I began my university studies right out of high school. The studies were OK. I'd always been a good student. However, what I really wanted was to be accepted to join a social club, a Greek fraternity, which I'd been told was the really important achievement at that university. I was only 17, and everyone seemed to tell me that, so I believed it.
But no one would accept me. I was invited to visit 33 fraternities, and heard 33 "No's." What was wrong? I couldn't understand it. One day on campus I saw a classmate I knew talking to another classmate. I walked up quickly to say hello, only to hear one say to the other that no one would accept me into their fraternity because my father was Jewish and my mother was a member of a Christian church. I'd never experienced prejudice before, not once. I had been very popular in my high school. What on earth are they talking about, I thought. I'm just me.
That night, two seniors visited my dorm room. One, Matt, was president of the best Christian fraternity on campus. The other, Don, was the president of the best Jewish fraternity. They said that students were beginning to talk about my situation and feeling sorry for me, so they had an offer to make to get this thing over with. Matt said if I could prove my Jewish blood didn't go back more than three generations, they'd be glad to take me in. Don said if I'd sign a paper saying I didn't believe in Jesus of Nazareth, they'd take me in.
"What's Jewish blood?" I asked Matt. He fell silent. "How can you ask me to sign such a paper?" I told Don. "I've been a member of a Protestant faith all my life." They left, shaking their heads sorrowfully. Oh, well, I thought. That's that. I'm just me.
Being just me got me elected president of my senior class four years later, one of the first nonfraternity men to ever achieve that distinction at my university. I received an award just before graduation, a plaque that read: "... for outstanding Christian campus leadership."
Many, many years later, I wanted to have a good long talk with my mother about things, having not seen her in some time. The idea came to just put her in my car and drive up and down the Los Angeles freeways so we could talk without interruption. Somehow I reached the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse downtown, somehow saw a parking spot, and took it. We went for a walk, and somehow ended up in a courtroom, packed but for two seats suddenly vacant. "What are we doing here?" Mom asked me. "I'm not sure," I replied honestly.
A moment later, she said, "Why are those people waving at you?" I asked her who had waved. She said one was the judge, and the other was the defendant and his wife.
The judge was Matt. The defendant, Dan, and his wife, Pat, turned out to be recent friends of mine, guests at my hotel up north. Matt begged me to come back to his office for a visit, and I took my mother, of course, though she didn't like the guard's wand searching her in Matt's office.
Dan and Pat hugged me vigorously when I went to greet them just before the trial began. They said Dan would probably go to prison for life, but Matt dismissed the case shortly afterward when he found out the prosecutors had fudged some of the evidence rules, at the behest of the White House.
It turned out later that people allegedly acting on behalf of the White House had also asked Matt - on a dark night in a Santa Monica park - if he'd like to be head of the FBI. Nothing came of that. By then, the president of the United States had resigned. Yet I missed all of this history going on before me.
What I remembered was that during our visit in his chambers, Matt had wanted to know what I was doing these days. He was very complimentary about my achievements. I said, "It must be all that Jewish blood, Matt." He did not smile, but looked away with a blush.
Shortly thereafter, I tried to get a loan to buy a house. The bank was owned by a big company, but for some reason I didn't qualify for the loan I wanted. A friend said, "You know so many people. Let me read you the names of their board of directors." I didn't know any of them. "Well," he said, "I've read you every name except the chairman of the board."
"Tell me his name," I replied. It was Don. I called his office, and he took the call at once. He seemed excited to hear from me. I said, "Now, Don, about that letter? You know, the one that says I don't believe in Jesus? Well, I really need this loan from your bank, and so I've been thinking it over...." and laughed. I heard a crash. He'd fallen off his chair.
"You're not supposed to remember embarrassing things like that," Don said when he'd stood up again. I was approved for my loan an hour later. I signed a lot of papers for the bank, but not one of them asked if I believed in Jesus of Nazareth.
I told this story to my mother, who had enrolled me in Sunday school so many years before. "I just don't understand it," she replied, sinking back into her chair.
"Don't feel bad, Mom," I replied. "Neither do I, actually. But I like the way both stories about old friendships, unexpectedly arrived at, finally turned out. Don't you?" She agreed, and hugged me. "I've made a nice lunch for you," she said softly.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society