As you know by now, I was going to save the word. We all were, those students at this expensive, private school of theology. We guys were gong to go forth and pastor mega churches, and do great things in the name of God. The girls who attended here were going to go forth and marry the guys who were going to save the world. We all came from religious backgrounds, we were all well indoctrinated in our faith, and we all thought that we, and we alone had the answer for all of the ills and sins of the world. The bad part of that is that we were also all hopelessly naive! Heck, we even all looked somewhat alike.
By the time that I started work at the Carlton, Chuck, the owner, had evidently told all of his guests and employees that I was a student of such and such university. They all made mention of it on my first shift. Actually, it was kind of funny because since I was a theology student they were all very careful to not use profanity around me. When one of them would slip, they would immediately turn and say they were sorry, like I was some kind of divine being.
Enter Bill, the man who would change my life's path. Captain Bill was our maintenance man at the Carlton, and had just recently returned from several tours of duty in Vietnam. Bill had been an army captain, and had quite a few years in the service. He seemed like one of the most sane guys at the Carlton, and I had enjoyed talking to him on a casual basis for several weeks after I started working at the hotel.
One January evening Bill came into the lobby, and I noticed right away that there was something different about him. His demeanor was dark, and his words were slurred. Bill wanted me to take him up in the elevator to the floor of his room. It started routinely enough. I got in the elevator, closed the iron gate, and pushed the up button that would take us to his floor.
About half way up, everything changed. It was one of those moments that was life defining.
Bill reached over and hit the stop button that brought the elevator to a halt between floors. Now, the alarm bells were starting to go off in my head. He had a crazed look in his eyes, and the usual friendly smile had been replaced with a sneer. Was I going to get murdered? What on earth was going on?
Bill set down on the floor of the cage, pulled a whiskey bottle out of his coat, and gave me the once over. He then began to speak."So, you are a ministerial student, huh?" Yes, I answered, trying to edge away from him a little. He continued" You must really think that you are hot shit, don't you?" " You think that you know everything and that you have the answers to all of life's problems" Where was this going, I wondered.
"Well,said Bill, let me ask you some questions". "Have you ever seen a leper colony where hands and feet and faces are rotting away?" "Have you ever been in a combat zone, and had the person standing next to you have their head blown off by a land mine"?" He then went on to question me about just where had I been in my life, and just what had I ever seen that was tragic. He then started demanding answers from me about the meaning of life, and why would a merciful God allow any of this to happen. He then turned to me, and with utter contempt uttered the words that would change my direction." You don't know jack shit. How are you ever going to lead people and help them?"
I was silent before these words of truth. I did not know anything. How could I help anyone when I had no answers. My personal faith did not change, but my direction of seeking did. The beautiful part of knowledge comes when you realize that you know nothing. And now, the older that I get, I realize more and more that I know nothing, Guess what, I am happy with the knowledge that I know nothing, for by knowing nothing, I gain everything.
So, right then, I decided that I needed a lot more life experience to ever think about being a spiritual leader of any sort. I am still learning, and I am still seeking., and through this I am learning to find my own answers, and somehow in my blunderings, maybe I will help someone see the light in their path. Thank you, Captain Bill, wherever you are, for you taught me more in those few moments than I ever learned in college.