Wednesday, August 14, 1974. I was on a bass fishing trip with my brother Robert in Maine. We had been fishing the St. Croix River downstream of Princeton as well as Long Lake during the last few days. On the 14th, we took a day off and drove over to Canada, across the St. Croix from Calais. In Canada, we loafed around beaches and parks by the ocean and finished the day with a lobster dinner. After dark, we returned to the Plaisted Camps Motel in Princeton where we had rented a cabin.
There was a note on our cabin door asking me to call a police officer back in Putnam County, New York, where I lived with my wife and two sons. My wife, Nancy, and my two sons, Jason and Aaron, had not accompanied me on the fishing trip but, rather, had stayed behind at my house with my parents and Robert’s wife, son and two daughters as house guests. It had been our intention that my dad and Jason were to accompany us on the fishing trip but my dad, at the last moment, backed out.
When I called the officer, he informed me that my son Jason had drowned in the brook behind my home. He also informed me that my wife was distraught and fearful of facing me. My only question was whether he was sure that my son was dead, which he was.
Robert and I then packed up the car, I settled with Bill Plaisted and we departed for New York at about midnight. During the trip, Robert drove while I became increasingly furious, making threats against people who Robert did not know. I refused food or drink when Robert stopped at a diner, and waited in the car while he ate.
The drive took 10 hours and we arrived in Putnam Valley at about 10 A.M. By the time that we arrived, Robert was weeping with fear at what I was going to do, for I had started raving about my Samurai swords.
Nancy’s father and mother had also driven up from Newport News, Virginia, during the night, and were with her as we arrived. I found that my parents and Robert’s family had departed to return to Washington DC prior to the boy’s death. I also found that they had left because Nancy and my father had had an argument.
Nancy’s father was the only person at our house as Nancy and her mother were at a neighbor’s house. By this time, exhaustion had overcome me and I was no longer furious with anyone. For the first time in my adult life, I was facing up to an important event which was history, and not changeable by me. The fact that such misfortune could happen to me was a totally alien concept to me. I had always been called “lucky”.
Robert and I went over to the neighbor’s house which was filled with sympathetic neighbors comforting Nancy. The first memorable remark was by Nancy’s mother that “God only picks the prettiest flowers.” I responded to that remark with “I don’t need any god like that.” In fact, God was not a part of my life and I knew, like all successful people, that religion was for losers and weaklings. There were spirits, I knew, but the idea of good and bad was not of importance to me.
That afternoon, my father and mother arrived from Washington. Robert’s wife and kids remained there at my parents’ house. The first thing that my father did was to get down on his knees and beg my forgiveness. He was very distraught, but I did not understand how he perceived that this accident had anything to do with him. Momentarily, I discovered that he felt responsible for the sequence of events that proceeded from his angry departure prior to the accident. With my fatigue, I was no longer interested in blaming anyone, and shrugged off his concerns.
Later in the afternoon, a priest named Father Grace showed up to talk to me and Nancy. He wanted to know where we wanted to bury Jason. I pointed in the general direction of the beautiful cemetery on the hill overlooking the Valley. Someone interjected that that cemetery was Jewish and would not be appropriate or available. At that point, my father pointed out that Jason should be buried in the family plot in Bethesda, Maryland. That seemed good to everyone and was decided there.
Next came the business of showing the body. My father took charge of all of the details from there forward. He went to the morgue with Jason’s last set of clothes. I had to sign the Coroner’s death certificate. Thursday was spent preparing the body at a funeral home. Jason’s body was to be viewed on Friday, and then shipped to Washington for burial on Saturday. The entire process became increasingly mechanical and I went back to my home. I refused food and said that I would eat after Jason was buried on Saturday. This fast seemed appropriate to me.
On Friday, my father drove Nancy and me to the funeral home with my mother. I was impressed by how slowly and precisely he drove the car. It occurred to me that there was no hurry. I went up to the casket and kissed Jason on the lips. His body was cold as a rock. Then, I put my watch under his pillow. The watch had stopped on the 13th when I had fallen off the bow of the boat when I had hooked a bass. I figured that I wanted something of mine with him in the ground. The neighbors were there and everyone sat silently for what seemed an interminable period. Father Grace arrived and said something forgettable. Then, as my father indicated that it was time to leave, I stood up and addressed the neighbors with “that’s all folks.” The drive home felt final.
That night, the body was shipped to Washington D.C. for burial.
