Rev. Billy Graham died Wednesday at the age of 99. The nature of my crazy life has put me an arm’s length away from more “celebs” (actors, musicians, media types, athletes, etc.) than I could ever count, but photos and autographs have never my thing. That’s not to say I haven’t met countless talented, interesting and accomplished people which most people wouldn’t think of as “celebs” but who are infinitely more fascinating to me. The only celeb photo op I can remember participating in resulted in a single photo of me with the mystical enigma of latenight radio, host Art Bell, on one of his rare trips away from his double-wide headquarters in Parumph, Nevada. That color 4×6 is packed away somewhere in the house, but I couldn’t tell you where.
Today, however, I am reminded of the day I crossed paths with the Rev. Graham. I’ve never told this story publically. In the mid-1990’s I was living in Rochester, MN, the home of the Mayo Clinic. I was having some serious trouble with a narrowing of the spinal canal in my neck, leaving my left arm weak and my mind troubled. Things were serious enough that surgery was a real possibility, so an MRI scan was scheduled.
Mayo is a GIANT place and a logistics machine, and lives and breaths on order and protocol. Upon reaching my assigned Imaging Area I was taken to what looked like a carpeted locker room and directed to disrobe. There was also the added precaution of carefully removing any metal from my person so the magnets in the Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine didn’t try to, say, pull off my ring AND my finger at the same tim. After garaging my clothes and checking my valuables I put on that timeless favorite: The Hospital Gown. I’m a biggish guy, which means it’s not only hard to put on a gown which ties in the back, but the gown itself is usually about two sizes too small, coming up short of covering my backside. With the slipping on of paper slippers my fashion ensemble was complete, and I was led out to a small but comfortable waiting “cube” complete with rocking chair.
So there I was, quietly rocking and trying to keep my backside warm when who comes shuffling by but the Rev. Billy Graham, accompanied by not one, but two Grade A Mayo Clinic-issued VIP escorts, one on each arm. He wasn’t more than six feet from me, and as he was shuffling by slowly I was afforded an extended view of the Religious Counselor to 8 Presidents’ skinny rear end peaking out of the back of HIS gown. And just like that Graham and Co. walked through a doorway, and the celebrity sighting was done. I had my MRI scan, and I imagine Rev. Graham had his as well. I tried to guess what the Mayo VIP MRI room had than my machine in steerage did not. Perhaps over there was access to a cool beverage, or a warm cup of tea. Maybe some cucumber finger sandwiches.
I learned two very important life lessons that day. I’m never going to be the guy who gets two VIP escorts at Mayo Clinic (or anywhere for that matter) so I should plan ahead and bring my own snacks. Maybe throw in a thermos of coffee. Second, no matter who you think you are…rich or poor, young or old, righteous or damned, celebrity or recluse…at the end of the day we’re all pretty much the same: unable to rock a hospital gown, and with our butts hangin’ out in the breeze..