The political climate in 1968 was such that the military draft was in full force. For reasons that are beyond me, the junior college where I was attending did not have the proper accreditation that allowed student draft deferments. After completing my first year at that college, the pace of the drumbeat that had been playing in my mind, regarding my military obligation, picked up dramatically. I was 18 years old now and my draft board classification was 1A. I knew that I was next in line for the draft so I joined the military. At least now, I thought, I had some control over that dark cloud that had been hanging over my head for what seemed like an eternity. It broke my mother’s heart but I felt that I had no choice. My Church never spoke out against the death and destruction caused by the war so I guess that I interpreted the Church’s silence as a form of approval.
After boot camp and some training, I was shipped off to Asia. My high school sweet heart had abandoned me by this time. I was young, broken-hearted and in a foreign country. There was an armed bunker outside my barracks so I knew that the neighborhood security that I felt back home did not apply here. It was only a short time before, that my life had been very different, sheltered and protected. But this was real. I grew up fast and learned the rules of survival. I knew that the first rule, always, was to trust in God. He would not abandon me.
That tour of duty ended without any major assaults to my physical or emotional state. After a year or so of service in the U.S., I was shipped back overseas to Southeast Asia. Soon after arriving there I realized that I was running with the wrong crowd. This was a different kind of reality. I began to witness death and destruction, lies and deception. I began to question authority and I distanced myself from my Church. I realized that the world that had been painted for me as a child was far different than the world that I was in now. But, as an individual, I knew that God was real and that He knew my predicament. He would see me through this.
After serving a year in Southeast Asia, I returned to the states and was honorably discharged from active duty in the U.S Military. I wasn’t the same person who enlisted four years before. The war challenged my belief systems. It took some months before I was able to gain a foothold on civilian life. Even then, I didn’t have a solid roadmap on where I was going.
In 1977, I moved to Vermont. By this time, I was able to close that chapter of my life, regarding Vietnam. I was taking a few classes at a university and was working part time as a door-to-door salesman. It was not the most lucrative job of my life but it was good. I met a lot of people and for a brief moment was allowed to enter into their world. So in that sense, it was very rewarding.
March 9, 1981 was a long and not very productive day on my sales job. I had received the usual number of excuses on why my potential customers couldn’t buy my product; the house needed painting, the roof needed replacing, etc. But I wasn’t discouraged at all. My product, although of very good quality, was also expensive.
I came upon a young woman mowing her lawn and decided that I would go to talk with her before calling it a day. The woman told me that she used to work at the university but had started her own landscaping business. She said that she preferred being in the outdoors to being in an office. I couldn’t have agreed with her more. The young woman seemed so excited and proud that she had mustered up the courage to take a risk to do something that, perhaps, had been on her mind for a long time. T
There was something about our conversation that impacted me. Maybe it was her simple courage or her heartfelt honesty and genuine openness that touched something deep inside of me. These traits are in us all but are usually sheltered behind walls that are built up soon after the innocence of childhood is taken away. Why was she so open, I wondered? Maybe she had experienced deep pain in her life. And maybe she was able to surrender that pain to God so that He could break down those walls and let the Light of His Love shine through. Or maybe it was just something about our country, the land of opportunity that was brought to life in me. Anyway, she didn’t buy my product. But when we parted, I found myself thinking about ways in which I could possibly help her to succeed.
When I got home, I sat down at my kitchen table to think. I was thinking about the number of people that I met each day and the number of doors that I knocked on every day. I was thinking about all the doors that went unanswered and how I left my business card at every house I went to. That was it. If the landscape lady printed up some fliers, I could leave those too. There would be virtually no additional effort required on my part and maybe that would help her business to mushroom. I concluded that I would go back to try to find her the following day.