Saturday, August 17, 1974. We buried Jason at Gate of Heaven cemetery in Washington D.C. There was a canopy over the grave and the little white coffin was already at the bottom. Several grave diggers were nearby and I was told that they were on strike. The priest arrived last in a big limousine with darkened windows. I was impressed. Over the grave, I threw in a handful of dirt that “thonked” against the little coffin. Then the priest read the 23rd Psalm:
“Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
In meadows of green grass he lets me lie.
To the waters of repose he leads me;
There he revives my soul.
He guides me by paths of virtue
For the sake of his name.
Though I pass through a gloomy valley,
I fear no harm;
Beside me your rod and your staff
Are there to hearten me.
You prepare a table before me
Under the eyes of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil,
My cup brims over.
Ah, how goodness and kindness pursue me,
Every day of my life;
My home, the house of Yahweh,
As long as I live!
While the priest read this, and I looking at Jason’s coffin through tears, it first occurred to me that I had led an evil and selfish life. That conviction came over me like a flood as I listened to those words, and marveled that the author considered God his friend and patron. Yet I had treated God with contempt, and was guilty of rebellion and only worthy of the death penalty. When he finished the Psalm, we all got up to leave and, as we walked to the cars, my sister Josie put a Bible in my hands and I took it home.
At home, while we waited for the people to arrive for the reception, I sat in the easy chair, where I had studied the sciences while at Maryland, and read these words in the Bible:
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”
I was mesmerized by the words, but they seemed so awful on top of what I had just witnessed and the sense of uncleanness that had come upon me at the grave. I continued reading to the words:
“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently into the sky as he was going….”
These words were more than I could handle. So, after struggling to read further in what was an increasingly baffling story line, I gave up as the guests began to arrive.
One of the guests was Father Bernard Rogan, the priest who had buried Jason, and we talked about people he knew at Citibank, but I did not know any of them. However, Fr. Rogan was an amiable man and he kept my attention throughout the reception. At its conclusion, he invited me to come to the church, Little Flower, where Nancy and I had been married, to hear a sermon that he said that he had written just for me. I, of course, told him that I would be there, but without any real intention to go. I was worn out. However, after the reception, Josie and her husband, Phil, as well as Robert invited me to go with them to a Redskins football pre-season game. So I went. And when we returned, I crashed into a deep sleep.
Sunday, August 18, 1974. I arose late on Sunday and was eating breakfast when my parents came back from the 8 am Mass at which I had promised Fr. Rogan that I would attend.
My mother told me, “Father Rogan was looking for you after Mass”.
I made a lame excuse but my mom interrupted me.
“But, lucky for you, he’s going to be doing the 10:30 Mass, as well. You have time to get ready and get there with Nancy”.
Trapped, I agreed to go and went with Nancy. It had been a while since we had been in a church of any kind.
As Fr. Rogan prepared to give his homily, I steeled myself for a maudlin talk about grieving parents and the transience of life. Instead, Fr. Rogan surprised me completely with words that changed my life. I heard them first when he read the Gospel. But he explained them in his homily:
“Often, when I hear those words from this morning’s gospel, ‘I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish it were ignited.’ … I think of the mosaic of Christ over the main altar in the National Shrine on the Catholic University campus. As you know, it is a different picture of Christ, a picture of an active, determined, commanding, even aggressive Christ.
“I think that that is the way it should be. There are too many statues and paintings of our Lord as an effete young man who could not lead anyone anywhere. I do not know how this came to be except that perhaps it was felt in the past, that if our Lord were depicted too much as a man, as manly and strong, then somehow his divinity would be diminished. Such, of course, need not be the case. The truth is that in the gospels, Jesus is strong … strong in body, a carpenter’s helper … strong in mind, a teacher at twelve in the temple … and most of all, strong in speech. He was not afraid to speak out to all who needed to know God’s truth even, like the prophet Jeremias before him, at the risk of his own life. As in everything else, Jesus wants our imitation.
“Aggressiveness … not in its roughness but in its energy … that is what our Lord is commending to us today. Aggressiveness purified of any evil taint for we would not expect him to lead us astray. Perhaps self-assertion is a better word for that spirit of which our Lord is so fond. Self-assertion … that vigorous speaking, thinking and acting which helps a man satisfy his need without harming others, that which brings him to defend others against attack, that which provides him with a stimulus to attain the goals of his life. Many have such self-assertion when it comes to the natural life but our Lord would want it in the supernatural life as well. Enthusiasm, struggle, forthrightness … these are in great evidence around the bargain table of the business luncheon, but they should be found more so in those areas of life upon which our religion is brought to bear. ‘I have come to light a fire on the earth”, said our Lord, but one wonders if through us His fire has become a feeble flame.
