"First Man In" for Truth Myself and 100 other people had the good fortune to see William Rodriguez speak in Nanaimo, BC on Sept 17th, 2007. There are many things quite remarkable about this man, his rare sense of integrity being chief among them. I had heard him before on a radio show, it was a fascinating interview where he went into some detail about his youth, his career in magic, and just some of the noteworthy people he has been associated with throughout his extraordinary life so far. Working at the World Trade Center for 20 years, he was one of a small group of people who possessed a master key to the building. That fact, along with his intimate knowledge of this huge complex, permitted firefighters easier access, and therefore more people could be saved. Rodriguez is a humble man who makes references to the fact that he is just a janitor, but in truth, he is a powerful individual with an amazing story to tell. Through his experiences we see revealed a man who possesses incredible loyalty, uncommon bravery, and the strength of his convictions concerning truth and justice.
"Strength is Happiness. Strength is itself victory. In weakness and cowardice there is no happiness. When you wage a struggle, you might win or you might lose. But regardless of the short-term outcome, the very fact of your continuing to struggle is proof of your victory as a human being." - Daisaku Ikeda
More than 2 hours sped by all too fast as we heard his first person account of events that occurred at the World Trade Center on 9/11. I was surprised to hear him tell of the many instances where he kept going back into the building to rescue strangers and try and save his friends. Not surprising is the fact that all of his testimony about the bombs going off before the planes hit was omitted from the official 9/11 Commission Report - as a matter of fact there is no mention of William Rodriguez at all, or the many others who would have to be considered prime witnesses in any real investigation.
At one point in his presentation he talks about a specific moment where he asks God for help. William tells us that he was not much of a believer before this moment, but as he was sure that he was going to die just then, he cried out for divine assistance. There were three instances during his lecture where I was literally moved to tears - this was one such moment. Rodriguez has an uncanny ability to engage an audience with his story, it feels as if he is speaking to you directly, and you can feel the pain he still experiences when he closes his eyes and falls silent while describing the 200 friends he lost that day, or the exasperation and hopelessness he felt while trying to save people amid this scenario of confusion and devastation. At that moment when he describes turning toward God for help, I'm reminded of another time in my own life when I turned away.
"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." - Steven Weinberg
I can remember the exact instant I turned away from my Catholic faith - I was enrolled at St. Mike's College in Toronto, a place where some famous NHL stars had been schooled. Most of my teachers were Priests who lived there at the college. I stayed after class one day and asked my teacher who was an elder Priest this question, "If a baby is born and dies 5 minutes later without having been baptized, why can't this child ever get to heaven and must instead languish in limbo instead? It seems rather unfair to me that our God would punish somebody who is completely innocent of anything, and for all of eternity." He went on to explain that these were just the rules and sometimes we were not capable as mere mortals of understanding God's wisdom, it was not our duty to question, we are required to have faith and obey. Well, I didn't like that answer at all - you see, we were also studying physics, science and math which pointed to some kind of an ordered universe with rules and laws of nature, these studies demanded reason and truth in order to exist. I could not accept that God could be so unfair, or that any religious doctrine would support this type of thought.
"The important thing is to not stop questioning" - Einstein
I pressed this man of the cloth further with the following, "If a man lives his entire life and is always a good person and a respected member of society, but then 5 minutes before he dies he takes a gun and murders somebody - can this man still get to heaven, and does this one action negate all the good work he has done his entire life?" Now my teacher and my religion were both truly on the spot as far as I was concerned, in my 14 year old mind I felt I had this Priest and the whole Catholic faith on the line and over a barrel for my allegiance. His answers both dismayed and surprised me. He said first that if the man received the sacrament of confession within that last 5 minutes of his life - he could then be absolved and forgiven, and after a suitable length of time in Purgatory would be able to proceed straight to heaven - pass Go and collect the $200. I was shocked and disheartened, this formal religion thing had lost me at that moment - here we have a completely innocent soul who has barely drawn a breath and is denied heaven for all eternity, and then somebody who willfully commits murder who is allowed the grand prize at the end of the tunnel.
But then this teacher of mine said something that I didn't expect, and which has subsequently afforded me a valuable lesson throughout my interesting if not heathen existence on this earth. He said that each of our lives is like a long strand of thread in this huge tapestry - if we live our entire life and help to create a rich and colourful design, then this is not mitigated by the thread becoming frayed and broken toward the end - it does not take away from the beauty of all that has gone before. I suppose I decided right there that his allegory about life's tapestry was correct, but I didn't like his capricious rules concerning player eligibility for heaven and hell. Perhaps heaven and hell were not some mystical places we went after we died, perhaps they exist on this tapestry itself during our time here - we make our own heaven and hell I reasoned, and it's encapsulated in our thought at this very moment. As a result of this exchange I never went to church again, and decided to cultivate my interest in Taoism.
Later in my life I heard this poem, it of course reminded me of that important day in my youth.
Just A Weaver
by Benjamine Malachi Franklin
My life is but a weaving, between my God and me, I do not choose the colors, He worketh steadily. Ofttimes he weaveth sorrow, and I in foolish pride Forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.
Not till the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly, Will God unroll the canvas, and explain the reasons why The dark threads are as needful, in the skillful weaver's hand As threads of gold and silver, in the pattern He has planned.
More than one road to Maple Leaf Gardens
When I was young my father used to make little drawings when he explained things to us, it was usually a visual diagram containing lines, boxes and circles that would get connected and spill off the page as he spoke. I'll never forget one such lesson, he said that when we went and watched the Maple Leafs play a hockey game live, there were literally thousands of different roads we could take - all leading from our house to Maple Leaf Gardens. He tried to impress upon me the importance of respecting other people's choices in this life. We are all in a sense trying to get to the same arena, and once having arrived at our destination, it matters not what route one takes or how long the journey. Parenthetically speaking, I would later reason that statistically the Leafs had a better than equal chance of losing no matter how the hell I got there.