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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Iowa City man fulfills mother's dream, meets with Dalai Lama

May 26, 2010

Josh O'Leary • Iowa City Press-Citizen • May 24, 2010

Thomas Langer had worked for months trying to ensure that the Dalai Lama's visit to Iowa would be a memorable one for his mother.

But after she died in March, it was Annie Mae Cronbaugh who, in a way, made the day a life-changing one for her son.

The Iowa City man fulfilled a dream of his late mother last week in Cedar Falls when the Tibetan spiritual leader paid him a visit, during which he draped a scarf around Langer's neck and expressed his condolences on his mother's passing.

Thousands flooded the University of Northern Iowa's McLeod Center to hear the Dalai Lama's message Tuesday at a pair of sold-out appearances, but few likely came away from the event with a story as unique as Langer's.

"It just shows how kind and compassionate he is," said Langer, 39. "It really exemplifies his message."

Cronbaugh of Marengo had been a lifelong follower of the Dalai Lama's teachings. So when organizers announced this past winter that he would be making a stop in Iowa for the first time, Langer scrambled to get tickets.

After being put on a waiting list for the sold-out event, he eventually was able to secure a ticket for his mother and himself. Langer then contacted the Office of Tibet in New York to inquire about the possibility of his mother getting to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit.

The office wrote back saying it was difficult for the Dalai Lama to meet individually with people, but they would keep his mother in mind, Langer said.

Cronbaugh died March 29 of lung disease, a month and a half before the event in Cedar Falls. A week or so later, Langer sent an e-mail withdrawing consideration for the one-on-one visit and thanked the office for its consideration.

The following day, an assistant called to say the Dalai Lama was saddened by his mother's passing and would like to meet him, Langer said.

David Keisler of Aiken, S.C., Langer's uncle and Cronbaugh's younger brother, made the trip to Cedar Falls in his sister's place and was with Langer for their arranged meeting in the Wingate Hotel's lobby early Tuesday morning.

The meeting with the Dalai Lama was a brief but powerful one for Langer.

"He came over and took my hand, put a prayer scarf around my neck and told me he was sorry my mother had passed," Langer said. "He said a prayer for me and our foreheads touched."

Langer said he was moved that the Dalai Lama would take the time to console someone who was grieving.

"He was a reminder of how I wish to live my life," said Langer, who is currently studying at Kirkwood Community College to become a social worker, a field in which is mother worked. "To be kind and compassionate to others."

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