“I ask this because of something I read recently which said that there are three questions which contemporary Catholicism must answer to gain a hearing from modern man. The first question was posed by Spinoza who wondered about the historical character of the books of the Bible, which is the foundation of our faith. Recent biblical scholarship and archaeological findings have done much to answer him. The second question is that of Marx who wondered about the organization of labor, the distribution of goods and social justice. Papal encyclicals, especially those of Popes John and Paul, have supplied answers here. The third is Nietzsche’s question: whether the values taught by Christianity, such as gentleness, submission, humility, pity, have not enfeebled and enervated human nature. Perhaps not enough attention has been paid to this last question.
“Actually, there is nothing in either the life or teaching of our Lord which supports the notion that his church should turn out weaklings, recluses or timid souls. Our Lord did exemplify the virtues of humility, meekness and charity but he did so positively and without their acquired negative connotations. In these he showed strength, not weakness. Jesus was submissive to the demands of charity that people made upon him, yet he was unyielding where truth and principle were concerned. He was gentle with the weak and uneducated, yet demanding of those with learning and talent. He was patient but zealous, kind but strong, quiet but forceful. No one observing him before Pilate or Herod or listening to his sermon on the mount could ever accuse him of being a weakling who had nothing to say.
“If we do not show this kind of Christ to the world, it is perhaps because we have misinterpreted what he said, misread what he did. We all know people whose strange notion of Christian obedience conceals the fact that they are pained by the slightest disagreement with others, and quickly submit to them to maintain the security of peace and agreement. We know of a type of humility … really false pride … which prompts a man to say that he has talent to do nothing of value for God or man except to repeat that he is the humblest man in the world. And up until fairly recently, it was rather common among Christians to use our Lord’s concern for the next world as an excuse for them to do little or nothing about the evils of this world.
“When this emphasis on the negative in Christian life is carried through to a marked degree, then there sets in a kind of stagnation, a state characterized by a number of things. There is an unwillingness to participate in genuine Christian activity, there is a resignation to mediocrity, and there is a lack of any clearly defined purpose in one’s life. For anyone, stagnation is bad enough, but for the Christian it is a kind of living death.
“But the world, however, needs life not death. It asks contribution not condemnation. There is need for Christians both within the Catholic Church circles and without who are able to defend their opinions in an honest discussion, Christians who will speak with candor when they feel Christ is misunderstood or ignored. There is clear need for many to remonstrate against neglect or injustice, such as in the area of fair housing, discrimination in hiring and the problem of over population in the underdeveloped nations, issues at our very doorsteps. Listen to St. Paul when he said on one occasion, ‘that the Spirit gives witness together with our spirit that we are children of God’. Children, we are, not slaves, children who are not silent because of fear, but who speak and act out of love for the Father and all his children. We are children who know that we have something great to say to the world and are anxious to say it. Listen to St. Paul today when he tells us not to grow despondent or to abandon the struggle.
“Such genuinely vigorous thought followed by similar vigorous behavior, when it is directed toward God’s glory and the good of souls and when it is performed within the bounds of genuine obedience, far from being disloyal and unchristian, is virtuous and pleasing to God’s sight. We must not take our Christianity lying down. Our Lord said ‘I have come to light a fire’. He said it again in other words. ‘The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and only the violent will bear it away’.”
I was struck by these words but mainly by the idea that Jesus was not the wimp that art and history had portrayed Him. After the Mass, after seeing Fr. Rogan and the altar boys go into the sacristy, Nancy and I filed out with the parishioners. Surprisingly, Fr. Rogan was at the door and greeted me.
“Well, Richard, what did you think of my sermon?”
I replied awkwardly. “Gee, it was great. Could I have a hard copy?”
