5.  The Development of a Consciousness

Did this sense of knowledge and responsibility come to you suddenly in that one summer or did it develop over time?

I have to think that this sort of thing happens to a person over the course of accumulated experiences and that it blossoms to full consciousness when those experiences reach some critical mass.

For instance, I can remember when I was a child, my father was driving us through Philadelphia to get to southern New Jersey where he had his business. We passed a sign-making business which, in order to call attention to its capabilities, had placed an eye-catching sign near the street. It had a saying on it: "I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet." Boy, did that ever hit me in the heart. It forces a sense of perspective on you, and I don’t remember complaining very much after that about not getting my fair share of anything.

Popular music played an immensely important part in my orientation. I became a disk jockey at the college radio station. The very first song I played on the air was a new release by John Lennon called "Instant Karma." In that song, he’s responding to people who think that his emphasis on peace and love is a joke, people who are "laughing in the face of love." His prediction: even the cynics will be knocked on the side of the head with the same realization he has had. "Who on earth you think you are?" he asks. "A superstar? Well right you are!"

I began to pay close attention to the lyrics the artists presented, and I became most impressed by those who talked about inner journeys, such as in Cat Stevens’ "On the Road to Find Out." I remember being impressed by lyrics to an otherwise pretty bad song by a group whose name I’ve erased from my mind. The lyrics were simply a repetitive refrain of "We believe peace begins within."

In 1971, John Lennon came out with "Imagine." The importance of that song to our collective consciousness is shown by how it’s been praised by loving references in recent films like "Forest Gump" and "Mr. Holland’s Opus." How can you avoid being affected by Lennon’s words telling us that solving the world’s problems is not a foolish dream: "You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one." Now that’s a true "love song."

Another experience that I can now identify as contributing to my recognition of my spiritual vocation is the death of my mother, which occurred in the summer of 1972, just before I entered law school. That forced me to contemplate, among other things, my own mortality. The following summer, when things came together for me, a critical moment was when I tried to imagine myself on my deathbed looking back at my life in order to evaluate whether or not I was satisfied with how I had lived it. That kind of mental exercise forced me to a recognition that the choices that I make each day will affect what I’m going to see when I’m on my deathbed looking back, and that I had better make my choices well if I’m going to be satisfied in the last moments of my life. I felt that for there to be the strongest value to my life, I had to make a contribution, an offering of my life, that I had to be of service. It was those thoughts that closed the electrical circuit and created the critical mass that brought me to a spiritual vocation.