I called Margaret Craske my friend. She was the most special of friends: witty, intelligent, observant, warm and loving, acerbic at times, stingy with advice, but when she gave it, it was well worth hearing. She was generous with stories of Meher Baba if she saw you were interested, but she knew a “collector” when she saw one. Collectors being persons who pursued relationships with those who had met Baba only so they could brag about such relationships. At these times, Margaret frequently found she had “forgotten to take my vitamins” and disappeared to take care of that necessity, not to return.
I first met Margaret in 1956 at the home of Fred and Ella Winterfeldt in New York. All I knew of her then was that she was a famous ballet teacher, that she had been with Baba since 1930 and that Baba had said she was “of my Circle.” She was not a tall person but she had an awesome presence. I felt she had about ten feet of personal space around her so that was the distance I kept. I said hello formally and gravely, (I think I actually bowed) and she said just as gravely, “Good evening, Miss Conlon.” A few weeks later, at a public showing of a Baba film, I saw her again, sitting some rows ahead of me. After the film, I stood up to leave and saw her coming up the side aisle toward me. I was very nervous and could not decide whether I should speak to her or not, or whether she would want me to. She proceeded up the aisle, head high, looking straight ahead. Just as she came even with me, and still looking straight ahead, she said, “Good afternoon, Miss Conlon.” And laughed.
We laughed a great deal in the years after that, primarily when we had long conversations in which we solved all the problems of the world, of course realizing no one was ever going to listen to us. Margaret could also use that humor to deflect what she saw as someone giving any serious attention to pseudo-spiritual matters. One day, two of her dancers who were walking with Margaret started to discuss a rumor that an older Baba follower had declared herself a perfect master. Margaret quickly commented, “I’ve heard she was always the perfect mistress.” That was the end of that conversation.
Margaret took Meher Baba himself very seriously. Delia DeLeon once said she thought Margaret was the only one of that early group of Baba’s English followers who knew immediately who Meher Baba really was. To Delia, some of the others seemed to feel he was more just a special playmate.
Occasionally, I saw that serious clarity in Margaret. Once I asked her if she had ever looked directly into Baba’s eyes.
“Once,” she said.
“What did you see?” I asked.
“The universe.” And for a split second, that universe was there in her eyes, deep, dark, stunning, endless.
Margaret came to Myrtle Beach each Christmas and Easter and part of each summer to stay with Elizabeth Patterson. At some point someone persuaded her to start telling Baba stories once a week in the Meher Center library. She was nervous at first about remembering stories, but soon found that the more she told the stories the more she remembered, and those Friday mornings always drew a full house. She was very frank about her life with Baba and she included stories about the hard times. One of her contemporaries called them “Margaret’s black stories” and told her not to tell them as they might upset people. She told them anyway (Margaret was the quintessential independent Baba lover) and I came to find them of great value. They made it clear to me that, yes, there would be a pattern of hard times with Baba but that I would come through them, just as she and others had. I found those stories, then, very supportive.
At the age of 95, Margaret retired from teaching and moved to Myrtle Beach. It was my privilege after awhile to help her out with managing her household, which gave me more frequent contact with her. I treasure those times, the stories she told and the astute comments she made on what was going on in the Baba world. Margaret wasn’t a worrier, but she was concerned by what she saw beginning to happen in that world. She kept current through the many visitors she had. One of the things that concerned her most was the possibility of more and more “leaders”, people with an eye for profiting one way or another from a large group of Baba lovers, many of whom might be vulnerable to a rising charismatic leader. She spoke of this many times, but just when she’s succeeded in getting me thoroughly depressed at the thought, she would smile, wave a hand and say, “Oh, well, never mind; there will always be mystics.” She added, “They will be on the sidelines, away from the center of organizations, and that’s where you should look for friends.”
In February of 1990, Margaret came to the conclusion that her life was ending. One night she sent that evening’s caregiver out of the room and said to me, “I know now I cannot live.” And what was immediately on her mind was the thought that she owed me an apology for something, but she couldn’t remember what it was. Neither could I, so we finally settled for me accepting the apology anyway. She said, “I want nothing left on the table between us.” I had a hard time with that conversation and was almost at a loss for words, but I said, “We will meet again.” She looked surprised, as if that hardly needed to be said, and commented, “But, of course.” She had similar conversations with a few other people, methodically going about wiping her slates clean.
When she died on February 18, I was devastated; I had lost one of the best friends I ever had. I know that Baba explains that feeling as self-absorption and that some people say that means you shouldn’t feel the loss. But Baba is better than we are about accepting the fact that we’re still human beings, so I don’t pay any attention to people who think they know what Baba would want me to do. I grieved then for the loss of that friend and sometimes, when I think of her, I still do.
After Margaret’s death I sent on to her niece and nephew in England two letters she had given me to mail to them. The letters had been written years before and had her return address as the Wellington Hotel in New York. So I put the letters in new envelopes with notes and my return address. I soon heard from Margaret’s niece, who obviously knew her aunt so well. She said, “Margaret had so many adventures in her life that I suspect she looked upon death as just one more.”
Yes, and her long life with Meher Baba was the greatest adventure of them all.