It was 1947 when James Dillet Freeman heard the words that would inspire his most beloved and widely known poem, “I Am There.” His wife Katherine was in the hospital after undergoing surgery for cancer.
It was a time of deep personal need, Freeman recalled. “I was in great anguish of spirit.”
When the doctors told him Katherine had terminal cancer, he left the hospital and went to the Silent Unity Prayer and Healing Room at the then-Unity Headquarters at 917 Tracy Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri.
“God,” he prayed aloud, “if you are there, please allow my Katherine to live. Oh, God, where are you?”
Freeman would later recall that he heard a “clear and audible empathetic voice” speak to him, “Do you need me? I am there.”
He looked around to see who was talking, but saw no one. While he bowed his head, he could still hear the words and felt hope and comfort.
Unity Archives, as part of the Treasures of the Archives series, reviewed its extensive historic data collection for insight into the late Unity poet laureate and leader, and his most famous poem, which was first published in 1948 in Daily Word®.
Upon reflection, Freeman recalled that hospital scene when the doctor emerged from the surgery room. The doctor, he said, walked slowly over, shook his head and told Freeman, “I am sorry, the cancer has spread.” He said Katherine had just months to live.
A few days later, while she was still in the hospital, Freeman shared the doctor’s prognosis with Katherine, but she seemed to already know. Amid her weakened condition, he said, the couple kept an upbeat façade to comfort each other. Freeman recalled taking her hand and laying down beside her.
“All at once there was a presence in the room with us, and we knew we were not alone,” Freeman later wrote.
Several days later, he took Katherine home. She was in a lot of pain, Freeman said, but her courage carried them both. In the evenings when the pain was nearly unbearable, Freeman would often read to her the words he had heard in the chapel.
Katherine lived for 10 months after the diagnosis. Although a great loss to him, Freeman said he did not lose faith. Rather, he was sustained by his wife’s faithful influence. He said the experience taught him that God’s love is always present.
The original verses of “I Am There” tell of each phase of the months leading to Katherine’s transition. Freeman remembered the question, “Do you need me?” and the divine response of assurance, “I am there.”
On August 7, 1971, the poem was famously carried to the moon by Apollo 15 astronauts James B. Irwin, David R. Scott, and Alfred M. Worden. Stored in a microfilm file, the poem was intended to be left there for future space explorations.
Freeman received a letter from Irwin on August 30, 1971, verifying that in fact his “I Am There” poem was onboard the Falcon lunar module on its mission to the Hadley-Apennine region of the moon. In November of that year, Irwin visited Unity Village to meet with Freeman.
The poem was also adapted into a planetarium video at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A musical score, artwork, photographic support, and special effects were added, and the adaptation was named “A Christmas Star.” It was shown to the public for the first time at the academy on December 12, 1980. Freeman saw the production on December 30, 1980.