Many years ago, during the summer, I taught college students who wanted to become teachers. We read about and discussed many topics. The students had the opportunity to work in Chicago summer school programs which added a great deal of practical and personal experience to their conversation. I always got to class early to prepare and get in the right mental frame of mind to engage and help motivate students in this important work.
One day I arrived at the University and realized that the streets were eerily quiet. In fact, in the vicinity of the building I taught in (we called it the cheese grater building) there wasn’t a single soul on the street. Then I saw the sirens spinning on top of police cars as they pulled into the parking lot in front of the cheese grater building, followed by a long limousine, which was trailed by another couple of red flashing police cars.
The limousine stopped right where I was standing. The back door opened and out walked the Dalai Lama, bedecked in his orange and deep red robes and powerful smile. What does one say when the god incarnate steps right in front of you on an early summer morning? What do you say when you come face to face with the sacred? From deep inside my gut, I could feel my response forming, broiling, surfacing. Nearly bursting, I shouted,”Yaayyy!”, with my fists in the air emphasizing my carefully selected word.
The Dalai Lama reached out his hand and said, “Good Morning.”
“GOOD MORNING!” I replied, shaking his hand with both of mine, with determined enthusiasm and exaggerated gesture.
He nodded, still smiling. Then he and a couple of other riders in the limousine walked patiently to the small chapel next to the cheese grater building where he was apparently scheduled to speak in just a few minutes. I watched him walk away, still electric from my having met him. I stared at my hands, especially the right one which had fully felt the warmth of his hand.
The Dalai Lama is 77 years old today. He has touched me in lots of ways, especially his wisdom and profound compassion. But the sacred has never touched me the way it did that morning many summers ago in the parking lot in front of the cheese grater building.
Happy Birthday, Tenzin Gyatso!