Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.~~ Billy Graham ~~
For as long as I can remember Billy Graham has been someone I’ve always looked up to. A towering personality throughout my life. I vividly remember as a 5 or 6 year old boy lying on the floor in front of an old black and white television watching him. I was mesmerized by his speech and his style. There was just something about him that, even as a very young boy, grabbed and held my attention. His message touched me. It’s always been that way and I’ve spent untold hours watching his crusades on television and his many interviews. If Billy Graham was on, I wanted to watch, I wanted to hear him.
As an adult I came to recognize his greater qualities, which is probably something I sensed as a boy. He was genuine, he was sincere and, he was humble. Beyond his words, his life-long example made an impact around the world. He never wavered. A few years ago I found myself once again captivated by his words when reading his book Nearing Home in which he shared his personal experience of growing older. I could relate.
It was not, with any great surprise, I heard of his passing yesterday at the age of 99. And especially no great surprise the huge influence he’s been credited with in the lives of millions over his long life. I was just one among them and am grateful to have had the experience.
I share the following story with the hope you appreciate it’s timely significance.
In January 2000 leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, invited their favorite son, Billy Graham, to a luncheon in his honor. Billy initially hesitated to accept the invitation because he struggles with Parkinson’s disease. But the Charlotte leaders said, “We don’t expect a major address. Just come and let us honor you.” So he agreed.
After wonderful things were said about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the rostrum, looked at the crowd, and said, “I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century. Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets. It wasn’t there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn’t find it.
The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.”
Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.
The conductor rushed back and said, “Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry, I know who you are. No problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.”
Einstein looked at him and said, “Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.'”
Having said that Billy Graham continued, “See the suit I’m wearing? It’s a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I’ve gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion.
“You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I’ll be buried. But when you hear I’m dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I’m wearing. I want you to remember this:
“I not only know who I am … I also know where I’m going.”