the child’s death comes at their own hand. Like Matthew, my brother David suffered with mental illness, specifically bi-polar disorder that included severe times of depression. At the age of fifty-four, my brother took his own life. He left behind a wife and three children. Our entire family felt regret and guilt that we were not able to do more to help David. This was especially true for my mother. The fact that David was an adult did not keep her from thinking that if only she had only been able to be with him more and express her love to him better, than he would not have taken his life. I have no doubt that the Warren family has been asking a lot of “What if ” type questions and imagining many “If only” scenarios. I hope with the love and support of friends, the foundation of their faith, and with some understanding about mental illness, they are able to move beyond those questions.

The other aspect of Matthew Warren’s death that touches me is that I have waged a battle with depression myself. It is a battle that at one time took me very close to the kind of dark places that it took Matthew. Those of us who have battled this illness know that it is much more than just “the blues” or “being sad.” It involves a mental, emotional and even physical anguish that seems to suck the life right out of you. Though I thought my time of depression lasted only a few months at most, my wife told me that she saw a change in my behavior that lasted more than two years. My depression affected our relationship; it affected my ability to be a good parent to my children. The truth is since my depression was accompanied by a sense of paranoia it affected my relationship with most everyone around me. For a number of reasons I was able to come through my time of depression and I think I am stronger for it. I would like to share a few of the lesson I have learned.

Having suffered a mental illness is nothing for which one must be ashamed. I have chosen to be honest about my depression with folks in the congregation I serve. I do not dwell on it, but it has found its way into a few sermons and when I am in a pastoral situation with folks who I think might benefit from seeing a therapist, I am willing to share that therapy has been a part of my life. Being honest about my struggle with depression is one way I battle it. It helps me to stay proactive in dealing with it. For many reasons, mental illness – especially depression, carries a stigma in our culture. In seeking to live honestly with my illness, I refuse to let the misunderstandings of others define me.

I have also sought to educate myself about my illness through talking with professionals and a great deal of reading. I have read several books about depression, faith and depression, pastoral leadership and depression, etc., One of the most helpful books, especially as one who provides leadership to others, was Joshua Wolf Shenk’s, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has suffered a bout with depression or who simply wants to learn more about the illness. One way this book was helpful was by allowing me to understand that the depression I suffered can also be a path toward gaining wisdom and understanding for others. My illness has helped me to be more compassionate and patient toward those whose joy in life seems to have left them.

An important element in my on-going self-care has been daily physical exercise. When I was in my darkest place, I could barely get myself out of bed and was only up 3-4 hours before I would be back in bed. I knew I would feel better if I got out and exercised but I had absolutely no energy or desire. Finally, a dear friend, who knew my struggle, came to my house and would not leave until I went out for a walk with him. We walked four miles that day and I felt better afterwards – both the physical movement and the supportive companionship started my journey out of that dark place. Since then I have been intentional about exercise. I try to spend at least an hour a day, five to six days a week, exercising. I have learned that this helps not only my physical well-being, but my mental, emotional and spiritual well-being as well.

It is also important for the church to understand that depression is not a sign of someone’s lack of faith. Anyone who reads the Psalms can see that the “dark night of the soul” is honestly, and quite frequently, spoken about in the scriptures. It is important for communities of faith to make safe space for people suffering from depression to share their struggle. One of the most important things we can do is be careful and not turn the Christian faith into nothing other than a fallacy of how to “be happy all the time.” Though we do speak of joy and hope and happiness, we must also speak of sorrow and struggle and anguish, because they too are a real part of the human experience and thankfully, we have scriptures that recognize this reality. For me, dealing honestly with my depression has allowed me to experience the realities of joy and hope in an even deeper way. My faith was instrumental for me making it through my dark night of the soul. For I believe that even in the most difficult days, God was present with me, not simply to take me out of the darkness, but to share it with me.

My prayers go out to the Warren family and to all who have been affected by depression. I wish Matthew had found some way to make it through that night. I know that I do not believe God left him in that moment, nor that God does anything other than receive him now in love.

I do not know if this very brief sharing of my story will be helpful to anyone who will read it. I hope it might. I pray that I never go through a bout of depression like I did, but if I do; I know I have the resources of faith, family and friends to help me through it. I am not glad for the experience, but I am glad for what I have been able to learn about life and myself because of it.

