You are more powerful than you think.
In April, 2004, in a particularly rough patch, I turned to the perennial classic When Bad Things Happen To Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner. I really liked the book because I am good people and something bad had happened. I looked for other books of his and found Living A Life That Matters - which affected me on nearly a cellular way. I began to highlight passages in the thin book, underline them, sticky note them. And when I finished reading, I sighed deeply and said, "Someday, I hope I get to thank Rabbi Kushner for having written this book."
Flash forward to June of 2004, a few months later. It was a Thursday morning and I got a call saying, "Remember how you said you'd help with President Reagan's funeral?" No, I had no recollection thereto. "Well, you're in the plan, so you can't say anything but he's dying and as soon as you hear he's passed, call this number. We'll have a meeting and you need to be there." Roger. Wilco.
On Saturday about 4pm, I heard that President Reagan had died and dutifully called to find out where the meeting was being held. There were seven of us in the room. We each got our assignments - mine was overseeing all ticketing (9 events!) and all staffing (100s of people!) - and opened the office the next day. Each day we worked on the State Funeral was like a week’s worth of work - and we only had three days to get everything prepared.
On Monday night, our lead turned to me and said, "OMG" (to paraphrase in less colorful language) "I haven't invited the speakers!" for Friday's service at the National Cathedral. I said, "Don't worry. Who can I call for you?" He paused and said - wait for it - "Well, there's this rabbi..." I got a little tingle going in my spine. "Mrs. Reagan wants him to read from Isaiah at the service." I asked, in that voice you use when you can't believe something is happening right as it's happening, "Is it, by chance, Rabbi Harold Kushner?" It was. And it was my job to invite him to the funeral.
I rang his assistant. The rabbi was traveling. She asked for my phone number so she could get right back to me. I gave her my cell because the landline phones in our makeshift office were swamped. I turned my attention to other things because there were plenty of other things that needed doing.
My phone buzzed. I looked at it. Massachussetts area code. Deep breath. I answered. "Michele, it's Harold Kushner. How can I help?" I, the eternal Practical Details Gal, launched into the logistics. Rabbi Kushner interrupted me, saying, "Michele, are you inviting me to the State Funeral on Friday?" I paused. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Another deep breath. "Yes, Rabbi. On behalf of Mrs. Reagan, I'd like to invite you to participate in the service and deliver a reading from Isaiah." He asked the passage. I told him. He paused. "You know, Michele, that's one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible." I said, "I know, sir. I'm a huge fan of yours. Should I gush now, or should I gush later?" He said, with a smile in his voice, "Tell you what. I have to get on a plane. Why don't you gush later?" I rang off saying that someone would get with his assistant and share logistics. And I smiled and thanked my lucky stars that I had a minute with him.
But, wait. It gets better.
Whirlwind pace for the next several days. I was wiped out, running on fumes and solely focused on executing, executing, executing. As one organizing a State Funeral does. Thursday night, late, someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Michele, are you busy in the morning?" See, the tickets were distributed and all the staffing plans were in place so my big responsibilities were complete. I said, "I'm just taking my kids to the service but other than that, I got nothing." She said, "Well, there's this rabbi..."
Apparently, the universe thought I hadn't gushed enough. I was asked to pick up Rabbi Kushner from his hotel early, take him to the Today Show set on the lawn of the National Cathedral and then escort him into the Robing Room where all the officiants were gathered. Since I had an "all-access" pin issued by the Secret Service and knew the layout by heart, it would be easy for me to move the Rabbi around. I said I'd do it. Picked the rabbi up at about 6am, rode with him in the limo to the set, waved hi to Katie Couric, sat with him for a couple of hours, waiting for his ten minute segment.
And it was like talking with an old friend. He told me about the book he was writing on the 23rd Psalm. We talked about Living A Life That Matters and the story of Jacob. He asked me about my kids. And my divorce, which was just getting underway. I asked him about his travels and what he was learning. I told him about the plans for my coaching practice. He was kind, twinkly, thoughtful, friendly.
And, although I never really gushed in the fan girl way I once thought I might, I believe Rabbi Kushner knew that his work made a terrific, soul-level impact on me. And I absolutely know I created this opportunity by setting an intention to do something good - to tell him thank you.
When something bad has happened to you, when you feel less than strong, and more than a little incompetent, remember this: When your heart is open, and you ask for what you need from a place of no ego - only thankfulness - good things cannot help but happen for you.
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