Thanks For Having The Courage To Be Here

In January of 1980 I met Larry Lewis and he changed my life. At the time, I was a meter reader for Public Service Electric & Gas company in central New Jersey. Dr. Lawrence D. Lewis lived on Mt. Lucas Road, in Princeton, NJ in a house he called “Ivy Stone Manor.” It was a small house made of gray stone.

The Andromeda Galaxy as seen by the Hubble telescope.

My meter reading route started about a mile down the road. It usually took me about an hour to get to his house. While I was working my way there, a John Denver song would be going through my mind. It was called Farewell Andromeda, (Welcome To My Morning). It begins, “Welcome to my morning, Welcome to my day, Yes I’m the one responsible, I made it just this way. I’ll get back to this song a little later in the story.

The image is a picture of the core of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) taken by the Hubble telescope.

A lot of times when I went to Larry’s house he wasn’t home. This particular day, he answered the door and let me in. I went down into the basement to read his electric meter. I’m not exactly sure why, but I had a very strong thought that I wanted to say something to him. It might have been that, at the time, I didn’t know what kind of doctor he was. When I came back upstairs I said to him, “You look different. Did you shave off your beard?” He said that no, he hadn’t had a beard in a very long time. He had a stack of photos nearby and showed me one in which he had a beard. We started chatting. Although I can recall a lot of this as if it was yesterday, I don’t recall the whole conversation. He eventually told me that he was a psychologist and led a workshop called RelationShop.

He started telling me about RelationShop and handed me a pamphlet that I could take with me. I told him that was really interesting because I had just separated from my wife a few days ago. I sat out in his driveway for a few minutes in my gray Plymouth Valiant and read the pamphlet. One of the things it said was: The purpose of RelationShop is to provide the participants with the opportunity to experience the truth about love, sexuality and relationships so that frustration, effort and scarcity in these areas can be supplanted by mastery, spontaneity and fulfillment. I still remember that after 28 years.

I went to a couple of “Prospectives” in the area. They were events that graduates of the workshop put on in their homes so that you could get an idea of what the workshop was like. I signed up at one of them and was scheduled to take the workshop the first weekend of March in New York City. That was one of the first obstacles for me. I didn’t particularly like going to NYC, even though I only lived an hour away. The city was too crowded for me and everyone was in too much of a hurry.

RelationShop took an entire weekend. It started on a Friday night and went into the wee hours of the morning. Then you had to be back at 9:00 AM Saturday morning and it went late into Sunday morning. On Sunday, it would start at 9:00 AM again and it didn’t end until the early morning hours of Monday. There were a few short breaks each day and a longer dinner break in the evening. It was held in a hotel ballroom.

Over the course of the three days,  Larry and his co-leader Dr. Michael F. Valente talked about love, sexuality and relationships and guided the group through various “experiments” to help you to experience what they were talking about. There were probably around 70 people in my “class.” There was discussion and sharing  before and after each experiment. You had to raise your hand to talk and someone would run over and hand you a microphone. People shared some very personal stuff.

At the time, I was pretty terrified to say anything at all in front of a group of strangers. I listened to everything that was said on Friday and Saturday and participated in every experiment, but I never raised my hand and I never asked for the microphone.

At the end of Friday night, people who were assisting at the workshop, helped people like me who didn’t have a place to stay, share a room with other participants. I ended up staying in a very nice apartment with a great view, somewhere on the east side of Manhattan. Saturday was a particularly difficult day in the workshop for me and by the end of the day, I really did not want to be there.

The apartment had a nice balcony that looked out on the street from 10 or 15 floors up. Saturday night after the workshop, I went and sat on the balcony and chain smoked cigarette after cigarette ( I finally quit smoking 7 years ago). I was thinking about just going home the next day and not finishing the workshop on Sunday. I  was trying to figure out how I would explain all of this to Larry the next time I saw him. I did not want to spend another day in the workshop. Finally, the other person that was staying in the apartment
that night came out to the balcony and said that I should probably get some sleep because it was going to be another long day tomorrow. I went to bed still thinking about how I could get out of the final day.

I went back to the workshop Sunday morning. At one point I was speaking to the woman sitting next to me. She thought that I should share it with the group and grabbed me by the arm and raised my hand for a few seconds. Now, I know that Larry and Michael had to see this because they didn’t miss a thing and it was right in front of them. They didn’t call on me though and no one handed me the dreaded microphone.