To which he replied that he did not have it with him and could I stop by his office at 2 pm when he would give it to me. This I did and there, in his office, he explained that Jesus Christ had died to pay the price for my sins, for which he had noted my guilt. I argued that Jesus could pay the price for most anybody, but that my sins were too much and my fate was condemnation to hell. Then, patiently, Fr. Rogan told me the stories of St. Paul and St. Augustine, between whom had seemed to commit all of my sins that came to mind. And he pointed out that, after conversion and dedication of their lives to the Lord Jesus, they became great men of God. This really riveted my attention. So, by the time that I left his office, I had heard clearly what Jesus had done and that it applied to me. What I did not understand is that I had a choice to make. Did I want this gift from God or not? But, Fr. Rogan let me into the church and I knelt and prayed my penance and then went home. While in the church on my knees at the communion rail, the church was filled by loud clattering as if someone was dragging a cane around the wooden walls. But when I looked behind me, the church fell silent and there was nobody there. However, as soon as I returned my gaze to the crucifix, the loud clattering behind me resumed. I did this several times until I was finished and went home.
That night, Fr. Rogan baptized Aaron. The words of the baptism were profound to me.
The next morning, we flew back to New York and were picked up by friends who drove us home.
Wednesday, August 21, 1974. Two days later, on Wednesday, exactly one week after Jason’s death, at about noon, I was sitting on Jason’s bed practicing Transcendental Meditation when I was transported out of the room (in the flesh or in the spirit or in a vision, I do not know) to the front lawn facing the bridge from which Jason had fallen the previous Wednesday and drowned. Fourteen years later, I can still feel the crisp air and the tingling outdoors sense of wellbeing that I felt in that moment. I was completely at peace for the first time in a long time and, especially, in the past week.
On the bridge, I saw a robust, bearded man standing in a white robe. The man was about six feet tall, in his early 30’s, weighed about 180 pounds, and had dark hair and a beard. He was smiling from the moment that I first saw him. He was not looking at me. I had never seen him before but I knew that he was Jesus Christ about whom I knew very little. I also knew instantaneously that he was the “leader” that I had been looking for all of my life. I felt that I had known him all of my life by the recognition factor. I also felt a thrill of exhilaration.
Running towards the bridge, from the two o’clock position to the twelve o’clock position, was my dead son Jason. I immediately sensed that I was witnessing an “instant replay” of what had happened one week earlier. However, the boy ran directly, with outstretched arms, into the outstretched arms of the man who had leaned over to, apparently, welcome the boy into his embrace. The boy ran directly to him and the man embraced him and picked him up as he straightened up from leaning over. I was vaguely aware that a “mirror image” of the boy stumbled and fell over the side of the bridge while the man lifted the “real” boy from whom I never took my eyes. I did not watch the “image” go over the side but merely noted it out of the left corner of my eye.
The man, now standing up straight with the boy in his arms, then began to rise up off the bridge. The rising motion seemed perfectly natural which seemed noteworthy to me since it was anything but “natural.” It occurred to me that I had heard that this man had “ascended into heaven” once before in the presence of some people a couple of millennia before. As he rose with the boy, they passed behind some trees that grew before the bridge on the edge of the brook. They were completely obscured from my sight at that point and I expected to see them rise above the trees momentarily.
However, in that moment, I was “transported” in a similar fashion but much more rapidly into the sky. I felt no breeze which would have equated to the rapid rate of climb with which I rose into the sky. As I rose, I began to accelerate over the ground to a speed which I estimate at between two hundred and three hundred knots. I leveled off at what I would estimate at about ten thousand feet over the terrain. I sensed that I was positioned in some kind of transparent globe since there was no wind. However, there was no internal reflection, or apparent tinting, as I might reasonably expect from a windscreen made out of any material that I am aware of. I felt complete peace and was not in the least concerned about what was happening. I did not have the slightest idea of where I was going. As I traveled over the terrain, I noted that there was no evidence of civilization beneath me. The entire view from the nine o’clock position to the three o’clock position was pure primeval landscape. There were mountains to the right and to the left. There were meadows on the mountain slopes interspersed with what appeared to be coniferous forests. I seemed to be tracking along a meadowed valley where there were lakes and streams. I noted that the lakes and streams appealed to me and the thought of fishing such pristine waters occurred to me. I traveled at this speed for an indefinite period which seemed like about a half hour or more…
Then, I began to slow and to descend to the edge of a lake. At the edge of the lake, lily pads extended out about thirty feet. I estimated the depth of the water to be at least eight to ten feet as I considered, again, the possibilities for fishing the spot.
My attention shifted to the ten o’clock position as I noted that my son Jason was running down to the water. He jumped in and began to swim out from shore. This did not upset me although he obviously had not known how to swim the week before. He seemed to be very enthusiastic and having a good time in the water. Then, a hand rose up abruptly from the depths ahead of him, followed by a man who had apparently been swimming under water. The man was dark haired, about thirty years old and smiling. The boy swam to him as the man tread water. I knew immediately that this man was my youngest brother Roger who had died a few weeks after birth. This fact seemed natural and did not cause me to reflect upon it at the time.
