Spiritual Lessons Are Everywhere, Part One

The report on my tooth is way worse than I thought. So for distraction, I’m printing the first part of a talk I gave a few years ago at the Church of the Infinite Spirit.

Good morning! Thank you to Spirit who guided me here and inspired my thoughts and words and to all of you who have made possible my journey to this place today.  I’m calling this Spiritual Lessons Are Everywhere because I really believe it is true. I receive confirmation of that fact in the most surprising ways.

I’m going to demonstrate my thesis by telling you about a man whom I barely know in person but who has twice in my life given me important sign posts and continues to inspire me. I’m also going to demonstrate from my own experiences and from his some important aspects of that lesson.

First that you must be willing always to keep your mind open while you are on your voyage and to accept change when and where you encounter it. Second,  if you really follow your passion, it will lead you to the most wonderful places.

So, who is this man and why has he had such an impact on my life, even though I’ve only spent maybe an hour in his presence? His name is Captain William Pinkney. Some of you may recognize that name because he was the first captain of the freedom schooner Amistad, which was built and launched in Connecticut and is used to teach school children and their teachers about the Africans who had been illegally enslaved and won their freedom here in Connecticut.

But before Captain Pinkney sailed the Amistad, he made a solo journey around the world. The name of his boat was Commitment . One of the people who helped him outfit his boat and choose the proper gear to survive the sometimes brutal conditions was a man by the name of Peter Vanadia. I met Peter when I was living in Philadelphia and we were in school together. This was some years ago, before beepers were common, but Peter had a beeper and he had permission to leave class every time it sounded.  Being naturally nosy, I had to find out what this was all about. It turned out he was paying his way through school by photographing births at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. So his beeper was signaling a new life arriving in the world!

I kept in contact with Peter and his wife after he dropped out of school. By this time he had purchased a marina. At some point he mentioned that he was helping this black man sail around the world by himself. Not long after, Peter passed to spirit, and I forgot about the episode until Captain Pinkney’s name started appearing the paper in connection with the Amistad project. I went to a fund-raiser where I met him, and as soon as I said I was a friend of Peter Vanadia, Captain Pinkney gave me a big hug and held up the receiving line asking about Peter’s wife. He hesitated for a minute and then asked if I wanted to use a spare ticket that he had to a Connecticut Forum.

I said absolutely since I knew the topic was “Adventurers and Explorers.” The speakers included Robert Ballard who discovered the wreck of the Titanic and Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of Jacques Cousteau. Also on the panel was a woman I’d never heard of but whose image will remain with me forever.

Her name was Susan Butcher. She had won the Iditarod four times, only the second woman in the history of the race to win. When she was introduced, she got up from a seat in the banquet all and walked to the stage. As I watched a blue light streamed from the back of her head. It stayed around her head for some time as she spoke about knowing almost nothing about the care and feeding of the dogs that were to carry her more than 1,000 miles. She said when she started she was surprised that the dogs – every one of the 96 of them – could sense a bear in the woods a half-mile away, much too far for even their keen sense of smell. After a year of living with and caring for her dogs, she said she could sense a bear in the woods a half-mile away. Her dedication and perseverance led her to victory, not once but four times. I’ve since forgotten the rest of what was said that evening, but seeing that living blue light around Susan Butcher’s head will always remain with me.

Stay tuned for the rest.

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