Sometime after that, the group did another experiment. I think it was called the “Be With” experiment. In it, you just walk around the room and go up to the other members of the group, one at a time, and be with them. You don’t say anything. You just look into the other persons eyes and “be with them.” It might last 10 seconds or a minute. It’s not a staring contest.

I went up to Larry who was standing on the stage and did the experiment. He looked me in the eyes and after a few seconds, held me by the shoulders and said, “Thanks for having the courage to be here.” That is one of the nicest things that anyone has ever said to me.  “Thanks for having the courage to be here.” His timing was perfect because it just lifted me up. He must have known what a difficult time I was having and how hard it was just being in that room.

We did one particularly heavy duty “experiment” late Sunday and there were more discussions and sharing. After that experiment, we were sent on a dinner break. Larry told everyone that the “worst” was over and to make sure to come back after the break. He said that in some previous RelationShops, people had failed to return from the break thinking that they couldn’t take anymore.

I went to dinner. I think the dinner experiment instructions were that you couldn’t ask any questions. When the break was over and I went back to the room, there was some instrumental music quietly playing. I listened to it for a minute and I thought that it was Farewell Andromeda, (Welcome To My Morning), the song that I used to sing to myself while reading meters on the way to Larry’s house. The second verse of the song goes like this:

Welcome to my happiness, you know it makes me smile
And it pleases me to have you here
For just a little while
While we open up some spaces and try to break some chains
And if the truth is told
They will never come again.

I kind of thought that John Denver had been telling me my future. I have always thought that the line should have been, “And if the truth is told, we will never be the same.

When everyone was back in the room and the workshop started again, I felt as if a giant burden had been lifted. I felt giddy, like Scrooge on Christmas morning, after the three spirits had visited! A lot of other people seemed to be in good spirits too. I’m sure part of it was knowing that the weekend was almost over! I actually raised my hand and took the microphone. I asked about the song and no one seemed to know if it was in fact Farewell Andromeda. Someone did volunteer though that it was the first time I had shared all weekend. Larry then explained our relationship and how I had found out about the workshop.

That weekend changed my life. One of the things I realized is that I wasn’t as separate from other people as I thought. Many people share the same feelings that I do about a lot of different things. The words that come to mind are, “once I was different, now I’m the same.” I have a lot more in common with everyone else than I do differences. My son was born in December of the same year. I left my job within two years of the workshop, looking for something more meaningful. I started reading authors like Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer and Jane Roberts.

I went on to become a volunteer assistant at some of the workshops. I repeated the workshop as a participant, to experience what I had missed the first time, when I was afraid and just trying to survive the weekend. I made some interesting new friends and spent a lot of time in New York City.

RelationShop was similar to, but not the same as, Erhard Seminars Training (est), a very popular workshop in the seventies and early eighties. I never experienced est, but I did go to Newark, NJ one night with Larry to hear Werner Erhard speak. John Denver was an est graduate and on their board of directors. His song “Looking For Space” was written about est.

I am so glad that I acted on my impulse to talk to Larry that January day.

The Lesson Of The Cliff

I first read “Lesson of the Cliff”, in the February 1986 edition of Reader’s Digest Magazine. I liked the article so much that I have saved the magazine for 22 years. The story was written by Morton Hunt and originally published in the July 14, 1985 edition of Parade, the Sunday newspaper insert. The Reader’s Digest article is a condensed version of the Parade story, which I have never read.

February 1986 Reader\'s Digest \

Over the years I have re-read it to inspire me when I was reluctant to take the first step toward a goal or decision.

I haven’t been able to find the article on the web so that I can link to it. I don’t think I can just re-publish the story without permission either, but I will try and give you a sense of what Morton Hunt wrote.

The story begins with Morton as an 8 year old boy in Philadelphia. He starts to climb a high cliff with some friends. They stop to rest on a small ledge near the top. The rest of the group continues to the top, but he is too frightened to continue up. He imagines that if he attempts to go back down he will fall and die. His friends leave and he is alone. As it starts to get dark, his father appears. His father tells him not to think about how far down it is and to just concentrate on taking one little step. His father tells him to put his foot on a rock just below the ledge. His father guides him to put his other foot on another rock a little lower.

He gains confidence with every step. One step at a time, he makes his way to the bottom. The experience teaches him a lesson that he never forgets and that he uses throughout his life.

Next,  it is January 1945 and the Second World War is raging. He has to fly an unarmed plane on a reconnaissance mission deep into German occupied territory. He imagines being shot down and killed by enemy anti-aircraft fire or fighter planes. The next morning he takes off and reminds himself that he only has to climb to 25,000 feet and fly east. He focuses on flying one leg of the mission at a time, never picturing the whole trip, until he is back over friendly territory.