Next, without apparent transition, I found myself underwater watching Jason and Roger swimming underwater. My circumstances within the “globe” did not seem awkward but perfectly peaceful. A porpoise swam up and Jason got on his back for a ride. I was serene as I watched their obvious pleasure.
Then, without apparent transition, I found myself at normal standing eye level looking towards a pass between the meadowed mountains. I was in a meadow which sloped down from a mountaintop at the ten o’clock position towards the valley to my right. About a mile up the meadow towards the mountaintop, the forest began and extended to the peak. There was a rustic stone wall, about three feet high, traversing my field of vision from left to right, at a distance of about one hundred yards. There was an opening in the wall at the eleven o’clock position. Through the opening and coming towards me were Jason, Roger and a group of small household pets. I noticed cats and dogs. I recognized a German Shepherd that I had put to sleep, because it had a terminal disease, when I was a child of twelve. All of the animals seemed familiar but I did not dwell upon them. Instead, I watched Jason and Roger walking through the meadow towards my right front. I felt complete peace and noted in my mind that Jason was not only alive in this place but obviously thriving.
In total, I felt that I had been in this area of the valley at least an hour. I was at complete peace with the place and was sure that this must be a part of “heaven.” I seemed to know the place as if I had been there before. I wanted very much to stay there.
Then, I found myself in a very dark place. There was a very bright round light in front of me. As my eyes adjusted to the transition, I saw that the bright light was an opening, about fifty feet in front of me, into the peaceful valley where I had just been. Apparently, I was in a dark tunnel. Then, Jason walked into the tunnel from the valley towards me.
Jason stopped about twenty feet in front of me. He acted as if he had run into some kind of gauze curtain because he started to fiddle with his hands in front of him as he faced me. Then, he stopped fiddling and turned his face to his left and upwards, which was to my right. He seemed to be listening to someone. Then, he rested his arms at his side and faced me.
In that moment, facing Jason silhouetted by the bright valley, someone spoke to me. The words were: “He cannot come to you. You must go to him .”
Immediately, I understood. Jason was in heaven. I had to somehow get back if I ever wanted to see him again. Moreover, getting back was not as simple as stepping forward to him. I remained at peace despite the riddle.
Next, the scene before me dissolved into a uniform color of red. It was like looking at a crimson screen which was uniformly lit across my entire field of vision. Since red was “my color” until then, the scene seemed natural. My sports car was red, my ski jacket was red and my nickname in the shipyard was the Red Baron. I understood that in some way this color represented my personality.
Then, starting from the top of the scene, a sky blue color began to flow down the “screen” displacing the red. With the blue color came a sense of peace which was even greater than I had experienced up to that point. I understood that blue was now to replace red as “my color” for an important but unexplained reason. I accepted this as a fact without reaction.
Next, I found myself sitting again on Jason’s bed. It was about three in the afternoon. I was completely rested. I was not surprised that three hours had passed. I began to contemplate how I was going to return to that peaceful place.
Monday, August 26, 1974. Five days later, I returned to work at Citibank. During my absence from the bank over the past two weeks, my boss had quit and I now reported to a man that had been unfriendly to me in the past. In addition to this new circumstance, the other CitiBankers were extremely awkward in dealing with me since that were equally unprepared to deal with death. The first day back at work was tedious and I spent a good deal of the day seeking privacy where I could weep.
I caught the 6:05 P.M. Hudson Line train at Grand Central Station bound for Croton Harmon station where I had parked my car. I arrived on the platform as the conductor was calling “all aboard” so I entered the train in the first car on the platform which was the smoking car. Since I had arrived so late, I expected that there would be no seat available to me and that I would have to stand for the first couple of stops. However, there was a double seat vacant to the left side of the aisle. I sat down by the window.
Into the car entered a bearded man clothed in rags. He appeared to be a “street person” and was filthy. I imagined him sprawled on a curb with a bottle of wine in the Bowery. I classified him as a “bum”.
To my discomfort, the “bum” sat down next to me on the aisle seat. He smelled of urine, vomit and dirty sweat. The stench was overpowering and made worse because the ventilation fans in the smoking car were not working. I resolved to get up and go and stand on the “platform” between the cars and have a smoke.