As I was sitting there at my table, another idea came to me. I thought, if I could do that for her, why couldn’t I do the same thing for painters, roofers, carpenters, etc.? I could respond to all of the rejection excuses that I was receiving for the sale of my product in a very positive way. Maybe I could charge a small fee for the service and we could all benefit. I could start a referral business and make more efficient use of my time. I believed that I was on to something. As I was sitting there, another idea entered into my head. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember that it was far superior to the current plan. I remember feeling a rush of enthusiasm. Within seconds, another idea entered into my head. It too was far greater. Then, in split second time, another idea. I thought, I had better write this down before I forget it. Then came another and another and another in rapid succession. It was like a pyramid of ideas being built one by one from the ground up with each incredible idea being supplanted by one of far greater magnitude. I could feel the adrenaline beginning to rush through my body. I didn’t know what was going on but the ideas kept coming. There was no time to write anything down.
As I approached what I saw to be the top of the pyramid, I realized and spoke out loud that these ideas were not coming from me. They were far superior to anything that I could have created. As soon as I said that, a bright light shining through my kitchen window showered upon me. All that I saw was the light. My adrenaline flow was maximal.
After some time, I re-gained my composure. I had an overpowering urge to go out onto the street and preach the good news of Jesus Christ. I thought, however, if I did that, the police would surely lock me up. Unfortunately, this exceeded the bounds of normal behavior. The adrenaline was pumping through my body at full speed. I felt what I believed John the Baptist had felt. He was on fire with the love of Jesus and so was I. I had to tell somebody, so I went to the telephone book and found the number of my parish. I called the priest house but the priest was unavailable. I called another parish and found nobody there to talk to me. I called a convent and was relating to the nun, who answered the phone, what had just happened to me. After a brief moment, the nun interrupted me and asked me if this was a prank call. I told her no and she told me to continue. I hung up the phone. There was another convent in town, so I made the call. The nun, who answered the phone, listened to what I had to say. Then, in a very gentle, sweet voice, she said, “I understand.” This beautiful nun went on to tell me in intimate detail what had just happened to me. I knew that she knew because she was telling me things that only I should have known. I was the only person at my kitchen table. I knew that what I had experienced was real but it was a comfort to have it acknowledged by another human being. She talked to me about God’s Love and how God touches us in ways that are not always immediately understood. After we spoke, I asked her if I could call her again. She said that I could.
My backyard had a number of tree stumps that I had previously tried to remove by using a chemical treatment. The tree stumps were still there. My energy level was endless so I grabbed a shovel and began digging. I chopped and sawed at the roots. The only saw that I had was a hacksaw blade with no handle. I worked and worked for twenty-four straight hours. One stump was particularly difficult. I remember asking God to give me tolerance. I dug and sawed for quite some time. Finally, I hooked a chain to the back of my car and pulled the stump free. In the end, I had pulled seven stumps and with bloodied hands, I planted seven flower gardens. With each garden, I asked God to grant a virtue to me. The virtues were tolerance, patience, love, understanding, purity, honesty and hope.
The next day I still experienced the adrenaline pumping through my body. I called my nun friend and we had another conversation. By the third or fourth day, I felt the adrenaline level beginning to fall off. I was afraid that I would lose what was given to me just a few days before. I called the sister again and expressed my concern. She told me that a seed had been planted in me and that it was now up to me to nurture it and make it grow. She also told me that she was being transferred to another state. I never saw this beautiful person and have not spoken to her since that last conversation. But I thank God for putting her into my life for that brief time.
I never did reconnect with the landscape lady but I trust that she has done well. The unfortunate part of not meeting her again is that she will never know where our simple conversation led. She will never know that it was, perhaps, God’s Light, shining through her that connected with me. And regarding the first nun that I had spoken with maybe she was busy making dinner or something. Or maybe that convent was receiving prank calls. Or maybe she had not yet been blessed with a spiritual experience before. I do not know. But, I do know that God’s Master Plan is without error and I fully trust that His Plan was executed with perfection. Nine months later, I moved back to Boston.