I’ve been influenced by hundreds of people, starting with my parents. People influence me every single day. The people I have acknowledged here have had a profound impact on me, not only by their words but their actions. They practice what they preach with utter integrity. They have led their lives for the good of others. They are examples of what we all should strive to be. I have been honored to have had personal interaction with all of them, and I am listing them here in the order in which I have connected with them, beginning with the most recent.
DR. FRITJOF CAPRA
I greatly admire Dr. Capra, a physicist and systems theoretician, who had the courage to write The Tao of Physics in 1975, tying together in science and Eastern religion at the risk of being debunked by classical scientists. His holistic approach to the world was a departure from the mechanistic worldview of empirical science. He sees everything — ecology, social justice, politics, economics, etc. — operating in the same way as the organic system of the human body or planetary activity. Dr. Capra’s evolved spirituality recognizes consciousness in everything and celebrates the oneness of the Universe. He sees the physicist and the mystic coming to the same conclusions but from different paths that transcend the senses — the first via subatomic particles, and the latter, by achieving super-heightened states of consciousness. This resounds with my own view that the concept of oneness with the universe and each other is shared by quantum physicists, Eastern yogis, Christian mystics and many more.
What is the likelihood that a young woman from Kansas would receive a PhD in Education from Harvard and become a Greek Orthodox nun? The really amazing part of her story, however, is her rescue and recovery after being crushed and trapped by 60 tons of beams and other debris when the two walkways collapsed at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City in 1981. Miraculously, she found herself out of the rubble and in the arms of a stranger who told her everything was going to be fine. One hundred fourteen people died and over 200 were seriously injured. She was paralyzed from the waist down and was told that she would never walk again. Three months later she walked out of the hospital, albeit with two canes. When Mother Amiliane joined a monastery in Greece, she was introduced to her spiritual mentor’s elder, Archimandrite Aemilianos, Abbot of Simonos Petras Monastery of Mt. Athos. He had never set foot in the United States, yet she recognized him to be the very man who had cradled her after the collapse at the Hyatt. She then understood that he was a mystic and that what had saved her were his prayers from the other side of the world. Today she is the picture of health and heads St. Nina’s Monastery, an oasis for the soul. What is most awe inspiring about Mother Aemiliane is her utter faith in God, and the love she exudes. My sensation when I am around her is a warm feeling of being well protected. My daughter asked her how she defines God. “That’s the problem,” she answered. “People want to know God from here to here,” her hand gesturing from the chin up. “We meet God here,” she said as she placed her hand on her heart.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER
As a nuclear engineer, President Carter, in his own words, had never seen any conflict between science and his religious beliefs. His love for his fellow humans is demonstrated by volunteering for Habitat for Humanity with his wife, Rosalyn, for over 30 years to provide shelter for those who cannot afford housing. As President of the United States, this love was demonstrated as he pushed for peace in the Middle East, his mediation between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat resulted in the Camp David Accords, an agreement that Israel would to return Egyptian territory seized during the six-day war, and Egypt would recognize the statehood of Israel. President Carter’s love of humanity has also been responsible for the healing of millions of people. Through the Carter Center, Guinea worm disease, which in 1986 affected 3.5 million people in Africa and Asia, was reduced to only 25 known cases in 2016. Under the radar, he has targeted other diseases and implemented many more projects. Quietly, his work emulates that of Jesus Christ. They even share the same initials. The encouragement he gave me after reading the introduction to my book has been the best antidote for when doubt happens to rear its ugly little head. President Jimmy Carter has the kindest face of any human being I have ever met.
FR. DEMETRIOS CONSTANTELOS (1927 – 2017)
One of the world’s most distinguished theologians and scholars of Greek language and culture, Fr. Demetrios was the opposite of a pompous priest and haughty academician. He was witty, funny and just plain fun. During my semi-annual visits to his home, he would revel in relating the peaks and perils of his life’s story. He was a true storyteller. When he spoke of witnessing two of his brothers die during the occupation of Greece by Hitler’s and Mussolini’s armies or surviving a shipwreck in turbulent waters on his way to America, I felt as if I were there. His love of antiquity and concern for the plight of his fellow humans made him a specialist in and prolific author about specific periods of Greek and Roman history, the Byzantine Empire and the history of philanthropy. Nothing made him more wistful than talking about his beloved late wife, Stella, and reading from his writings on imaginary conversations with her. Fr. Demetrios would engage me with all of his attention, as if I were his peer. He gave me his blessing on my retranslation of the Lord’s Prayer, helping me with a line I had difficulty with. I was stunned and honored that he would find me worthy to translate a play he had written in Greek about a dialogue between three mavericks, Jesus, Socrates and Seneca. He accepted without a trace of doubt that God was in him and in every single human. He was lovable because his true specialty was love and he exemplified how to spread it around. He showed me how one receives what one gives. Above everything, that is what has left me with the most lasting impression and reverence.
