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Throughout the Bible the number forty stands out. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt on a forty-year long trek through the desert until they reached the promise land. Forty-years is usually seen as the time it takes for a “new generation.”
I don’t often think about “forty-years” but it is much on my mind this morning. It’s impossibly early – 4:15am – and I’m at BNA waiting to board a flight to Atlanta, then catch a leg to Salt Lake, and finally a hop to Reno. My ticket says we’ll land around noon Reno time, but I’ll have no earthly idea what time that really is by the time I get there. Time seems, often, pretty flexible. Flying east to one time zone and then west through three others, I’ll likely be discombobulated when I get there. But the notion of forty years is a significant and sobering number no matter how you calculate it. Earlier this week it dawned on me that forty years ago yesterday I stood with my heart in my throat to deliver the commencement address at the American University’s College of Public and International Affairs graduation at Washington, DC’s historic DAR Constitution Hall. Let’s be clear: I wasn’t the valedictorian. Rather, I had been chosen out of a pool of 8 students – 4 undergrad and 4 grad selected from each of the 4 schools in CPIA. I was the SIS (School of International Service) undergraduate candidate and was, for some inexplicable reason, chosen. While it wasn’t a sermon, it was the first time I had spoken to a group that large. Graduation took place in the historic DAR Constitution Hall. Every time a Jeopardy episode is shown from there a wave of nostalgia washes over me.
Several images come flooding back. Dean Bill Olson standing with me watching the procession before we walked up to the stage and his advising me to choose where to do my graduate work based on the finery of the doctoral regalia, while he was resplendent in his Yale robes. His warm greeting on the podium. My Pop and girlfriend’s family in one of the side boxes. My housemates, Billy, Joe, Alan, and Sajjad Ahrabi. Saj was from Iran, came to the US for school in ’77 and couldn’t go home; we watched his hometown of Tehran during the daily Nightline programs as Ted Koppel covered the Iranian Revolution. Sadly, Saj died a few years ago. He was one of the most gentle souls and gracious gentlemen I have known. We shared a birthday and I think of him every year and it delights me to see him in the photo.
My flights out to Reno were easy as was the drive down to South Lake Tahoe for dinner with an old Bethlehem friend, Dave Norton, and his wife, Lynn. This is my first time to visit Tahoe and coming here on a gloriously sunny day it was showing off its best side. After Dave generously shared some very special Scotch on his porch, we had dinner right on the lake. Bidding them goodbye, I then drove up the south and west side of the lake to the little town of Truckee for the night. I’ll worship at the Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church in the morning. Pastor Jeanie Shaw who was a few years ahead of me at PTS serves there. The last time I saw Jeanie was when she came to WPC with a group from her church to do work after the flood.