I first came to the Meher Spiritual Center with a friend in the summer of 1958, a few weeks after Meher Baba had left.
At the time, in order to enter, you called Elizabeth Patterson for reservations and when you got within a few miles on the day of your arrival, you called again. And Elizabeth and Kitty drove up to the gate from their home, Youpon Dunes, in Myrtle Beach. There was no Gateway, so the guest book and the keys were kept at Pine Lodge. We learned the rules verbally from Elizabeth: wear closed shoes; don’t go to the beach alone; carry a flashlight at night. And an extra suggestion for me, with my Irish-fair skin: “You’d better get your tan by the light of the moon.”
There was no one else there at the time; there were no programs, no guided tours, no maps, no film nights and no guest speakers. There was only one staff person — the night watchman Frank Eaton. And there was Kitty, who by Baba’s order had to sleep at the Center each night when a new person (in this case, me) was there.
There was one thing that hasn’t changed over more than forty years: Meher Baba’s presence. It is as strong and as sweet now as it was then. He has certainly kept the promise he made all those years ago, “I never come and I never go.” And there are times when the sense of his presence is so powerful that one expects him to come striding along a path at any moment.
In 1958, the Center was truly a place for “rest, meditation and renewal of the spiritual life.” No distractions, certainly. The days were quiet, peaceful, with hours spent on the beach, in the Barn and the Lagoon Cabin.
Each evening, Kitty let us know that she had arrived and we joined her on the Lake Cabin porch. She asked about our lives and talked about Baba, we watched the moon come up over Long Lake, and listened to the tree frogs every evening for a week. Years later, one stood in line on the Dilruba porch to have a few minutes with Kitty.
There was lunch one day with Elizabeth and Kitty and I asked Elizabeth to tell me about meeting Baba. She became flustered and said she couldn’t just tell it with no warning. I dropped the subject in a hurry and instead asked what it was like to go to the North Pole, which she had done aboard a Russian icebreaker. In answering, she gave me her Baba story in one sentence: “It was the purest thing I ever saw until I met Meher Baba.”
The Center itself was neat and beautifully kept, even though there was no grounds crew. Elizabeth simply hired workers as needed. Kitty frequently came out in the daytime, once spending hours on her knees planting plugs of grass in the circle outside the Original Kitchen. She also cleaned the cabins, even though we all cleaned up our own cabins before we left.
The library was in Pine Lodge and Baba meetings were also held there. A few years later what films there were of Baba were shown in the screened area off the Original Kitchen, now the Lakeview Kitchen. Baba’s House was only open on Sundays, and Kitty served as the tour guide. One Sunday, she was showing the house to a small group of first time visitors when she pointed out the portrait of Baba in the living room and said, “That’s how he looked when I first met him.” The joy and love on her face at that moment are indescribable.
Of course, I sometimes miss the Center the way it was. On the other hand I know Meher Baba didn’t create it for the less-than-a-handful of people who came in those early years. He made it for all “those who love and follow me and for those who know of me and want to know more.” The numbers of people have grown, the number of buildings has grown, and so have the staff and the cadre of volunteers. And I have every confidence in Baba’s promise that “the Center will be a place of pilgrimage for a thousand years,” So we all better take very good care of it, seeing to it that it continues to be his much-loved “home in the West.”