Dr. Mark E. Poindexter has been the Senior Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Martinsville, IN since August of 2005.  Pastor Mark has been in pastoral ministry since 1989. His area of special interest is ministry to the grieving and he has served as a volunteer Hospice chaplain.  His doctoral research was in this area and his project was titled, The Human Search for Meaning: Confronting our Mortality.  Pastor Mark has also been heavily involved in community ministries, serving on the board of the Alexandria, Indiana Emergency Relief Fund and Food Pantry for six years.  He was also the founding president of the Washington County, Indiana Habitat for Humanity and oversaw the building of their first home.  In addition to enjoying preaching, Pastor Mark recently had a sermon published by Guild Press in Keeping the Faith: Best Indiana Sermons in the New Millennium.  He and his wife Becky have been married for 16 years and have two children Christopher (13) and Michele (9).  Mark’s hobbies include reading, collecting “Lions and Lambs”, and running.  He counts it as an accomplishment that he has completed 2 mini-marathons.

 

 
   My thanks to Jeanne Bedwell for sending this article my way. It is a timely and well-written piece, and I am grateful to have been a colleague with its author, Dr. Mark Poindexter. Mark and I overlapped in ministry in Salem, Indiana in the late ’90s, while he was the pastor of the First Christian Church, and I was in my last couple of years as pastor at Salem Presbyterian Church. I am grateful for Mark’s openness and honesty regarding his own struggles with depression, for I too have experienced its debilitating effects.  I know what it is like to contemplate suicide, and this gives me a sense of great empathy for Matthew Warren’s decision to end his misery, and for all who wrestle with such issues.  I am thankful to say that in my case a combination of meds, exercise, and spiritual disciplines have helped immensely. I have sought to be open with each congregation I’ve served regarding the realities of my experience with this disease.  Such openness has led to many conversations with parishioners regarding their own histories, or to stories of  those close to them who suffer from depressive disorders. At the same time, however, on more than one occasion I’ve had parishioners say they don’t like the thought that their pastor “needs medications of this nature.” Comments of this nature appear to me to be a clear indication that there is a continuing stigma surrounding anything related to mental and/or emotional illness, and the apparent belief that those of us with such afflictions simply aren’t sufficiently faithful or spiritual.   This view is so unfortunate, for the mind is very much like other organs in the body. By this I mean that it is not uncommon to need medication to balance bodily organs that are either over – or under – functioning.  In my case, the depression proved to be a product of my brain’s inability to retain a sufficient amount of the naturally secreted substance known as Seratonin, a mood enhancer. What a relief to know that medications were available to help my brain retain this substance for a sufficient period of time to feel normal.   In fact once the appropriate dose for my body type and condition was achieved, I felt as though the person I always knew was inside could emerge, and as a consequence I could much more clearly face life’s challenges and relish life’s pleasures. What a blessing!

 

 

Remarks given by Jeanne Bedwell on Sunday, September 20, 2009 at the Salem Presbyterian Church, Salem, Indiana

International Day of Peace

The International Day of Peace, Peace Day, provides an opportunity for individuals, organizations and nations to create practical acts of peace on a shared date. It was established by a United Nations resolution in 1981 and first celebrated in September 1982. In 2002 the General Assembly officially declared September 21 as the permanent date for the International Day of Peace. http://www.internationaldayofpeace.org/

To inaugurate the day, the “Peace Bell” is run at UN Headquarters. The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents. It was given as a gift by the Diet of Japan, and is referred to as “a reminder of the human cost of war.” The inscription on its side reads: “Long live absolute world peace.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Day_of_Peace

Anyone, anywhere can celebrate Peace Day. It can be as simple as lighting a candle at noon, or just sitting in silent prayer. Or, it can involve getting your co-workers, organization, community, or government engaged in a larger event.

International Day of Peace is also a Day of Ceasefire—personal or political. Take this opportunity to make peace in your own relationships as well as to impact the larger conflicts of our time.

My beloved daughter-in-law, Shinobu Arai Apple, was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. She is a “birthright” member of Sokka Gakkai and both she and my son Jim Apple are active members of SGI.

I would like to share two quotes from Presdient Daisaku Ikeda, a Buddhist philosopher, peacebuilder, educator, author, and poet. He is the third president of the Soka Gakkai lay Buddhist organization and the founding president of the Soka Gakkai International [SGI], a large and diverse lay Buddhist organization, promoting a philosophy of character development and social engagement for peace. http://www.daisakuikeda.org/

The central tenant of Ikeda’s thought, and of Buddhism, is the fundamental sanctity of life, a value which Ikeda sees as the key to lasting peace and human happiness. In his view, global peace relies ultimately on a self-directed transformation within the life of the individual, rather than on societal or structural reform alone.

