It happened about 2 months before I graduated from my high school, 1.5 months before the Senior Prom and 1 month before I was to perform the role of Hugo Peabody in my high school’s elaborate production of Bye Bye Birdie: I got whooping cough (pertussis). How I got whooping cough, I have no idea. But, it kept me home from weeks of school and probably even gave me a very mild form of depression as I felt like the weeks that were supposed to be the highlight of my life up to that point were spent laying on my bed at home.
In order to help me deal with being stuck at home all day for a couple weeks, my parents moved the computer desk into my room. This enabled me constant access to the Internet, which is where my Internet-addiction probably began…
But instead of spending my time in AOL chat rooms or playing games, I did what any other 18 year old would have done: I decided to plan my life. I decided then that I would go to seminary.
I wasn’t really sure what seminary was…nor what I would do after seminary, but for some reason, seminary sounded like a ‘cool thing’ to do. So again, I did what any other 18 year old interested in seminary would do. I went to all of the seminary websites I could find, went to their Faculty Directories and emailed EVERY professor at each of the websites I found and sent an email that went something like this:
“Hi!!!! My name is Adam Bradford Cleaveland and I’m 18 years old and I’m graduating from high school in a few weeks!! I’m going to be starting school at Whitworth College next fall, and I think I’d like to go to seminary. I’m not really sure what seminary is, exactly, though – so I was wondering if you could write me back and tell me 1) What seminary is? and 2) What is good about your school? Thanks!”
Any any rate, I actually received some emails back from professors – one of which was Dr. G Robert Jacks from Princeton Seminary (although most knew him as “RJ“). RJ and I began to write back and forth, talking about seminary, why I was going to be a Religion major, what I was passionate about and much more. He started referring to me as ‘Lishe and signing his emails ‘Lige, playfully referring to the Elijah/Elisha mentoring relationship. He would write prayers for me in his emails. It was one of the most odd, but most important, early mentoring relationships that I experienced as a young man. We kept in touch for the next four years and he kept telling me “C’mon out here to Princeton – you NEED to go to seminary – EVERYONE can benefit from a seminary education, whether you feel called to the ministry or not…come!” And I kept assuring him that I would come. And I thought I would…I thought I would meet RJ. There would be time…
On June 7th, 2002 I had spent the day exploring the Alhambra in Granada, Spain with John, my traveling buddy who I met on the train to Sevilla. It had been a gorgeous day and it was evening when I made my way down to the town square to Navagaweb, the local Internet Cafe. As I checked my email, I noticed one from a friend at Princeton…opened it…and read the news that RJ had died. I knew he had been having medical problems, but…I knew I was going to be able to make it out to Princeton to see him, but…there surely was time to get to meet my ‘Lige, my email-mentor, but…
There was no time. I missed that opportunity. So I decided I had to at least meet his family, friends. So I bought a ticket to Newark, got on a train and ended up in Princeton, NJ for the first time and went to RJ’s Memorial Service in Miller Chapel at Princeton Seminary. RJ was Professor of Speech Communication and one of the most-loved professors at Princeton. RJ was described as a ‘prayer warrior’ and was one of the stronger Evangelical voices on Princeton’s campus (in fact, after doing some googling just now of him, I ran across a few things that would lead me to believe that he and I would differ significantly when it came to issues concerning homosexuality). He was known for his ‘bear hugs’ and the way that he cared for and mentored so many students at Princeton.
At the reception following the service I met a Princeton student who said I looked familiar…he had been a close friend to RJ, prayed with him on a regular basis. And then it clicked for him. He had seen my picture on RJ’s prayer board in his office. RJ had been praying for me daily for four years. I also got a chance to meet RJ’s wife, who knew me when I introduced myself and she said to me, “Let me give you the hug that RJ would have wanted to give you.” It was where I needed to be. I needed to experience the grief and loss of his family and those who *personally* knew him. Yes, I was only his ‘internet-buddy’ but we had shared an experience, a relationship that was profound on many levels.
So today, on All-Saints Day, on the Day that we remember those we have lost, those who have been formative in our lives…I remember my ‘Lige: RJ.