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That Overwhelming Moment

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It was a hot and sticky day in Metro Manila back in the summer of 1997. I had just arrived from the States and had my cast of usual suspects arriving in the Philippines over the next 24 hours. I was there to put yet another hotel resort together. The finance folks had agreed, the hotel chain/operator had agreed, the Batangas beachfront land owner had agreed and the brokers were all lined up for their cuts. Seemingly, everything would "normal operating procedure," in and out with some local fun along the way. This was not to be.

I checked into the hotel and into my suite. A cool shower and some room service was in order. I dressed in my Armani suit and Salvatore Farragamo shoes and headed to my limo for the ride across the city to a press conference. I was always the best dressed and least approachable. It was just the way I kept people away. I thought I was better than everybody. The time was half past four and the jet-lag was looming over me like a rain cloud. I needed to fight it off. I was going to fire that darn girl for booking me for a meeting the day I landed. Into the limo I went and we went two blocks only to find a wall of cars, bikes, and pedestrians by the thousands crossing before us. The driver laid on the horn to no avail. We were to sit there until, well, until it was over. So thankful for the air-conditioning, I leaned back and opened the file with the Batangas Resort materials neatly organized for me. Suddenly, and without even the slightest warning my life was to profoundly and abruptly change.

As I intently studied the terms and conditions for the acquisition, I was startled out of my skin by the sound of a hand slapping against the window to my right only inches away from my head. This sound was deafening and I literally jumped inches from my cool leather seat. As I gasped and looked I saw a street child maybe five or six years old staring back at me. His eyes were haunting and obviously in much pain. His hand had layers of dirt covering what must have been dried blood from days ago. He was begging me through the glass window for money. I hit the "down button" and gave him a 10.00 USD. Almost, and without warning 20 more children were at the side of the limo grabbing at my sleeve. I just froze. I had never seen this. The car pulled away and sped down a side street almost hitting crossing vegetable carts. I hit the up button on the window and sat back. I was in total shock. I could not digest what had just happened. I was trying to reason with myself. How could I have not seen this before?

Turning around to look out the back window I tried to catch a glimpse of the little boy.

At this moment something changed. It changed not in my head but somewhere else within me Something was stirred awake that had been asleep for a lifetime. As I went about the business of the trip I found my mind wandering off to that child. How could he exist? Where did he live? Did he have a family? Is he OK now? These and other questions rolled around in my heart and my mind's voice over and over and over. I returned to the United States and to Los Angeles. I lived just a hop, skip and a jump from LaDome on Sunset Boulevard where I could be often found on Friday/Saturday night. It was one of the places I was known. I sat with a table of friends including the late Jocelyne Jocya and German model Heidi. Everybody was laughing and drinking while I sat quietly gazing across Sunset. The people, the lights, the money, the glitz was in full storm this night. I sat thinking about that little boy in Manila. Tears rolled down my cheek which led to pure sobbing. My friends went on talking and laughing as their voices trailed off to be drowned out completely by the sound of that hand on the car window a few days earlier. What was wrong with me?

For the next few weeks I locked myself at home and did not take calls. I would call the Philippines daily to ask questions on the deal but really I wanted to somehow be connected to the little child. As the weeks gave way to months, I found that I could no longer conduct business as usual. I was broken, changed, somehow very different. One evening months later I was asked by a dear friend to participate in major fundraiser for Yitzhak Rabin's widow Lea for the Wall of Sheba at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. On this evening it came together. On this night when the children of the Crenshaw Elite Children Chore were singing, I knew what I had to do. That child in the Philippines. Those children in Israel. Those children on stage singing and every other child were related. They were related to me. They were MY brothers and and sisters. What does a big brother do? He protects them. He feeds them. He educates them. He holds them and he tells them "it will be alright." From this moment on, I would do this to the end of my days.

As the years passed, I would build up the Foundation for the Declaration of the Rights of Children, numerous small companies and projects for children. I would travel to China and to orphanages and work with special needs children. I would meet with leaders of countries and Ministers of Social Welfare and adopt new ways to co-manage child care in Asia. I would create social networks where people could join together to help eliminate poverty, sickness and homelessness with children. My work has many moons to go but I know every day that little boy in Metro Manila was sent to me for a greater good and purpose.