“World peace is not something that can be realized simply by politicians signing treaties, or by business leaders creating economic cooperation. True and lasting peace will be realized only by forging bonds of trust between people at the deepest level, in the depths of their very lives.”
http://www.daisakuikeda.org/main/peacebuild/peace/peace-01.html

President Ikeda’s oldest brother died in Burma in WWII. In an essay called “A Piece of Mirror,” he wrote of his mother’s crushing grief at the loss of her son.

“War brings only suffering and misery to ordinary people, to families and mothers. It is always nameless and unknown people who suffer and moan amidst the mud and flames. In war, human life is used as a means to an end, an expendable commodity. It is said that it takes 20 years of peace to make a man, but only 20 seconds to destroy him. This is why we must always oppose war—neither engaging in it ourselves nor permitting others to do so. All rivalries and conflicts must be resolved, not through power, but with wisdom, and through dialogue.”
http://www.daisakuikeda.org/main/peacebuild/essays-on-peace/a-piece-of-mirror.html

A Christian version of the idea of a “self-directed transformation in the life of each individual,” comes to us in the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. The first appearance of the Peace Prayer occurred in France in 1912 in a small spiritual magazine called La Clochette (The Little Bell).

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

http://www.franciscan-archive.org/franciscana/peace.html

Mother’s Day 2007

Mothers’ Day, 2007
Salem Presbyterian Church

My mother, Carol Jeanne Parsons Shafer, was a member of this congregation from 1960-1968. While she was here, she was a wife, a mother of three including two teens, a homemaker, a “minister’s wife,” an occasional organist, the director of the Children’s Choir, a university student working on her teaching certification and later her master’s degree, and an elementary teacher, among other duties. The word “multi-tasker” describes her life; she was busy. She was an equal partner with my father in all of her duties. When I read the following scripture, I think of my mother and the devoted care she gave to her family, her church, and her students.

Just as we know from the Parable of the Good Samaritan that everyone we encounter is our neighbor, we also know that we are all mothers and fathers to each other, husbands and wives to those we love and to the institutions we serve. I invite you to listen to this ancient scripture— those who are mothers, those who mother others, and those who have been mothered—and to think of how these ancient words describe a woman who is the CEO of her home and family, the administrator and manager of her life and the lives of her extended family—- a woman, single, married, divorced, or widowed—any woman who uses her skills to be the creative source within her home and her world, watching over, nourishing, protecting, caring, and mothering those who come within her realm.

Proverbs 31: Verses 10-31 are an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Proverbs 31:10-31

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still dark; and provides food
for her family and portions for her servant girls.
She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable; and her lamp does not go out at night. 
In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 
When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 
She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom and dignity, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 
Give her the reward she has earned and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
“This is the Word of the Lord”

The Proverbs 31 woman is charitable, entrepreneurial, fashionable, financially astute, healthy, industrious, loving, managerial, productive, prudent, resourceful, responsible, reverent, self-confident, skilled, trustworthy, virtuous, wise, praiseworthy as a wife and mother. She represents the essence of womanliness and is the mother to us all.

Tibetan Lamas

Geshe is a Buddhist academic degree for scholars, requiring about twenty years of study. The geshe degree is a scholarly degree and should not be confused with the spiritual function of a “lama”; a lama is a person with spiritual insights which allow him or her to spiritually guide disciples. A geshe, on the other hand, is a keeper of the Buddhist knowledge. [Wikipedia]

I hate to admit how this got started, but when I was a freshman in college at Purdue in 1962, I read a book by a “Tibetan Lama” named Lobsang Rampa. He turned out to be a plumber from Scotland writing channeled misinformation about Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Still, I was enthralled with Tibet and read what other books I could find. There wasn’t much information about Tibet available in the early 60’s, though I enjoyed reading a number of books about India, including my favorites, The Mountain is Young by Han Suyin and The Far Pavilions. Deep in my heart, I formed a wish to meet a real Tibetan lama. Living in the American Midwest, I did not think that much of a possibility.

It is interesting to experience how wishes are granted as one journeys through life. In 1982 and 1983, I went on retreats at Bethany Springs, a retreat house close by Our Lady of Gethsemane monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky. One of the monks who had lived at Gethsemane was Thomas Merton, the famous writer and peace activist, who in 1968 journeyed to Darmsala, India, to visit the young Dalai Lama, who had escaped in 1959 from the Communist Chinese takeover of Tibet. In his Asian Journal, Merton wrote about his arduous trek to northern India and his profound meetings with HH, the Dalai Lama. The two, speaking through translators, found a common bond, and one meeting turned into several. Merton died of an accidental electrocution a couple of weeks later in Bangkok, Thailand, but he had set in motion a dialogue between Buddhist and Christian monks that continues to this day.