ROSA LEE SMITH
My friend and mentor, Rosa Lee Smith, is one of the most elegant and spiritually inspirational people I have ever met. She recently celebrated her 95th birthday. African American, she graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a masters in social work in 1951, back when only one black person was accepted into the program per year. Hearing about her young life, her internship in Japan, family life with her physician husband and their four children, I am left fascinated, not about black or white history but about her story. Our discussions span all subjects, but it’s extra special when we share our most recent spiritual experiences and miracles. Rosa Lee has solidly embraced love and forgiveness without arrogance. When in her presence, I feel unequivocal love and acceptance. She listens deeply and speaks from deep within. In the middle of the conversation she will say, “Here is what just came up for me” and out pour words of wisdom, blunt poetic truth. It is how she has lived her life, and I want to be just like her.
MARIAH FENTON GLADIS (1948-2018)
Mariah’s practical implementation of Gestalt therapy, both with herself and with hundreds of others, is a living embodiment of “practice what you preach.” The day she was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1981 at the age of 33, her boyfriend, Ron, proposed marriage to her. After that, she made it her business to get rid of any and all bitterness in her life by embracing love and forgiveness. It must have worked. She was given two years to live and was told to not have children. Yet, she is here today, creating a customized “exact moment of healing” for each person who works with her. She has two strappingly handsome sons who, along with her husband, adore her. A friend took me to one of Mariah’s semi-annual “Afternoon of Forgiveness” presentations. There she was in her electric wheelchair, her body paralyzed, looking positively glamorous. Two psychiatrists who work with her translated what she said, because of her difficulty in speaking. Watching her work with a volunteer selected from the audience, on the “hot seat,” was awe-inspiring. Love emanated from her as she navigated the presenting problem to the core of the issue. People from the audience were invited to surround the person receiving the healing. It was so impactful that I studied Gestalt therapy with her for one year. I’ve heard about the healing properties of love all of my life, but being in the hot seat myself, the recipient of love and light pouring out of her, I now know what that healing essence is. It is what saved her own life. It was my last assignment, to write a letter to myself from my spirit guide, which produced a powerfully beautiful letter that was exactly the inspiration I needed at the time. I swear I did not consciously write it – it came from somewhere else. I end my book with it. Mariah’s journey has deeply enhanced mine.
FR. STEPHEN SINIARI
During a conversation over coffee, my friend said, “You and Fr. Stephen have to meet”! After days of telephone tag, Fr. Stephen and I agreed to meet for coffee. There was an instant affinity. The reason for his unavailability became clearly evident. Besides being an Albanian Orthodox priest and serving the needs of a small parish in NE Philadelphia, Fr. Stephen had started up Covenant House sites in the nearby vicinity. Covenant House provides housing and support to homeless and trafficked teens. He was headquartered at the site of the shelter in Atlantic City. Not only did he minister to the youth by providing an ear, a shoulder and unconditional love, but he also was active in outreach. Driving around in a van near and around the methadone trailer and areas frequented by drug dealers, addicts and pimps, he would hand out his card to trafficked young women in the hope they would call the shelter for help. This trick seemed to work. I accompanied him on a few of these outings, seeing for myself girls hostages to drugs, some of them beaten to a pulp. If he ran into victims that were outside the age limit to stay at Covenant House, he would put them up in a motel and buy their bus ticket home out of his own pocket. This was not a preacher who merely preached about Jesus, he did His work. Fr. Stephen had a heart attack and did not breathe for 20 minutes, which normally spells out certain death. Miraculously, however, a fourth defibrillator attempt bought him back without the slightest brain damage, so basically, he too was resurrected. Fr. Stephen and I had coffee together every two or three months for eight years. One time he brought along the beautiful teenager who eventually became my adopted daughter, but that’s another story, another miracle I relate in my book. Fr. Stephen retired and moved to Florida with his wife, Margo. He deserves Paradise on earth and much needed rest.
DR. R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER (1895 – 1983)
His multiple inventions, including the three-wheeled Dymaxion car, the fog gun enabling one to take a shower with just a quart of water and, most notably, the geodesic dome, have had many refer to this engineer, futurist, poet and genius of a man as the “Leonardo da Vinci of our time.” What I found most remarkable about him was his sense of purpose. In his autobiography, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, he describes how, on the brink of suicide during a bout with severe depression at the age of 32, he had an aha moment. Considering suicide a selfish act, he vowed instead to devote his life to improving the lives of others. It was this commitment to the environment and his love for his fellow humans that have most profoundly influenced me, as did his motto, “More with less.” Bucky, as he was endearingly called, considered himself a global citizen. He lived his convictions; that cooperation is essential, that it takes only one person to make a difference in the world and that it is possible for humans to live in peace. He said, “War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry.” He made up words all the time. Before I worked with him in Philadelphia, he was my idol. I consider the remarkable chain of events that brought us together miraculous ,and I’ve chronicled in my book the journey from a being a groupie to becoming his employee and friend.
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