By Tim Boyd
Originally printed in the JULY-AUGUST 2007 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Boyd, Tim.“The True Power of Love.” Quest 95.4 (JULY-AUGUST 2007): 141-143.
The following is a description of the loving efforts of Bill Lawrence and the Center he started. It is told here by Tim Boyd who was one of the young men closely associated with the "Old Man," as he was affectionately called. Tim tells the story of the Center where lived and worked. The Center no longer exists. Since about 2000 its former members have been involved in different directions and different places. Tim still lives there, but now it functions as a home.
The Center. . . was responsible for spiritually redirecting the lives of hundreds of young people in the Chicago area. It came into being through the efforts of Bill Lawrence in the mid-1960s. He walked away from a thriving grocery store chain, taking nothing with him and donating all the proceeds to a children's school. Chicago was experiencing a level of youth gang violence unparalleled in the city's history. Whole neighborhoods became the fiefs of the warring gangs, and the lives of the residents of these areas were ruled by a pervasive fear. Recognizing a tremendous untapped potential in the misguided youths, and following his inner guidance, Bill purchased and moved into a home in the very heart of some of the most intense gang activity. To say that the home was an eyesore is an understatement. All the windows were broken, the heating and plumbing were inoperable, the walls and ceilings were cracked and the entire house had sunk twelve inches on one side. Immediately he set about fixing the house and beautifying the yard. Although warned by his neighbors that the neighborhood kids would not allow flowers to grow, he planted and kept beautiful flower gardens with the aid of those kids.
Soon he came into contact with the young people in the area, many of whom were gang members. Never one to be intimidated, he quickly earned their respect. It was during this time that he became known as the “Old Man.” He opened his home to the young people, even taking in many kids who were homeless. He would counsel them about the senselessness of violence and about the true power of positive thinking and of love. He spoke always in the language of the kids themselves. Many a life was saved heeding his advice, although often it went unheeded with foreseen consequences. The young people began to understand that the Old Man's counsel was wise and that his sole motivation was to aid and uplift them. Their trust and faith in him became unshakable.
During this time Bill first came into contact with Theosophy and the Theosophical Society. From the start he felt completely at home with the teachings and felt he was renewing old acquaintances with those who were to become his fellow Theosophists. From the time he joined the Society his work moved to a different level and took on new energy.
In 1973, as if in answer to some call, the group members who were to become the core of the Center were drawn together. Six young men, all of whom had either recently completed or were completing their college studies, hailing from various parts of Chicago and its suburbs, from Kentucky and New York City came to live at the house on Calumet Avenue. Without any advertising or fanfare, they found their way to the place they felt they were supposed to be. For some it was a chance encounter. For some the connection was made at a Theosophical meeting. Still others had heard about the Old Man by word of mouth.
In every case there was an awakening spiritual desire within the young men that brought them to the one they recognized as their teacher. Each one was a student of Theosophy and a member of the Society. From this point the work that was to be the capstone of the Old Man's life began in earnest.
Beginning by rehabilitating the house on Calumet, the boys gradually developed their skills. Within months the owners of the three buildings immediately adjacent to the home came without being requested or sought out and offered their buildings in a way that seemed more like a gift than a sale. After much hard work the place took on a new appearance. People who had once shunned the area were now driving through to witness the new life being breathed into the neighborhood. The energy became infectious. Residents who had given up hope of the community's revival began to paint, to plant, and to brighten up their homes.
During this time the group developed into a healing team. Regular meetings were held and there seemed to be an endless stream of people wanting advice, healing, or just to talk.
These achievements and numerous others are the “jewels in the crown” of Bill Lawrence's life. What remains is the wise and loving touch which brought beauty where others saw only decay and which fulfills the highest injunction to man: to help, to uplift, and to serve his fellow man. The life and teaching of the Old Man makes it clear that the pathway of ever-expanding service lies open to any and all who would sincerely tread it, and that the life of one man or woman can indeed imprint itself deeply upon the world when that life is intimately linked to a higher source and power.
One thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.— Albert Schweitzer