In his sophomore year at The College of William and Mary, my oldest son Jim took a class in Buddhism. He then returned home at the end of the semester and swiped my entire shelf of books on Buddhism. I was gratified to have my child become interested in a particular interest of my own, though he has still not returned the books. Jim then discovered he could study Tibetan through Indiana University’s outstanding foreign language department. He subsequently discovered a “gift” in the ability to read and translate Tibetan and later Sanskrit. Before he graduated from IU with a degree in Religious Studies, he met a lama named Geshe Sopa, who was the Director of Buddhist Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Eventually, Jim went to live and then to study with Geshe Sopa, earning his Ph.D in Buddhist studies from the University of Wisconsin in 2001.

While Jim was a student at IU, I attended some functions at the Tibetan Cultural Center and met [receiving line kind of meeting] the Dalai Lama’s brother, Thubten Jigme Norbu, Buddhist monk, professor of Central Eurasian Studies, oldest brother of the XIVth Dalai Lama, and the 26th reincarnation of Takster Rinpoche. I read his autobiography,Tibet is My Country, which whetted further interest. I was fascinated with the ancient Tibetan beliefs, including the idea of Rinpoches, “precious ones” who incarnate again and again into the same position. According to Tibetan beliefs, the Takster Rinpoche, Professor Norbu, had incarnated 26 times as the abbot of the Kumbum monastery. How amazing to be a reincarnated lama, to be discovered while the child of a peasant as the incarnation of a high lama, and to be educated at the highest level at an important monastery, to have inherited the wealth and position of abbot, to escape from Tibet with the help of the CIA, and to end up as a professor at a university in the Midwestern United States.

Of course, Jim knew of my desire to speak with a Tibetan lama, so in 1993, when he was living at Deer Park, Geshe Sopa’s home near Madison, Wisconsin, he arranged for me to have an audience with Geshe Sopa. One does not just sit down for a chat, I discovered. When I arrived at Deer Park after an eight hour drive from Salem, I was ushered into the kitchen where four monks were making tsampa—butter sculptures made of salted tea, yak butter, and toasted barley flour. These sculptures are especially made for the December Butter Lamp Festival. When I saw what they were making, I said “tsampa,” which brought delighted smiles to their faces—-probably from my mispronunciation. I was visiting during Thanksgiving weekend and they were deep into preparation for the coming festival; the table and counter were lined with small sculptures. I later learned that one of the young monks was a rinpoche and the old monk was a high lama named Geshe Topgay.

Soon, I was escorted into Geshe Sopa’s presence; he received me formally, in monk’s robes, seated cross-legged on a platform in his room. The platform, about five feet high, was draped in crimson silk and colorful thangkas with gold embroidery. I had the disconcerting feeling of being in another time and another place. After I had bowed a greeting, he kindly asked me to sit and inquired about what I wanted to know. I was overwhelmed and could not think of anything to ask but finally managed a question about how he escaped from Tibet. I am sure that is not a question with which to use a high lama’s time, but he told me about his journey over the Himalayan mountains four months after the Dalai Lama’s, a frightening, hunger-filled journey through the high mountain passes. Then I asked him about the Neuchung Oracle, Dorje Drak-den (Nechung), the principal protector divinity of the Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama (see History of Nechung Monastery), the one who told the Dalai Lama he must leave Tibet and named the places on the path of the safe journey to India. The Dalai Lama explained this oracle’s directions in his autobiography Freedom in Exile. Again, this was an unexpected question, but Geshe Sopa responded by explaining. Slowly, I relaxed and he began to question me about my beliefs. I think he grasped that my knowledge and thoughts were very fragmented. He began to tell me the basic teachings and tenets of Buddhism, speaking gently and kindly. Eventually, Jim helped me back away from his presence and leave the room properly, still facing Geshe Sopa. I remember being dazed the rest of the evening. I met Geshe Sopa several times after that and he was always smiling and cordial. I have never forgotten that profound hour in his presence—a dream fulfilled and a true honor for me to be in the presence of this holy man.

http://www.ualberta.ca/~japple/

Meeting the Dalai Lama

http://www.dalailama.com/

The first time I became aware of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, occurred in the early 1980’s when I read Thomas Merton‘s Asian Journal, which describes the series of meetings between the two men shortly before Merton’s death in 1968. I was interested, from a distance; he seemed an exotic holy man, but I began to pay attention when his name appeared in the news. In 1989, when the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I thought it a much deserved honor and followed his work even more closely. It was not until my son Jim began to study the Tibetan language and culture and then entered a Ph.D program to further his study of Tibetan Buddhism that I became more aware of HH as a spiritual leader and holy man.

