Remembering the life of a ‘dream-encourager’

An Indiana winter cold snap. Black ice. An SUV loses control. A crash. A helicopter takes a victim to the hospital. Complications from the accident.

That was how my friend died two weeks ago. But none of that is of any importance. What I will remember is how my friend lived, not how she died.

Several years ago at Franklin College, a visiting speaker talked about the dates found in an obituary. The date of birth is listed, followed by the date of the death. The speaker, however, said that the most important element of those dates is the “—” the dash between birth and death. It is what a person does in the “dash,” in the years between birth and death, that matters.

I first knew my friend as a student in one of my classes back in the ’90s. She had selected my winter term class on church architecture. Twenty years later, when we met again, she reminded me of the paper she wrote for the class and the fact that the grade of A that she earned on the paper was the only A she received in her time at Franklin College.

Twenty years later, our college campus minister, David Witherspoon, received a phone call from this past student. She was now the public relations chief of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington.

She shared that there were Tibetan monks from India on tour in the United States. They had constructed a sand mandala for peace at Indiana University, but were looking for a small college or university to visit. My past student said, “I thought of my time at Franklin College and wondered if Franklin College would like to have the monks visit.”

With that visit, the second stage of our relationship began. Lisa worked tirelessly not just that year but in the three years that followed to bring Tibetan monks to our campus. When she was invited to be part of the planning group to bring His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Bloomington back in 2013, she again thought of Franklin College and, because of her, a number of us were part of that amazing and unforgettable endeavor.

More recently, Franklin College was invited, because of Lisa, to offer a meditation course at the Buddhist Center in Bloomington this past fall. And she was central to the success of Indianapolis’s first three “Festival of Faith” events.

Lisa then became my colleague, serving as a publicist for my talks on ISIS/ISIL. Almost all of the talks that I have given on that subject since the spring of 2014 were arranged by her. Working closely with her on these and other efforts, I appreciated more and more her gifts. First of all, she had an incredible gift of bringing people together. I will never forget her smile when she had introduced two of her acquaintances to one another. She would say, “I knew you two (three, four) would enjoy meeting each other.”

Secondly, she was a deeply committed Christian who loved and worked closely with the Tibetan Buddhist cause in Bloomington and in this country. As I came to understand, she brought the love of Christ to her work with Buddhists, and she brought the compassion of the Buddha to her work with Christians. She brought both and more to her work with Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Humanists. So many of us involved in interfaith in the years ahead will catch ourselves as we start to say, “Surely, Lisa will be happy to do that.”

Finally, I will always remember Lisa as an even deeper friend who was a “dream-encourager.” I would always walk away from our meetings to discuss what we might do to encourage interfaith understanding with the same question: “Where did all those good ideas come from?” Many of them came from Lisa, but all of them surfaced because of Lisa. I have never known anyone who helped dreams be born like Lisa.

Perhaps fittingly, I heard the news of Lisa’s passing away while I was at a speaking event in Evansville, an event that she had arranged for me. In our last conversation before her accident, she was suggesting how we, in the Indianapolis-Bloomington area, could work more closely with our interfaith friends in Evansville and other locations.

I know exactly what Lisa would say to all of us who are grieving. She would not want to stare numbly at all the pieces of her wide-ranging work that now seem scattered. She would say, “Come on, let’s dream big, and then let’s get working.”

May your memory be eternal, Lisa.