However, before I began to get up, I was transfixed by a thought which was completely alien to my way of thinking up to that point: I felt compassion for the man and his circumstances. I felt a flood of warmth and a deep need to help the man. The only way to help the man that came immediately to mind was to stay where I was. I knew that if I got up and left that this would be an obvious effort to get away from him. I did not want to add to his burden. Instead, I resolved to sit there with him as unobtrusively as possible, despite the stench, and look out the window.
As the train pulled out from Grand Central Station, it entered the dark tunnel that leads out of the city and emerges into daylight some eight miles up the track in the Bronx at the 125th Street station. As we entered the tunnel, I shivered as a chill passed up my back and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I glanced towards the man and saw that his appearance had been transformed.
The man was clearly no “bum.” He was about six feet tall, weighed about 170 pounds, and had clean dark hair and a clean beard. I had never seen him before. His skin had good color. His eyes were serene and resting in a gentle gaze straight ahead. He was still clothed in rags but the rags were spotlessly clean and odorless. He appeared to have a very peaceful composure and excellent bearing. I admired the man and could not take my gaze off of him. He seemed to be peacefully aware of my gaze but did not turn his head towards me.
When the conductor came to collect fares , I showed my commuter pass. The man seated next to me reached into his “rags” and withdrew a two inch roll of money. He peeled off the fare for the conductor. The conductor did not seem to notice the man as extraordinary among the well attired men in the smoking car. Nor did anyone else apparently notice that he was unusual.
At the end of the fifty minute ride, as the train approached Croton Harmon Station at the end of the commuter line, I resolved to offer the man a ride to wherever he was going. Since Croton Harmon Station is not in the proximity of any bus facilities or a town, but merely a commuter parking lot, I could not conceive of the man having a car to complete his journey.
After the train pulled into the platform, the man got up and started walking to the door with the other passengers. I still had not spoken to him. I got up and followed him out of the train. As we walked along the platform, there was one passenger between me and the man. The man started up the steps of the bridge which traverses the platforms and opens out on to the parking lot. The entire bridge is enclosed in glass.
As I sought to catch up with the man only five feet in front of me, he disappeared right in the middle of the stairs. No one in the crowd seemed to notice except me. There was no place for the man to disappear to over the full length of the glass enclosed bridge. However, the defiance of physical laws did not immediately occur to me. Instead, I was morose that I had failed to act more decisively and berated myself as I walked out into the parking lot to my Land Rover.
As I pulled the Land Rover out of the parking lot, thoughts about the man gave way to remembrance of Jason’s death and the strange experience of the prior Wednesday. The tension of the day flooded over me and I spent most of the drive to the house weeping.
After dinner, I returned to Jason’s room and sat on the bed as I had done every day since the prior Wednesday. Contrary to my judgment, I had been hoping that doing Transcendental Meditation on the bed would again produce a return trip to that “heaven” where I had gone the previous Wednesday. But, this meditation had produced nothing over the past week.
However, no sooner had I sat down on the bed when I heard: “Why have you been weeping? Today, you have been in the presence of the Son of God on earth. And still you are weeping.”
At that moment, I had not the faintest idea of what this meant. For the next twelve years, I carried the imperfect notion that the man on the train had been Jesus in the form of a beggar. Consequently, my eyes were opened to the beggars around me in New York and, subsequently, Latin America. I gave freely to every beggar. Sometimes I tried to give more than the conscience of the beggar could accept and they would reject my gift. Moreover, Nancy got caught up in my love for the beggars and learned to give generously to them in Montevideo. This first phase of my response to this event opened my purse strings to the Lord for the first time. But He had a much greater level of understanding for me in 1987.
In 1987, the Lord revealed to me that I, not He, was the man on the train. I had first seen myself clothed in the filthy rags of my sinful nature and reeking from my hideous sinful actions. Then, I had felt the Father’s love for me which resulted in Jesus’ covenant with the Father to give Himself for my redemption. Lastly, I saw myself as the Father sees me now, completely cleaned and beautiful in his eyes after being washed in the blood of my Lord Jesus. The Father and my Lord Jesus held back this greater meaning until my spiritual growth had reached the point where I was ready to comprehend it. I was in no conceivable way capable of understanding this fuller meaning in 1974. (See Zechariah chapter 3)
Monday, Labor Day, September 2, 1974. Less than three weeks after Jason’s death, at three o’clock in the morning, the succeeding revelations of God’s emerging role in my life reached a climax.
