WHYY's This I Believe Home

WHYY FM Schedule

Listen Live!

Back to WHYY FM

Charles Howard

April 8, 2011

Read the Full Essay

One act of compassion can often become the crossroads between a life of neglect and pain and a life of personal and professional achievements. Reverend Charles Howard knows exactly the moment that made a difference for him . Today on This I Believe Howard explores how as a Chaplain he tries to use his experiences to guide others. Reverend Charles Howard is the University Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater.

Locust Walk, the main thoroughfare through The University of Pennsylvania's campus, holds many memories for me. I'll never forget the buzz and excitement of walking along that brick laden path as a freshmen feeling both excited and intimidated by four years of possibility standing before me. I remember being initiated into my senior society, chalking the ground during that exciting night. And of course I'll always cherish the rainy day that was none the less full of sunshine for me when I marched in my robe towards graduation.

Locust Walk is special to me and I'm blessed that the Office of the Chaplain is right there in the middle of it. During my first year as chaplain, while walking on Locust, I bumped into a man named Harold Haskins, a campus administrator who literally helped tens of thousands of kids make it through Penn - myself included. I asked Hask if he had any advice for a rookie. He smiled and looked at me - clearly remembering the challenges that he helped me navigate as student many years before - and said, "Love without requirement."

It was as if Hask had summed up my life with those three simple words. Love without requirement. That's exactly how I have been loved in my life. You see when I was 11 my mother died...in my arms. My father died when I was a teenager. I was young when I lost the only two people who were required to love me. My life trajectory did not look promising as a young orphan from Baltimore. I'm not supposed to be here. But then a number of people came to me. And cared for me. They were not required to love me. But sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, teachers, mentors - all loved me as if I was their own. And there is no force greater than love.

I think that's part of what Hask was getting at. When we love, lives can change. But there is another aspect of loving without requirement. There is the lack of imposing any requirements on the beloved. This is loving in a way that does not depend on them performing, them being good, or even loving us back.

I and many of the faculty and staff working with amazing young women and men every day, also have the great task of showing the students that their value does not depend on their grades, what graduate schools they will get into, what jobs they get or what their salary will be. We challenge them to be their best, we also try to love them in a way that doesn't depend on these things that come and go. No, we try to love them without requirement, without condition.

And that's not easy is it? But I seem to do a better job at it, when I remember how I have been loved.

So what do I believe? I believe that I have been deeply loved in a way that I didn't think I deserved. I believe that the purest love is one that does not depend on what we do, but rather who we are. And I believe that the great call on all of our lives is to love and be loved. Love changes things and I believe that with my whole heart.