When describing his youngest son, my dad always says "Jimmy is the most famous unfamous person in the world." I'm sure his description is based on some pretty amazing stories I've shared with him over the years. Amazing stories, due to amazing people who have entered my world and the magical ways in which our paths have crossed. So I guess to him, I am a pretty famous, unfamous guy.
Every now and again, something happens that makes me actually think I might just be the guy my dad describes.
Such was the case a couple of weeks ago, when I found myself in Zurich, sitting in on a board meeting for Green Cross International. At the table that fateful morning sat none other than Mikhail Gorbachev. As I looked around the room, I began wondering if anyone else might be thinking the same thoughts I was thinking, thoughts like, "Is this really happening?"
If sitting in on a meeting with one of the greatest world leaders of our time wasn't enough of a surreal "Is this really happening?" moment, well, before the night was through, it was about to get even better. That evening we were invited to attend an intimate dinner with Gorbachev at Belvoirpark, not far from our hotel, the Baur Au Lac. When we arrived, we were lead to a private room where 3 tables were beautifully candle lit and set. The center table, where Gorbachev was seated along with my friend who had invited me, sat about nine, and a table on each side sat about 12 guests each.
Before dinner, we heard a powerful lecture on the environment by r. martin lees, and then not long after we ate, it was announced there was a singer in the room. I was introduced by Alexander Likhotal, and when I got up from my table, the lights went out and the room was lit only by the beautiful candles at the tables. It was magical, like a scene out of a movie; you could have heard a pin drop. In the stillness of the room, I felt like I was leaving my body as I sang "Let There Be Peace On Earth."
When I finished singing, Alexander announced there would be one more singer. . . Lo and behold, when "the other singer" stood up from his chair, and in that moment, believe me, you could have heard a pin drop! It was none other than Gorbachev himself, who began to sing a song called "Old Letters" in the most gentle, heartfelt voice. After he sang, through his interpreter, Pavel, we found out that he said he doesn't sing it often because it reminds him too much of Raisa.
Before the evening ended, I found myself in another "Is this really happening?" moment, when Gorbachev and I hugged goodbye. Although I spoke no Russian, and he spoke no English, I felt as though our hearts were connected, and they were connected no doubt through the gift of song.
Now I'm used to singing for my supper, but this particular evening was like no other, and it was if we all knew we were sharing something unforgettable. It was like being in the past and the present all at once, and I think it gave those of us who chose to take it, an opportunity to actually feel a moment, in the moment.
That night after dinner, I walked to the grossmunster und limmataquai, a beautiful church I visited everyday, and as I looked out at the city before me, I knew I had just experienced one of those rare times in life, where simply being there was enough. It really didn't matter why you were there, or how you were there.
I live in a city where much emphasis is placed on where you are and how you got there. We too often forget that most of us got wherever we are in life because of someone we knew who kindly took us along. There is an underlying, oftentimes unspoken pressure to be powerful and popular. It can crack the strongest of wills, break the most noble of intentions and before you know it, fear and anxiety become familiar old friends and you forgot why you came in the first place.
Every now and then, when I find myself wondering why I'm not as popular or powerful as I think I should be, my father's words gently come to visit, and just when I least expect it, the Universe puts me in larger than life, somewhat surreal "Is this really happening?" moment.
A couple of weeks ago, that moment came on a trip to Switzerland, where in a candle lit room, I actually felt like the guy my father so lovingly describes.
The most famous, unfamous person in the world.