After the initial “vision” of the Lord Jesus and “heaven”, and after the mysterious message “You must go to him (Jason),” I had been increasingly vexed in trying to solve this apparent riddle. I did not know how to go to heaven. I didn’t know anything more about Jesus or heaven than I had seen in the “vision”.
After encountering the man on the train, and before yet coming to peace with the initial interpretation, I was increasingly vexed by the unfolding awareness that the world was not operating according to the scientific principles which I had so pridefully mastered in the universities. There were no engineering explanations for the “vision” or the “encounter”.
So, on Friday, August 30, 1974, after coming home from that first week at work, I resolved to go to bed and starve myself to death “to go join Jason.” I told Nancy of my intention and this seemed a natural next step to her as I proceeded to “lose my mind”, as I had previously revealed the “vision” and the subsequent “encounter” to her. Nancy decided to “humor me” and let me “pretend” to embark on this endeavor. She figured that I would “come to my senses” when my stomach went for a protracted period without food or water. Nancy was right for the wrong reasons. At 3 AM on Monday, on Labor Day, after fifty-four hours without food or water, I had enough of this self-destruction. I got up and went into the kitchen. I prepared some instant coffee and, picking up my Business Week magazine, went into the dining alcove to read it. I sat down, reached for a cigarette, and prepared to “get my act together” again.
Suddenly, before touching the coffee or lighting the cigarette, I felt an irresistible compulsion to pray. Without any resistance, I got up and walked into the living alcove and knelt down in front of the fireplace where there was a recent picture of Jason on the mantelpiece. Having no experience with real prayer, I began to recite the Lord’s Prayer which had been memorized in childhood. My hands were together in front of me in the position that I assumed was appropriate for prayer. Just as I got started with the prayer, I felt a terrible pain in my jaw joints and the skin on the sides of my face was drawn taut by the excruciating pain. Then I heard the words: “Richard, if you want to go join Jason, just say the word. The pain in your jaw is lockjaw from the rusty nail that punctured your hand the day Jason drowned. Just say the word and I will send you on your way.”
Then, I was seized by a sudden pain in my spine which arched me backwards while still in the kneeling position. Then I heard the words: “Richard, if you want to go join Jason, just say the word. The pain in your back is spinal meningitis from your well water. Just say the word and I will send you on your way.
Then, I felt a tremendous pain in my chest which spread outward to my left shoulder and numbness began to pass down my left arm. Then I heard the words: “Richard, if you want to go join Jason, just say the word. The pain in your chest is a heart attack. Everyone knows that you smoke too much. Just say the word and I will send you on your way.”
These three successive painful events cleared my head of all fuzzy thinking. I knew that the stakes of the moment were enormous.
First, I responded on the level of my body. There was no way that my body wanted to die. Playing games with death was one thing. Dying was quite another. So my body voted “no”.
Second, I responded on the level of my soul. Only thirty feet away slept Nancy, and in the next room slept Aaron, only ten weeks old. Nancy had lost her firstborn son less than three weeks before. And I had left no provision for her and Aaron in the form of savings or life insurance. In fact, I had never even considered her welfare until now. But, I did consider her welfare now and my soul voted “no”.
Third, I responded on a new level for me. Something very fundamental was happening to me. Something new was in me. This new thing in me had never been there before, but it was now as much a part of me as my body and soul. This new thing was my new spirit. And, although just arrived, it voted decisively and ignored the reasoning of my body, mind and soul. It also voted “no” but for the right reason. It voted “no” because it wanted me to get to know the Lord right here on earth. Moreover, it voted “no” in a very unique way which changed my life. My spirit responded completely with the words: “I know who you are. You are God. And I don’t know anything about you or what you created me for. I know that there are people ‘out there’ who call themselves ‘Christians’ but I don’t know any of them. I want to find out what you want me to do in life and to do it. Right now, we will make a deal. The deal is that we will both consider me ‘dead’ here and now. Since I am dead, the rest of my life is at your disposal. No matter what happens from this day forward, since I am ‘dead’ I can have no complaints. And when you decide that I have completed my appointed activities, you, as God, will decide that the time is right for me to die. I don’t want any part in that decision. But, you have promised me a ‘free ride’ into heaven tonight. So I will take that ‘ticket’ from you and know that I am guaranteed one final ride directly to heaven. I know that you are trustworthy and I shall rest confident of this safety throughout my life. And, I know that You are promising me that I need not worry about my wife and children or my parents and siblings and their loved ones. They too will be with me with You in heaven. Thank you.”
