Nancy and Tony Patzner's latest trip to the Mayo Clinic early this month was just another routine visit. The mother and son are regulars at the clinic. Tony suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on various nerve cells. The tumors are noncancerous but as they grow they can impair hearing, balance, motor function, and even vision. Complications from a tumor on his auditory nerve caused Tony to lose his hearing at 17, his grandmother, Rita Tropple explained. He still speaks well and reads lips.
Tony Patzner (left) and Nancy Patzner (right) had a chance encounter with the Dalai Lama (center) at the Mayo Clinic this month. The Dalai Lama is a renowned peace advocate and the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. He is considered by followers to be a reincarnation of a divine being.
Nancy and Tony were killing time between appointments when they stumbled upon a once-in-a-lifetime meeting. It was quiet at the clinic — lunchtime. "The place was dead," Nancy said. She and Tony stepped outside the side door of a building to have a smoke on the street when they were surprised by a row of luxury vehicles — including a small limousine, Nancy recalled —surrounded by police cars. They all had out-of-state license plates.
"There was nobody else around," Nancy said, and, near the vehicles, security guards in black suits, who Nancy thought might be Secret Service agents, were eyeing the two of them. Nancy figures the guards had planned for a quiet time and little-travelled location and must have been surprised "for us to be just lollygagging around there."
The cars and the guards were waiting for somebody important, Nancy and Tony knew, and the guards "knew we knew," she said. The guards did not hassle them, though. Nancy and Tony went back inside the building's lobby. A few minutes later, a maroon-robed Buddhist monk turned the corner, heading for the door. Nancy and Tony's watched intently.
He was the decoy, a ploy to foil would-be assassins, Nancy said. A second later a crowd of guards and attendants turned the corner, surrounding another maroon-robed monk, mostly bald, with kind eyes glinting behind large glasses.
The robes were an obvious hint, but it was the big glasses that really made it click for Tony: this was the Dalai Lama, the divine spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, a Nobel Laureate, and world-famous peace advocate.
"We were both standing there with our mouths hanging open," Nancy said. They were still stunned, when the Dalai Lama turned to them and made a subtle hand gesture, beckoning them. "It all happened so fast," Nancy and Tony both said. The Dalai Lama motioned for them to come forward, and Nancy embraced him. She did not have time to think about, but she could not help it.
"I didn't know if the Dalai Lama does that," Nancy said. Maybe he was too frail for hugs. "Are you supposed to touch him? But it just happened so fast, I just did," she explained.
Nancy continued, "When I hugged him I even kind of smelled him, because I didn't know if he was into incense or aftershave. But there was not a scent. It was as pure as he was — it was not anything."
Nancy and Tony held the Dalai Lama's hand. "He was very strong but soft," Nancy recalled. The Dalai Lama did not say a word and Tony and Nancy did not say a word to him.
The security guards offered to take their picture. Nancy and Tony thanked the Dalai Lama, turned around to look at their cameras, and then he was gone.
"The whole encounter couldn't have taken five minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime. It was amazing," Nancy said. For Nancy, the Dalai Lama had a wonderfully calming presence. "It's not like I was zapped and was enlightened, but I was amazed that he was kind enough to ask us to come over," she added.
Nancy and Tony feel a little differently about the significance of the encounter. Neither of them are Buddhist, but Nancy thinks the meeting might be more than just coincidence. "I feel very lucky to have met him, maybe it was for a reason, maybe not," Nancy said. She continued, saying that according to believers, "he's got powers to heal, and maybe we were there for a reason." Nancy gushed to friends and neighbors about the experience, excitedly showing them the photos. Some of them believe the Dalai Lama has a special spiritual role. One friend grabbed Nancy's arm as soon as she told him. Just to touch someone who has touched the Dalai Lama is a blessing, he explained.
Nancy said, "It is what it is. The power of the touch, if it can generate anything to help my son — a mother would give her kid anything."
Tony's grandmother, Rita, also felt maybe there was something to the meeting. "Our Tony has been through so much," she said. "To be touched like that — it's just great. And maybe it's a sign. Who knows?"
Tony described his run-in with the Dalai Lama as an amazing coincidence. "It's like meeting anyone famous," he said. "You don't have time to take it in, but it's still cool." He said he felt a deep sense of respect, but "I don't think it means anything. [It was not] divine intervention."
Either way, "my heart races every time I think about," Nancy said. On the drive back from Rochester that day, the joy of the experience kept rushing back to Nancy. "Every ten miles I'd look at my son and say, 'The Dalai Lama!'" She laughed and punched Tony's arm. Can you believe that?