Skip to January 1957. He has been offered a book contract by a famous American publisher. It is to be a history of love from the early Greeks to the present. He can’t imagine how he is going to research all of that  history. It seems impossible and beyond his capabilities. He remembers the lesson of the cliff: If he only looks at one step at a time, he can do it. He concentrates on reading about love among the Greeks and writes the first chapter. It takes him two and a half years, but eventually the book is complete and published a few months later.

It is June 1963 and his marriage is breaking apart. He has to move out and get an apartment. He can’t imagine how he is going to tell his young son. He doesn’t know how he and his wife are going to divide their possessions. In September, after taking many individual steps, he moves into a new apartment and begins to learn the skills he needs to function as a single man.

Here is a quote from the final paragraph: “I have realized time and again, that, having looked at a far and frightening prospect and been dismayed, I can cope with it after all by remembering the simple lesson I learned long ago on the face of a small cliff. I remind myself to look not at the rocks far below but at the first small step and, having taken it, to take the next one, until I have gotten to where I wanted to be. Then I can look back amazed and proud, at the distance I have come.”

It is a simple, practical lesson. When you are faced with a project or task that appears overwhelming, decide what the first step is and take it. If you can break the problem down into a series of steps you need to complete to accomplish your goal, do it. But then, only focus on the step that you need to take next. When that step is taken, focus on the next one. Eventually, you will arrive at your destination.

“Lesson Of The Cliff”, along with 30 other stories, was reprinted in 2002 by Reader’s Digest in a book called “The Spirit of Courage.

Remembering John Denver

This Sunday, October 12, 2008, is the 11th anniversary of the death of John Denver. He is among the greatest singer/songwriters who ever lived and I still miss him terribly. I have been a John Denver fan for almost 35 years. It seems like yesterday that I was a young man driving along a country road, in the autumn of 1974, watching the leaves turn and listening to “Back Home Again” on the radio. Although I never met him, I had the good fortune to see him in concert at least three times at the Spectrum in Philadelphia and once at the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. I also saw him perform solo at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He always gave a marvelous performance and I always felt inspired about myself and the world after one of his concerts. He was, and is, an inspiration to millions of people all over this planet that he respectfully called “Spaceship Earth.

John became famous and had a lot of popular hit songs on the radio in the 1970’s. I think he did some of his best work though in the 80’s and 90’s. Usually, if you hear one of his songs on the radio today it’s a song from the 70’s, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, Rocky Mountain High, Annie’s Song, Thank God I’m a Country Boy, Perhaps Love, Sunshine on My Shoulders or maybe “Calypso.” Somewhere in the 80’s or 90’s radio stations stopped playing his new songs. I’m familiar with his later work, because I bought the record or CD, but many people aren’t. They are missing some of his best material. I will mention a few that I love:  It’s About Time, If Ever, Whispering Jesse, A Country Girl in Paris, Alaska and Me, A Baby Just Like You, Amazon, Seasons of The Heart, I Want to Live, To The Wild Country, The Wings That Fly Us Home, For You, What One Man Can Do… I can go on and on. has a list of all of his albums and the songs on them. “The Wildlife Concert”, filmed and recorded in 1995, is available as a video and a 2 CD set.  I highly recommend it. It is John at his absolute best.

“Flying for Me” is a wonderful song about the space shuttle Challenger. John volunteered to fly on the shuttle, but was turned down by NASA. He could very well have been on the Challenger when it exploded on January 28, 1986, if his wishes had been granted. “What One Man Can Do” is about Buckminster Fuller, an author and inventor who John knew and admired.

In 1976, John Denver and Tom Crum founded Windstar. Located in Snowmass Colorado, it is a not-for-profit foundation and a lasting legacy of John’s work. John said about Windstar, “Nothing would please me more than to know that there is an ever-expanding group of individuals who are working together each in their own way to improve the quality of life for all the life here on Spaceship Earth. That is what the music is about, that is what my life is about and that is what the Windstar Foundation is about.” Visit their website for more information about the work they are doing.

John also founded Plant-it 2020 in 1992. Plant-it 2020 is dedicated to “properly planting, maintaining and protecting as many indigenous trees as possible worldwide.”

