The Lesson of the Tree

imagesWhen I was a boy of eight or nine, I was walking through the woods in the mountains near home with my Father when we came upon a large tree that had been cut to clear the path. My father pointed to the rings at the cross section where the tree had been cut and asked if I knew their significance.

I gave him the conventional answer telling him I knew the rings of the tree reflected the tree’s age. My father said that was right and then he expanded that observation in a way I have never been able to forget.

“If you look closely,” he said, “it can also tell you something of the tree’s history.”

Dad pointed to a narrow band near the tree’s center.

“That tells you this was a tough year for this tree. If you count back the rings and determine the date you will probably find that it was a dry year or that the tree faced some other challenge to its growth. Conversely, the broad band tells you the tree had a year of expansive growth.”

“But what is most important is the pattern,” he said. “Broad bands almost invariably follow narrow bands. That’s because in the dry years and difficult periods the tree had to put its roots down deeper in order to survive.”

Like the tree, we are all at times challenged and pushed to the limits of our existence. If we are to survive and grow, we must reach deep and draw on the best part of ourselves. Those who cannot find a purpose in their pain are diminished by it. Those who do are strengthened by the process.

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Who Are The Righteous?

Leila MacauleyAnd the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.” (Genesis 18:26)

In every generation since, Jewish tradition holds, there are 36 special people so good as to justify the salvation of mankind.

Who are they?  Where are they?  What makes them so special?

I have spent half my life trying to answer these questions.  The search has taken me far and wide, across this country and beyond.  People by the tens of thousands, men and women of distinction, have provided input.

Following their leads, I have met many people who might qualify to be among The Righteous, but only one I confident enough to identify.  Her name is Leila Macauley. She lives in south Florida and will be 93 on December 24, 2014.

I met Leila twenty-five years ago when I went to Connecticut to interview her husband, Bob. In the preceding six years, Bob had turned AmeriCares into the largest private relief organization in the world.

Bob’s story was the stuff of legends. He had mortgaged his home to save two hundred children he had never met, created a company run on Christian principles, sent mercy flights into Soviet territory before he had permits to land, dispatched a helicopter into a war zone to rescue a single child, and developed a reputation for being the first to respond to any disaster anywhere in the world.

But when Bob learned the nature of my interest, he told me I was talking to the wrong person. He said I should be talking with his wife instead.

“I was very much a bum before I got married,” he said. “I kept all the whisky companies going. I didn’t live a very saintly life. I didn’t do too much good. She made me who I am today. She has been my moral compass.”

At the time, I dismissed his comment as the kind of thing any man might say about his wife, differing only in degree. Then I met Leila.

I soon learned that she cast the deciding vote on whether the family should buy a new car or help fund an orphanage. She was the one who greeted the press on the lawn the day Bob mortgaged the house and answered their questions by saying, “It seems like a good deal to me. The bank gets the house and Bob get’s the kids.” It was her values Bob built his company around.

Since 1970, Leila has quietly and competently run The Friends of Children (, a charity supporting children’s health, education, and welfare. It is the only charity I know that gives away everything it takes in, running on an overhead of less than 1 percent.

“With AmeriCares, I saw how effective the right medical supplies, clean food and water could be in a disaster,” she explains. “But the need didn’t end when the disaster ended. I wanted to be involved in supporting children whose futures were in doubt.”

Leila seeks no compensation for anything she does and has never sought public attention. Concealment is one of the attributes of The Righteous. That’s why you will never see a politician among their number.

The Righteous remind us the world is changed from the bottom up more often than from the top down. They teach us love is always an appropriate response. They transform every life they meet and improve every situation they find. Like Leila Macauley, they make the world a better place simply by being who they are.

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The Season of Thanks and Giving

‘Tis the season to celebrate the power of love.

What is the one indispensable ingredient of life and the most potent force in the universe?

What is God’s greatest gift and the only way God is manifested in the world?

Where can we find at once the solution to the problems in our lives and the problems of the world?

There is only one answer. The answer is Love.

Love is the one thing you cannot get enough of and the one thing you can never give enough of.

We receive love not in proportion to our power, possessions, or position in life, nor in correlation to our needs and desires, but only in proportion to our own capacity to love.

The only way to have love is to give it.