At that point, I was released from the painful grip and collapsed on the carpet. My mother in law then heard my groans and revived me with a glass of water.
Once revived and refreshed by food and drink, I immediately went to the Bible that my sister Josie had given me at Jason’s funeral. I opened it to the Acts of the Apostles and the words, which had previously been opaque and senseless to me, came alive. For now I had the spirit necessary to read those words which the Lord Jesus told us are indeed “spirit” and “truth.” I was now equipped with this new creation within me and my life has never been the same again.
Being a major turning point, I divide my life into three segments: Childhood up to age seventeen, Rebellion up to age thirty four, and Reborn after these events of Labor Day, 1974.
Fall of 1974. Starting on Labor Day 1974, the Holy Spirit took me through the Bible starting with Acts through Revelation, then through the Gospels, and finally through the Old Testament starting with Genesis and proceeding in order to Malachi.
During my first reading of the Gospel starting with Matthew, I encountered a verse quoting Jesus which my Mom told me was her favorite.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30.
I then memorized it because it so fit the needs of my heart at that time. In this way, I began to follow the Lord Holy Spirit’s prompting to store up His thoughts to recall during times of stress. Thus, I began a lifelong process of memorizing scripture.
November, 1975. After the “encounter” on the train, as I have said, I loosened my purse strings and started to give money to beggars, to the church, and to every humanitarian cause that solicited me. In 1975, I encountered Abraham in the Book of Genesis and was taken by his giving of 10% of the spoils of a battle to Melchizedek, the mysterious priest of God from Salem. Subsequently, encountering the “tithe” of the Law, and not yet realizing that the Law was only given to the nation of Israel, I resolved to give a 10% tithe of my income as a minimum standard. Being late in 1975 when I made this decision, and having kept no records of (creditable) giving up to that point, I found that I had a lot of giving to do before the end of the year. Quick calculations showed that I was not going to have enough money as I had no savings to dip into. I grew increasingly frustrated and fretful about my inability to fulfill my “vow,” overlooking that the Lord does not want us to make “vows.”
In November, the frustration had reached the point that I laid awake fretting over my inability to do what seemed good to me. By my calculations, I was going to need to “find” $2,350 by the end of the year just to complete the 10% tithe for 1975. One night, as I lay awake at 3:00 AM, I rolled out of the bed on to my knees and prayed the Lord’s Prayer seeking His guidance. Immediately, I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace and got back into bed and went promptly to sleep knowing that this matter was in his hands.
The next afternoon, promptly at 3:00 P.M., exactly 12 hours later, my boss walked into my office and presented me with a $3,000 bonus which, after all deductions, netted $2,350. I was properly in awe and thanked the Lord for his prompt and precise attention to my need. From that day forward, I never had any doubt that the Lord was managing the details of my life, and that no item was too small for him. Moreover, I was assured that giving 10% of my income was good from the Lord’s point of view, regardless of my own justifications for such giving.
Later that month, I received a 20% salary increase and a promotion to Vice President. And, starting then, I began to accrue for the “tithe” on a monthly basis until (years later) I had enough savings to assure the necessary cash flow.
June, 1976. The next year, I and my growing family transferred to Montevideo, Uruguay, where they remained under 24/7/365 armed guard, while I commuted weekly to our headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I managed various responsibilities in the Southern Cone countries: Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Each country in South America was governed by a military junta embroiled in war against terrorists funded by Russia through Cuba (Have you ever heard of Che Guevara? The Cold War? Fidel Castro?). 25,000 Argentinians died in the “Dirty War,” while I changed hotel rooms every day (a security measure) for the first 42 months of my six years there. Nonetheless, terrorists repeatedly telephoned me in the hotels saying they had kidnapped my children in Montevideo–lies, as it turned out. In that searing crucible, the Lord had my undivided attention and grew my trust in Him.
To Be Continued. From such beginnings, I’ve been strengthened by this constantly growing love-relationship with God as He accompanies me through the trials of life. When the going gets tougher and I think I can’t stand, He reminds me, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.” He loves every man and woman, just as much as He loves me–and that includes you, whether you want His love or not. If you do want His love forever and don’t want eternal banishment from Him, you have only one thing to do: tell Him you regret your sins (mistakes), want to accept His sovereignty in your life, and want to accept the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the free and full payment for your rebellion (This is the way God planned to save us from before the creation). If you can do that, do so. You will never regret it, and you will begin to bask in His love as I do.