Early in the 1990’s, I learned that HH would be speaking at Berea College in southeastern Kentucky, which is about a three hour drive from Salem. Berea, an excellent small regional college in which all students work to earn their room, board, and tuition, had welcomed a number of Tibetans as students, leading to a friendship and exchange of visits between the college president and the Dalai Lama. I invited a former student, Kathy, to attend with me and we arrived early for the inspiring event, which was held in an old hall on the campus with a Shaker-inspired design, including a balcony that made a U around the room. The audience eagerly anticipated the arrive of HH and rose in joyful acclamation when he arrived. Perhaps it was just the lighting, but I saw that he was surrounded by a golden glow as he sat on the stage and then spoke in his high-pitched voice. His command of English is “iffy” and he would break into Tibetan and then look to his translator for help. The audience leaned forward, respectfully silent, grasping each word. In contrast, the governor of Kentucky sat on stage with a bored smirk. One could feel a holy presence when the Dalai Lama was in the room—and the atmosphere was “charged.” It was a profound event and I was exhilarated. It was announced that later that evening HH would helicopter to Our Lady of Gethsemane monastery, Merton’s home monastery, for a visit with the monks.

HH visits occasionally in Bloomington, Indiana, about 60 miles from Salem, as his older brother, Professor Norbu, and his family live there. On one such visit, while Jim was an undergrad, a reception was held for HH at the Tibetan Cultural Center. The tickets were expensive, $250 for two, but I realized this was probably my only chance to be very close to HH. I remember that as we walked up the drive to the reception, I said to Jim, “We don’t have katas,” the ceremonial white scarves exchanged at formal meetings with the Dalai Lama. Jim thought we need not worry, as we would not be very close. After HH had entered the room and given a short talk, he made a progress around the room. I was standing near an older woman, leaning on a walker, who was dressed in a white suit and blouse. A very attractive lady, though frail, she stood out in the crowd; in fact, she glowed with a lovely white light. HH came around near us and, seeing her, he stepped over to greet her. The crowd was pressing closely and I moved slightly to give her some room, but I could not step back. Thus, HH leaned across me to grasp her hand. His face was six inches from mine and his arm and shoulder pressed against me. I hardly dared to breathe. He talked to her for a few moments and then he turned and saw Jim standing a few feet beyond the woman.

Jim is 6’4”–and stands out in a crowd. HH walked over to Jim and greeted him. Jim took his hand, knelt, and spoke, in Tibetan, the ritual Tibetan greeting for when one meets the Dalai Lama. HH, startled and amused, clearly not expecting such a response from an American youth, laughed and responded in kind, placing his hand on Jim’s head in blessing and then speaking briefly with him. A circle formed as this exchange took place, the tall American student and the holy man. As HH finished and walked back across my path, I held out my hand, which he shook warmly. I could see he was exhausted and I lifted a prayer for his strength.

I cannot speak for Jim, but imagine being an American student immersed in studying the language, culture, and religion of an ancient land—and having the holy leader single you out in a crowd for a greeting and blessing. To me, it was a sacred moment and I did not take a picture. I did not dare—the moment was too holy. Later, perhaps as a reward for respecting the sacred, when I had my pictures developed, I was astonished to discover a wonderful shot of HH, taken from two feet, as he reached over to greet someone near me.

On two other occasions in the 1990’s, I heard HH speak. Once when he spoke at the auditorium at IU, we stood in the long line and somehow managed seats on the third row. The other time was at the dedication of the stupa at the Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington when he spoke to a large gathering, seated on a platform outdoors under a large tent. That venue, quite common in India and Asian countries, felt very exotic in the US. However, security was rampant–suited guys in sunglasses talking into radios—a reminder that we were in the US and living in dangerous times. Jim attended the 10 day Kalachakra ceremony at Bloomington a few years ago, as did other Salem friends; however, I did not feel that I could endure the early morning trips, the security, the porta potties, the long walks back to the car—so I did not attend.

I had longed for thirty years to meet a Tibetan lama and was rewarded with my audience with Geshe Sopa. I had never considered that I would be a person who was in the presence of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, much less be close enough to touch him or have the privilege of shaking his hand. I keep the photo I took on my desk, a daily reminder of this good and holy man, and the honor of being once so near.