So long as we are loved, we are necessary to the lives of others, indispensable and immortal.

No matter what the problem is the answer will always be found when we surround it with love.

Thus it is that in loving and giving we find the meaning and purpose for our lives.

All we really need is love.

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The Prison of the Self

imagesWhat is the common characteristic of life’s failures?  What do neurotics, psychotics, criminals, perverts, problem children, and other misfits have in common?

All of life’s failures are failures simply because they have not been able to get beyond themselves.  They are self-centered and lack social interest.

Most of the evils of mankind would not be possible if the ego did not persuade us that we were somehow different, somehow better, somehow more precious than others.  It is the ego that draws the line between “us” and “them” and deludes us into thinking we can go it alone.  It is our ego that leads us to believe that we can live untouched by the problems that plague the rest of humanity or that our problems are of a different magnitude, severity, or degree.

At its worst, the ego can persuade us that our smallest desires are more important than someone else’s life, the gratification of our immediate needs more important than another’s well-being, or that our view of the way the world should be is more important than the integrity of nations and the lives of thousands.

Conversely, John Ruskin observed, the first test of a truly great man is humility. “I do not mean by humility doubt of his own powers,” Ruskin said. “But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not in them but through them.  And they see something Divine in every other man.”

Ego is the enemy.  It keeps us apart. Any activity based on ego and human ambition is a delusion and an obstacle to grace.  Ego separates us from those we love and those who love us. It imprisons us in ourselves.

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Mother Teresa’s Legacy

images“The very fact that God has placed a certain soul in your way is a sign that God wants you to do something for them,” Mother Teresa said. Her order, The Missionaries of Charity, was founded on this truth. I am one of those who can testify to its power.

I had the privilege of meeting Mother Teresa in l985 when she was in Washington for the opening of one of her homes. I had some vague notion of helping her raise money for her work. To my surprise she didn’t seem at all interested in what I could do for her. Without exaggeration, I can say that one meeting changed my life

But my contact with Mother Teresa was incidental compared to that of Bob Macauley, founder of AmeriCares. Bob worked with her on many occasions.

On one of these occasions a few years before she died, Bob was on a plane with her on the way to visit one of her homes in South America. They were seated side by side in the coach section of a regional jet, this powerful, but small lady and a massive man – Bob was 6’ 4” – with about l00 other passengers.

Shortly after the flight took off, the cabin attendants began meal service. When the attendant came to Mother Teresa she held up her hand.

“How much does this meal cost?” she asked.

The attendant said she didn’t know exactly, but probably about $5 American.

Mother said, “If I don’t eat the meal, can I have the $5 for the poor?”

The attendant did not know how to respond. She said she would have to ask someone. Dutifully, she went forward and reported Mother Teresa’s request to the pilot who then contacted the company representative on the ground.

In a few minutes, the attendant returned with the happy news. “Yes, Mother, you may have the money for the poor.”

Mother Teresa smiled and returned her tray. Bob immediately followed her example and handed his tray back, as well.  In short order, everyone on the plane followed suit.

“I thought we had done pretty well,” Bob said, “until we got off the plane. Then Mother Teresa turned to me and said, ‘Get the food, Bob.’”

When Bob asked her what she meant, she said, “The airline can’t use it now. Get the food and we will take it to the poor.”

Bob found the airline’s representative and repeated Mother Teresa’s request. In a few minutes, he returned with the news they had agreed to let her have the unused food as well.

“Now get the trucks, Bob,” Mother Teresa said.

When he looked puzzled, she explained, “We can’t deliver the food without trucks. Ask if we can use their trucks to deliver the food to the poor.”

Bob often told this story to illustrate how focused and relentless Mother was in her service to the poor.   “We create poverty,” she said, “because we will not share.”

“The greatest challenge of the day,” Dorothy Day wrote, “is how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.”  Mother Teresa understood that challenge and sought in her quiet way to spark that effort.

There can only be one Mother Teresa, but her truth speaks to us all. God has given each of us the capacity to achieve some end necessary to others.  Each of us has the power to increase the sum of the world’s happiness.

Every little deed counts.  Peace begins with a smile.  Salvation can be found in the simple act of extending a hand.  The humblest among us can, by shear act of will, help create heaven on earth.

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