The number 225 has always been big in my family. Meher Baba’s birthdate was like a secret code, a password between us and the universe, the digits that turn the combination lock to its sweetest spot, reminding us to remember Him. We would look for it everywhere: on mailboxes and buildings, among the long list of numbers on a credit card, in the phone number of a new friend or first date, in flight numbers and on hotel room doors. And, of course, on clocks–the one place we had a twice a day chance to catch the magic number, look again at our surroundings and suddenly feel connected to what was mundane a moment ago: the glint of the sun off the car’s hood, the gait of a teenager swaggering home, the curve of a tree branch, a bird singing love songs in the afternoon . . . all as if Baba was personally saying, “did you notice that . . . ?” with a wink and a caress, His hand gracing the exact place and time where we happened to be.
Tonight, for instance, I was in a hotel in Los Angeles, a roadside chain near LAX. After a day’s work, I was on the treadmill, wondering how it was that my physical life was getting its play by running on a belt and staring at a wall. It doesn’t get more unholy than a hotel gym by the Los Angeles airport. I was listening to my iPod like a good young professional and playing it on “shuffle,” so as not to have to make one more decision that day. Plus, I like the randomness of a machine flipping through 4000 songs I at some point chose and liked: Jurassic Five next to Louis Armstrong. The Gypsy Kings opening for Sam Cooke. Right (and I mean to the second) as I hit mile 2.25 on the treadmill–a point, you might have guessed, that I always look forward to on these runs–my personalized radio show of hip-hop and old soul suddenly switched gears and out came the hearty strum of Jaime Newell’s guitar and his voice singing of the New Life. And I felt Baba–that wink, that utterly transcendent smile–on the treadmill beside me, saying “Yep, L.A. Aren’t these machines funny? Come on, let’s see how fast we can go!”
This relationship with 225 is, of course, simply one of the ways I try to remember Him. It keeps me at the ready to be graced by His company any old place in the everydayness of life, like a game of peek-a-boo. But remembering Him amidst my daily life is something I’m continually trying to work on and it is always changing. Sometimes feeling Baba’s company takes so little effort I feel like I should whisper to Him that He can stop babying me–His face in the grain of the kitchen table, Begin the Beguine playing in my morning coffee haunt, someone seeing His picture in my office and asking about Him, church bells chiming me awake just when the afternoon slump sets in. And then there are the days when the train comes late, my socks don’t match, my work piles up too high, I disappoint a friend or feel disappointed and realize I haven’t thought of Him, not once, not even when I woke up in the morning, not even at 2:25 in the afternoon. In those moments, when it feels like He’s disappeared behind the curtain of the world, I want to whisper, “come back, come play, I need help living this day.” Lately, instead of waiting for Him to peek His smiling face back out at me, I’ve been thinking about what I can do to make this game more of a conversation, to court His company, to do more than wait for Him to surprise me.
My old answer might have been: look at a photo of Him, talk to a Baba lover, say the Beloved God prayer, repeat His name, read poetry. All good fixes to be sure. But my search for His presence keeps pulling me past the sweetness of His photograph or the company of His name–to unexpected places, like I’m trying to find where He hides. Lately I’ve felt pushed to recognize and know Him in the things that feel least “holy”–a mother slapping her child, a man left to sleep out in the cold, miles of strip malls and SUVs and tired eyes in hotel bars. What I am trying to learn is to look for my Beloved not only in the presence of great beauty or pain, but in places where God feels absent, places I have mistakenly excluded from my vision of what He is. At the same time, I know that, at the deepest level, I am trying to find Him not only in the parts of my heart that leap and long but the parts that sink and freeze. Maybe that 225 practice, my invented game of hide-and-seek where He always found me first, has made me want to discover Him in places I forget to look. Baba loves us without dividing our lives into good and bad, holy and not. I would like to learn to look into those dark corners of the world, of myself, and see His shine.