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Standing in line for “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to hear the Dalai Lama speak

The line for tickets started forming at 6:45 a.m.

All that was missing was a pitcher of lemonade. On Monday, Joanne Buckfeller of Whitehall, Pa., lounged in a blue folding chair chatting with Rosi McIlwain from Pleasant Valley, who was perched in a wood slatted chair. The two appeared to be dear friends reclining on a porch—not two strangers who met while camping out to purchase tickets.

As the first person in a line of an estimated 100 people outside the Stabler Arena box office, Buckfeller met McIlwain while waiting for the chance to purchase four coveted tickets to the July 13 public lecture that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama will deliver at Lehigh University.

The public lecture, titled “Generating a Good Heart,” will take place from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, July 13, in Stabler Arena.

While waiting three hours and 15 minutes on the chilly March morning, Buckfeller met new friends, including some people who demonstrated their own good hearts.

John Stella of Bethlehem, who was two spots behind Buckfeller in line, lent her the blue folding chair to sit in and a blanket to keep her warm.

“That was so nice of him to lend me the chair and the blanket,” Buckfeller said. “I got up at 5:45 a.m. and came over here to get tickets for my sister, who is a follower of the Dalai Lama. I’ll attend the teachings with her and a couple of friends of ours. I’m so excited to get tickets because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

"A wonderful opportunity"

Getting up early to buy tickets proved to be a wise move. Lisa Masterson, the box office manager at Stabler Arena, said tickets to the general public were sold out by 10:15 a.m., a mere 15 minutes after going on sale.

Rosi McIlwain was thrilled to get tickets.

“When I first heard that the Dalai Lama was coming to our little corner of the world, I was very excited and very determined to get tickets to attend his teachings,” said McIlwain, who also bought four tickets. “To have a chance to a see a prominent world figure and to learn from him is a wonderful opportunity that I simply couldn’t pass up.

“And obviously others agree with me, because most of the people waiting in line aren’t young people that would camp out for tickets to a rock concert. They’re mostly older, retired folks like me.”

There were exceptions to McIlwain’s observation. Chris Cole, who works in advertising sales for the Lehigh Valley Trader, and Jeremy Geriffis, a mental health technician who is also a student at Cedar Crest College, are both in their 20s and have known one another since elementary school. They arrived at Stabler Arena’s parking lot at 1:30 a.m., which would have easily put them first in line. But both fell asleep in the car and as a result, there were six or seven people ahead of them by the time they got in line.

Both will attend the historic event, and they also got tickets for their girlfriends and other family and friends.

James Johnson, a sophomore at Whitehall High School, and Andrew Bodogh, a junior at Whitehall High, were among the youngest people in line. They were able to purchase four tickets, but described the whole experience as nerve-wracking.

“When we got here and there were only four people in front of us, we thought, “Oh, yeah, we’ll definitely be good,’” Johnson said. “But then it started …” and the tickets started to go quickly.

With tickets in hand the two high school students were leaving the Stabler Arena parking lot to go back to school, albeit a bit late.

“We’re going to go late,” Bodogh said. “They have to excuse it because it’s a religious thing.”

"How to be a better person"

Four of the prized tickets.

Elsewhere in the line, Stella’s good-hearted nature paid off as he was one of the fortunate people in line to score four tickets. Stella, who has lived in Bethlehem for the past 10 years, plans to take three of his old college roommates, who graduated with him from the University of Detroit five decades ago.

“We have a great deal of respect for the Dalai Lama and his teachings, specifically his pacifism,” Stella said. “I’m thrilled that Lehigh is bringing him here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I want to be a part of it.”

Catherine McCafferty and Regina Kochmaruk both work for the Bethlehem Area Public Library, which is hosting a series of book discussions on the Dalai Lama’s Ethics for the New Millennium on the four Thursday nights in April from 7-9 p.m. They arrived at Stabler around eight o’clock for the general public ticket sale.

“I want to hear the Dalai Lama speak. He’s one of the few great teachers we have in this world, so it’s important to see,” said McCafferty, who got tickets for herself and three friends. “I know about his message of non-violence and compassion, and I think that there just needs to be more compassion in the world—and including in myself.

“I’m hoping to gain some insights into how to be a better person. I hope to live better in the world and help other people more.”

At the Lehigh public lecture, His Holiness will also answer 12 questions submitted in writing by the audience, collected through Lehigh's Dalai Lama Web site. Use the online form to submit a question for His Holiness.

His visit to Lehigh will also include five-and-a-half days of teaching from Thursday, July 10, thru Tuesday, July 15. Tickets for the five-and-a-half days of teachings can be ordered now; for more information visit Lehigh's Dalai Lama Web site.

The spiritual leader of Tibet, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, will teach on Tsong-kha-pa’s
Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment: The Lamrim Chenmo. It represents the most extensive teaching on the classic Tibetan Buddhist text that the Dalai Lama has presented in North America.

For more information about the event, please visit Lehigh's Dalai Lama Web site, e-mail at indalai@lehigh.edu or call (610) 758-6664.

--Bill Doherty and Becky Straw

Photos by Michelle Boehm

Posted on Monday, March 03, 2008

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