Bill Danoff, who along with Taffy Danoff, co-wrote “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with John, has an interesting website with stories about John at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. in the 1960’s. One story on the website explains, among other things, what inspired the song and how it came to be written. You will probably be surprised. I was. I saw Bill and Taffy perform many years ago in a small theater at Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, NJ. They put on a great show, but it was lightly attended. I thought it was awfully nice of them when they invited the audience to stay for the second show for free.

The Rocky Mountain High Fan Club is run by Emily Parris. It has a wealth of information about John and links to all kinds of John Denver related websites, including The Wildlife Conservation Society.

John’s autobiography, “Take Me Home” was published in 1994. At the end of the last chapter in the book he writes, “I find myself thinking so often of the words to “On The Wings of a Dream,” which I wrote shortly after my father died.” “On The Wings of a Dream” is from the album “It’s About Time” released in 1983. I have always loved this song and shared it with friends. The lyrics of the song follow.

Yesterday I had a dream about dying
About laying to rest and then flying
How the moment at hand
Is the only thing we really own
And I lay in my bed and I wonder
After all has been said and is done for
Why is it thus we are here
And so soon we are gone

Is this life just a path
To the place that we all have come from
Does the heart know the way
And if not can it ever be found
In a smile or a tear
Or a prayer or a sigh or a song

And if so then I sing for my father
And in truth you must know I would rather
He were here by my side
We could fly on the wings of a dream
To a place where the spirit could find us
And joy and surrender would bind us
We are one anyway
Anyway we are more than we seem

There are those who will lead us
Protect us each step of the way
From beginning to end
For each moment forever each day
Such a gift has been given
It can never be taken away

Though the body in passing must leave us
There is one who remains to receive us
There are those in this life
Who are friends from our heavenly home
So I listen to the voices inside me
For I know they are there just to guide me
And my faith will proclaim it is so
We are never alone

From the life to the light
From the dark of the night to the dawn
He is so in my heart
He is here he could never be gone
Though the singer is silent
There still is the truth of the song

Yesterday I had a dream about dying
About laying to rest and then flying
How the moment at hand
Is the only thing we really own

And I lay in my bed and I wonder
After all has been said and is done for
Why is it thus we are here
And so soon we are gone

John Denver left the world a better place. He entertained us, taught us and inspired us with his songs. He challenged us to take better care of the earth and each other.

He will always live in my heart. He is here. He will never be gone.

You’ll See It When You Believe It

In 1989 I was laid off from a job working for Purolator Courier. I delivered packages like a UPS or Fed Ex driver. I then went to work for a small local courier service as a contractor. That was a really crummy job with no benefits and lousy pay. After a few months of that, I decided that if I am going to do this, I should work for myself. I just didn’t know what else to do. So, I started my own business, Voyager Express Courier. I worked at that for about 4 years and struggled along. In the course of running the business I used to go to my brother Howard’s house to use his computer. I had a typewriter at home and was familiar with that, but I wanted to create a customized letter that I could use to market my business. My brother had WordPerfect on his computer and a big, noisy dot-matrix printer. I remember having to yell to him whenever I had to print, “what’s that print key?” If I remember correctly it is shift + F7. I laugh about it now, but I suppose I should have written it down. It was really great to be able to backspace over mistakes instead of using white out, correcting tape or just ripping the paper out of the typewriter and starting with a fresh sheet. I finally broke down and bought a computer at the Trenton Computer Festival. It was held at Mercer County Community College. My brother Howard and my friend Carl helped me pick it out. It was a x286 with a 40MB hard drive and 1MB of ram. I couldn’t wait to get it home and have Carl hook it up for me. The operating system was DOS 5.0, I think, at the time. I didn’t have Microsoft Windows. It was all text based. I got a copy of WordPerfect since that was the only program I knew anything about. I still remember getting the modem to work for the first time, late one night. It was 2400 baud. Listening to the crashing, squealing sound of the modem negotiating with the other modem for the first time was awesome. I used to stay up until 2 o’clock in the morning playing with that computer. I became more interested in the computer than in the courier business.

You\'ll See It When You Believe It

Sometime in 1993, I picked up a book by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer called, “You’ll See It When You Believe It, The Way to Your Personal Transformation.” I don’t remember exactly how or why I picked up the book, but I did remember him for writing “Your Erroneous Zones.” The book is worth buying and reading for the introduction alone. I highly recommend it. It changed my life and, to this day, I consider it the 2nd most important book I ever read. I still have my copy and it is highlighted through out and the pages are yellowed with age. I used to keep extra copies in my house and car and give them away to people. I was sitting at my home office desk one night reading chapter four on “Abundance” when I read the following 3 sentences
starting on page 130:

“Imagine what gives you the most pleasure and makes you feel purposeful. What is it that when you finish doing it, you feel immeasurably fulfilled, and while you are doing it, time just seems to be nonexistent? Invite that into your consciousness, and then proceed  to follow your bliss.”

