Someone emailed me from across the country asking for advice on whether to attend in-person the November 29th Celebration of John-Roger’s Life, with concerns about the event being full and the costs involved. This is what poured out of me in response:
Let me start out with another of my J-R stories that have been flowing like rivers after a heavy winter snow melt. In 1984, prior to the Opening of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the John-Roger Foundation which became the Integrity Foundation donated $1,500 to the U.S. Olympic Committee for the privilege of having someone run with the Olympic torch which would later light the Olympic flame to commence the Games. John-Roger asked me if I would be willing to run with the torch on behalf of the Foundation.
From early childhood I was fascinated by the Olympics and would have loved to have been the Olympic Decathlon Champion. I ran track and field and cross country in high school. I was thrilled by the experience and so was J-R even though we ran with it in the middle of nowhere up near Lompoc, California. Perhaps you have seen the Moment of Peace showing my running with the torch and scenes from when J-R and myself were at the Olympics in person.
On the day of the Opening Ceremonies which were at the Coliseum at USC, which is not too far from Prana, there was a wedding that I attended with J-R. Afterwards, he and one of the MSIA staff were invited to attend the Opening Ceremonies as guests of a generous supporter of Insight and IIWP. I was very moved to walk if I had to from Prana and somehow attend the Opening Ceremonies and see the Olympic flame lit. The same flame I had carried is lit by a special flame which has been lit by a long tradition going back to the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. The flame burns “eternally” in Olympia, Greece where the ancient Olympic Games were held.
In 1984, I was living on a vow of poverty with MSIA. Literally, I had no money of my own. When I told J-R after the wedding at Prana that I wanted to go to the Opening Ceremonies, he said to me, “Don’t let money stand in the way of your going” and then he left to go. I thought to myself about what he meant. In my world in 1984, I thought $20 was a reasonable amount that could get me a ticket. I adjusted to what J-R said to raise the amount I would be willing to pay to $50. Someone from Prana gave me a ride to a very crowded area around the Coliseum at USC which could hold up to 100,000 spectators. I started walking across a mammoth parking lot to to get to one of the entrances to the Coliseum. In the distance, I could see people holding up small hand-made signs. I was encouraged as I thought these people were selling extra tickets they had. When I got close enough to read the first sign, it was about buying tickets. Then another sign and another and another. Many people holding up signs or announcing out loud their intentions — all wanting to buy tickets.
When I arrived at the entrance gate, I had not seen one person offering to sell a ticket. I felt very dejected. I managed to find a piece of cardboard and made my sign — ”I WANT A TICKET” — to hold up while I walked around meeting people who were approaching the entrances. After what seemed like a long while, I went of to one of the people holding a sign to buy tickets and asked if he had seen anyone selling tickets. His response was, “Yeah, there’s a guy over there,” pointing at an area I had not walked by, “whose selling one ticket for $500.” I walked over to him and sure enough he had a sign to sell a ticket. I asked how much? ”$500,” he responded. I replied, “That’s too much.” I felt crushed. I walked away even more dejected.
I was standing in the parking lot near an entrance gate still holding up my sign but with my head down and gazing at the asphalt below. Someone said, “Here,” and put a ticket into my hand while I was still staring at the ground. By the time I had figured out what I had in my hand, my instant response was this was some kind of scalper playing a mean game of tempting me by putting what I wanted desperately into my hands. I looked up and there were many people walking toward the entrance gate. I was not even sure who it was who had put the ticket into my hand. I yelled out, “How much is the ticket?”
A tall, athletic man immaculately dressed in a sport coat and tie quickly turned around while he kept walking toward the gate and yelled back, “It’s free!” I was still standing as he kept moving further away toward the entrance, and I yelled loudly over the crowd noise, “Who do I have to thank?” He quickly turned around while he kept moving toward the entrance and yelled back, “ABC.” I later realized he was one of the on-camera announcers who worked for ABC Sports, the television network who was covering the entire Olympic Games. On the ticket amongst the information that was printed it read, “VIP” and “$200.” When I took my seat, sure enough I was seated in a VIP section, 4 rows up from the track and field at the end of the stadium where the main part of the ceremonies was conducted.
Being at that Opening Ceremony is to this day one of the most spectacular experiences of my life. During the ceremonies, which climaxes with the lighting of the Olympic flame to commence the Games, there is a tradition in which the host country keeps the identity of who will light the flame a secret right up to the moment when the last runners who have been passing the flame torch to torch for weeks finally enter the Olympic stadium, continuing to pass the flame onto another runner until the one who is to light the cauldron signifies the moment of the Opening of the Olympic Games.
When I later attended with J-R the Opening Ceremonies for the Atlanta Olympics, Muhammad Ali lit the official flame. However, on this day in Los Angeles the surprise was two-time Olympic Champion Rafer Johnson who lit the flame by carrying the torch from the track up a specially-built flight of stairs all the way up to the top of the stadium. It was a spine tingling moment for me.
When my wife, Leigh, and I came together, I found out that she had a small role in the film “The Games,” which was based upon a true story about the marathon run during the Rome Olympics in 1960. One of the advisers and someone who played a sports commentator in the film is Leigh’s friend, the very same Rafer Johnson, who became a two-time Olympic Decathlon Champion. Leigh and I later had lunch with Rafer, and he signed the photo of the Los Angeles Opening Ceremonies that is hanging, along with the actual Olympic torch I carried, in the hallway outside my office at 2101 Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, California.
Of course, this is your decision whether you attend the day of Celebration of J-R’s Life. Look to your heart for direction, and “Don’t let money stand in the way.”
To learn more about participating in-person and on-line in the Celebration of John-Roger’s Life, click here. . .