I got to gate B5 in the Burbank, California, airport early. I’m sitting here typing. Watching people. Relaxing. (I like airports and being at the airport early; it gives me a chance to just sit. I like the unstructured time. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’ve noticed quite a few articles from airports.) My flight boards after this one to Seattle, Washington, heads out. I’m going home to Portland, Oregon.
I got here, the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, on Wednesday evening. It’s Friday. My BFF Larry and I got to spend a few days together working on projects. The retired reverend and Ph.D. sociology professor has written a wonderful book, entitled, How Can I…? Perplexing Spiritual Questions and Suggestive Spiritual Answers.
The book is a compendium of 300+ pages of Larry’s Mr. Roger type of straightforward wisdom. The question and answer format addresses 23 important topics.
- How can I find some quietness in a very noisy world?
- How can I be a more forgiving person when I don’t feel like being one?
- How can I learn to deal with the suffering all around me?
- How can I change what needs to be changed in me?
- How can I respond better to the ingratitude I often experience from others?
In the course of our almost 20-year best-friendship, I’ve learned so much from Larry. And, I’m so pleased that he wrote this wisdom out so that I have it in book form and so that you can enjoy it too.
Also, at the end of the book, he has listed out his favorite lines with references to where that quote can be found in the text.
Here are some that I just love:
- Our unhappiness towards others is like an empty pocket that has been turned inside out. It is the way we show just how unhappy we feel towards ourselves on the inside. (page 74)
- Our hurting and our personal pain are never barriers to God’s presence in life. Only our arrogance is. (page 160)
- A friend is a person who comes to you when the entire world has gone out of you. (page 221)
He graced me by putting my words about his work on the cover:
“A buffet of spiritual nourishment. A feast.”
We really love each other.
Reflection and Larry’s charge to me
Larry just crept past his 81st birthday.
It’s poignant to spend time with him.
His understanding of humanity surpasses that of anyone I know.
He is wise and caring, learned and true.
I am greedy. I want more of him. Always. I want his wisdom. I want to know what he knows.
I want to be as kind as he is.
While in the car and while we shared meals – Cuban (Mambo’s), Mexican (Don Zarape), Italian (Blair’s), and diner (Nat’s) – I scribbled notes to help my retention of learning.
Last night, while we were dining on a pair of succulent eggplant parm dishes, he laid another quotable line on me:
- Transformed people transform people
He said those words and paused, looking directly at me.
Only when I looked up and met his eyes did he continue.
“Brian, you need to hear that one again,” and this time he fell into a bit of his preacher voice: “Transformed people transform people.”
I took a drink of water as he accentuated the syllables differently this second time. My mind overflowed.
“I think I get what you are saying: the people who have experienced a renewal of spirit (the transformed people) are the ones who can effect change (transform people).”
“Yes,” he paused, “but you are missing your part in that.”
“What you are getting at? I’m lost.”
“Zachary,” – he likes to call me by my middle name sometimes – “You are that person.”
“Charles” – his middle name – “I’m glad you are fond of my middle name, but I’m still not certain what you are saying.”
He paused again.
I assumed he needed time to re-evaluate his approach to getting me to understand his words.
But maybe he was frustrated with what might have seemed a flippant response.
We both waited.
“You need to realize you are a transformer. You are that person; you have been called to transform people.”
A pause. I responded, my tone touching on coy, but still honest and from my heart.
“It always seems somewhat egocentric. I’m not certain about that. Something about being a servant leader, maybe….”
“No, you need to realize that there is a group of people who want you to help to transform their lives. You know those people. They are real. As a group, they might seem abstract to you, but I assure you that they are real, they are waiting, and they want you. And the more you can see them as real – real people with real needs – the better.”
We paused again.
And, for a moment, I got it.
It quickly overwhelmed me, I got confused, lost the point, but quickly got it again.
“But my transformation? I am transformed? How?”
“When you get in front of a group to teach, you light up. That’s how you are transformed; the group transforms you. And that transformation takes you from who you are and makes you into something more. That transformed you, and the you transformed by those you teach transforms others.”
“I get that.”
“Transformed people transform people. You are that person for so many people. Take your old friend’s advice: do more of that.”
That’s why I write this newsletter.
That’s why I led the Learn-a-thon.
That’s why I lead Spiritual Pilates.
That’s why I put out podcasts and videos.
That’s why I write books and teach courses.
That’s why I’m busily cooking up some new programming. For you.
Not to help a generic person looking at a device right now reading these words. My job as a rabbi is to help you feel your spiritual fitness.