In 1959 I was a freshman at Regina High School in South Euclid, Ohio. One day in the library I came across a book entitled Deliver Us from Evil by Thomas A. Dooley. The author was a young doctor from St. Louis who had served in southeast Asia as a navy doctor during the mid and late 50’s. From the very first chapter I was “smitten” by the man. To be completely honest, I was already smitten by his photo on the cover! As I read the book, I learned that not only was he handsome, he was also intelligent, funny, and extremely compassionate. When he left the navy he went back to that troubled part of the world to provide medical treatment for refugees and villagers—especially children.
Dooley inspired me—so much so that, a few months later, when I learned he was going to speak at Cleveland Heights High School one evening, I begged my sister to take me to see him. She did. After he spoke I hung around backstage for a little while, saying to my sister, “I have to shake the hand of Tom Dooley.” And I did. Sadly, Dooley died of cancer only two years later, but the organization he founded continues to provide medical care in Laos, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Thailand. To this day I give partial credit to Dr. Tom Dooley for my decision to become a nun. I too wanted to devote my life to helping people—in my case, through teaching. Dooley was my inspiration.
What exactly is inspiration? To me it goes beyond admiration. Inspiration moves us to do something. When I am inspired by someone or something, I am moved to act. I recently read an article on inspiration by David Shribman in the Notre Dame Magazine (Autumn 2013). The article is entitled “The Beckoning.” That phrase captures something of the essence of inspiration. We are beckoned by an unseen force to do something. Schribman says this about inspiration: “Inspiration’s power is in what it says below the breath, its whispers urging us to try, pushing us to carry forward, bidding us to dream.”
Schribman says inspiration is “as elusive as it is indispensable.” It is a mighty force yet it has a gentle presence. We can be inspired by many things: “by moments, by stories, by uplifting talk and unforgettable example.” Yet we cannot force inspiration. Writes Schribman: “Don’t look for it. Let it find you.” He adds, “But (inspiration) will not find you if you are not open to its lure.” To me, inspiration sounds a lot like Grace, doesn’t it?
So, today might be a good day to reflect on the role of inspiration in your own personal life. When have you been inspired by someone or something? (Notice, I’m assuming you have!) What were you inspired to do? Did you experience the inspiration as both mighty and gentle? Has anyone ever told you that you inspired them?
And here are a few more questions about inspiration I’d be interested in getting some feedback on:
* Is being inspired more likely to happen to the young rather than to the middle-aged or elderly? Why or why not?
* Whom in the gospels did Jesus inspire? What did he inspire them to do?
* What role does inspiration play in the passing down of our Christian/Catholic faith?
I began by talking about Dr. Tom Dooley. Here are a few more facts about him, some of which I learned long after high school:
* He was accused of being a spy for the CIA. Researchers say although he did provide information to the CIA about the villages he worked in, he was never a CIA agent or spy. He was there essentially to provide medical care.
* President Kennedy cited Tom Dooley’s example of compassion when he launched the Peace Corps.
* Dooley was forced to resign from the Navy because he was gay.
* Dooley attended the University of Notre Dame and was good friends with Father Hesburgh, a former president of the university. A letter he wrote to Hesburgh is displayed in Notre Dame’s famous grotto, a place on campus dear to Dooley. The letter was written a month before Dooley died. It’s beautiful! You can access it by googling “Tom Dooley’s Letter to Fr. Hesburgh.” Just click on the Notre Dame archives and it appears.
* There is a movement for the canonization of Tom Dooley.
PS: When you read this I will be facilitating a retreat at the Mercy Retreat Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Coincidentally, St. Louis is where Dooley was born and where he is buried.) I would appreciate your prayers for all the retreatants–and for me!