Did you ever go through a period where you lost your faith?
Yeah. It was a college angst thing. But once I graduated from college, some Gideon literally gave me a box of The New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs on the street in Chicago. I took one and opened it right away to Matthew chapter 5, which is the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. The whole chapter is essentially about not worrying. I didn't read it--it spoke to me, and it was an effortless absorption of the idea. Nothing came to me in a thunderbolt, but I thought to myself, "I'd be dumb not to re-examine this."
What caused you to go through that dark period?
Well, I had very sad events in my childhood. The death of my father and my brothers [his father and two brothers died in a plane accident] was an understandably a shattering experience that I hadn't really dealt with in any way. And there comes a time when you're psychologically able to do so. I still don't like talking about it. It still is too fresh
Do you think experiencing that has helped what you do in any way? Or made it more of a challenge?
Not to get too deep here, but the most valuable thing I can think of is to be grateful for suffering. That is a sublime feeling, and completely and inexplicable and illogical, but no one doesn't suffer. So the degree to which you can be aware of your own humanity is the degree to which you can accept, with open eyes, your suffering. To be grateful for your suffering is to be grateful for your humanity, because what else are you going to do -- say, "No, thanks?" It's there. "Smile and accept," said Mother Teresa. And she was talking to people who had it rough. That's not how you make jokes, though.