I immediately turned to my right and looked at the computer equipment sitting on the desk a few feet away. I thought to myself, maybe I can make a living doing something with the computer. I loved playing around with that thing and I stayed up all hours of the night, completely forgetting what time it was. It was an amazing moment and it was right in front of me the whole time.

I started to investigate the different types of jobs or things you could do with a computer. The BASIC software program came with DOS at the time so I bought a book for $20 and experimented on my own for a month . I couldn’t see myself sitting at a desk all day typing on a computer so I looked for something else. I discovered in a computer magazine that computer networking for business was in its infancy and Novell Netware was the biggest network operating system. Microsoft Windows crushed it later, but in 1994 Novell was the king of the hill. There were “boot camps” to teach you how to become a Novell CNE. It was basically a crash course to teach you how to pass 6 or 7 exams to get your certification. The courses were run by independent businesses. For $2000 or so they would cram you with information over a 6 or 8 week period. I found a school that I wanted to attend and offered my business for sale to an another courier service that wanted to expand. I had a major account that they were interested in and a few smaller ones. I made enough on the sale to pay for my school and a little extra. My friend Carl enrolled with me. He had much more PC experience than I did, but he was new to networking too. We drove to the classes together and quizzed each other before the exams. The school was located in Somerset, NJ. We drove back roads as much as we could. There was a farm along one of the roads and it had a fake cow, about 3 times the size of a real cow, on a trailer sitting in a field. Everyday when we drove by we wondered what that was all about. One day we finally stopped and drove into the farm. The guy who ran the place explained that it used to be taken to trade shows and fairs at one time.  I have a picture of it somewhere and I used to take it out and show people. We finally passed our final exam and became Novell Certified Netware Engineers. I started looking for a job. It wasn’t easy. I started working for a small company outside of Princeton, NJ. I drove around with the owner and visited customer sites every day to fix or repair whatever problem they had. I remember he liked to drink a lot at lunch. He was the stereotypical 3 martini lunch guy. It didn’t work out and I was politely let go after about 2 months.

I stumbled across something called the Online Career Center. I can’t remember exactly how I found it, but I was browsing around on my modem. It was an entirely text based web site housed at the University of Minnesota. It has since moved elsewhere. I was searching one day and found an agency listing for a computer job with Bell Atlantic in Pennsylvania. I contacted the agency and they sent me on an interview in Valley Forge, PA. Bell had a big data center there. I thought the interview went very badly. I waited to hear something from the agency, but nothing happened. I called them every two weeks just to check in. By this time I had been out of work for months. I finally called them about 7 weeks after the interview. The woman at the agency said that Bell decided they weren’t going to fill the job. Right. I never heard that one before. I was very disappointed, but I was determined to find work in the computer field. I put on a suit, grabbed a copy of my resume and drove over to a computer store near my house. I can’t even remember the name now, but they were a small chain of stores. I chatted with them a little while and went home. I was sitting at my desk again when the phone rang. It was the woman from the agency saying that she had found me a different job with Bell Atlantic and I could start Monday! It seems that another supervisor from Bell had called the agency about a different job request, totally unrelated to the first job. She told them about me and the first interview. I’m sure I was still fresh in her mind because of our conversation only an hour before. The Bell guy called the original person who interviewed me and that person gave me a favorable rating. At least, I think he did. Why else would they hire me? I’m surprised he remembered the interview at all. Maybe he took notes. I was hired sight unseen for the second job. An hour before, I was crushed and despondent upon hearing that I didn’t get the original job.  An hour later I was ecstatic. I would have taken the job no matter what it paid, but they offered me $45K. I was a contractor and there were no benefits, but that was more money then I had ever made before. Over the next two years I worked for Bell Atlantic in Wayne, Conshohocken and Philadelphia, PA. I also went to Pittsburg, State College, Scranton, Harrisburg and Reading. They were the two best years of my working life. I enjoyed the work I was doing, the people I worked with, made good money and got to travel a little. Things were looking up.

A good friend of mine used to say, “The only way you don’t get what you want is you either give up or die.” I guess the moral of this story is that I didn’t give up. I knew what I wanted and pursued it. Even a failed interview ultimately helped me get what I wanted. Don’t give up. Keep trying.

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