Denzel Washington tells a story about being on the verge of flunking out of Fordham University. His GPA was 1.75. He remembers so vividly being at his mother’s beauty parlor in Mount Vernon, New York on March 27, 1975. At this beauty parlor was another woman who was under the hairdryer. “Every time I looked up, she was looking at me,” he said. Then out of nowhere, the lady asked for a piece of paper and a pen. “I have a prophecy,” she said. Then she wrote on that piece of paper “Boy, you are going to travel the world and speak to millions of people.” Well, Denzel couldn’t believe what he was reading. "I am flunking out of college and this is what I read about me?" he wondered to himself.
Of course, in later years, Denzel has traveled the world and spoken to millions of people.
Someone - a total stranger - filled his void with something that he didn’t even know could be possible. So, if people we do not know can talk to us, and bless us in a way that fills the void in our lives, how much more can those we know do the same? A basketball coach used to tell his players that when you score a basket, look for the person who passed you the ball and say, "Thank you," for that is the one person who filled your void.
There are moments when we all need someone to talk to us. As a parent of two teenage girls, I always struggle with whether they are inviting me to talk to them about something that’s bothering them, or about anything, or about nothing. I take it upon myself to talk to them about any and all things - whether I feel I have been invited or not. For me, it is important that, as much as possible, I help fill any void in their lives. And I am sure it is the same with many of you who also have teenagers.
Talk to me - it is an invitation. It tells of being open to listening. It tells of our willingness to hear what we need to hear and not what we want to hear. It tells of an unsettled mind or circumstance. It tells of a desire to hear some reassuring words, comfortable words that speak to one’s affirmation and potential. At this special time, as we approach the Passion Week, I am reminded of the story in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus screams in agony. Talk to me, tell me some comforting healing words that if possible, can fill the deep void he felt at the time.
On the night in 1865 that he was assassinated at the Ford Theatre - not terribly far from Columbia, Maryland, mind you - several items were found in President Abraham Lincoln’s pocket. One of the most telling was a group of eight newspaper clippings, each of which offered a glowing portrayal of his leadership as President. This was a man who had recently experienced a difficult re-election process and was worn down by the events of the Civil War. Those newspaper clippings talked to him about himself, about how his leadership of the nation had made all the difference. In the dark nights where he was all by himself, where the only sound he could hear was the sheer silence of the world about him, those words spoke to him and affirmed him. It wasn’t a question of ego, but it was one of a humble approach to a sacred duty. Those encouraging words provided a window where he could not only see a different world but also fight for that world, the kind of world that he believed we are all called to believe in.
The reality is that the world we believe in is often far from reach. And the tragedy of life is one where someone reminds us each day that we are not where we are supposed to be. I cannot even begin to imagine how the families of the eight people killed at the spa in Atlanta this past Tuesday evening are feeling. I understand that a couple among the eight had an eight-month-old. I can hear the family asking questions, inviting someone - even the killer - to talk to them. To explain why. "Talk to me! Why such a senseless tragedy?"
Was the killing a part of the recent rise in violence against Asians? I do not know. But thinking about all of this reminds me of a conversation between Rumi, a Persian poet and mystic, and a disciple. Talk to me, Rumi:
What is Poison?
He replied with a beautiful answer – Anything which is more than our necessity is poison. It may be power, wealth, hunger, ego, greed, laziness, love, ambition, hate... or anything.
What is Fear…..?
Non-acceptance of uncertainty.
If we accept that uncertainty, it becomes adventure…!
What is Envy?
Non-acceptance of good in others
If we accept that good, it becomes inspiration…!
What is Anger?
Non-acceptance of things that are beyond our control.
If we accept, it becomes tolerance…!
What is Hatred?
Non-acceptance of a person as is.
If we accept a person unconditionally, it becomes LOVE…!
Accept as it is, and transform your life.
Talk to me. Empower me. Fill my void, but not with flattery because I may not believe you. And although I may not like it when you criticize me, I will never forget when you encourage me.
Transformation is only possible when you talk, and when you bless with encouraging words.