By Wendy Haynes Connor
As I write this, my mind and heart are filled with memories of being with Beloved Baba in India, for today, November 1st, marks the first official day of the East West Gathering, forty-eight years ago. The invitation we had all been longing for finally arrived. Baba had granted our hearts’ deepest desire, to see Him again. And this time in India!
I was so excited about the trip. Not only would I be seeing Baba again, but I would be meeting Mehera and Mani with whom we had corresponded but never met, and, I would be seeing Baba’s Home. And, to top it all off, I was traveling on a plane for the very first time, going to a country far away and, the cherry on the whipped cream, getting to miss three weeks of school, in the middle of the school year, no less!
I remember the first day we saw Baba; it was October 31st and He had arranged for the Western women to meet the women mandali privately. I was eleven by this time and feeling quite shy and nervous. Four years had passed since I first saw Baba in Myrtle Beach and, in the interim years, I had come to learn that Baba was the God-Man, the Christ come again. I kept wondering if Baba would seem different and how I would feel. I was standing on the marble steps outside the main hall to Guruprasad with my back to the entryway, waiting for Kitty and Elizabeth to arrive, when I suddenly felt compelled to turn around. There was Baba sitting in the blue chair at the front of the hall. He looked at me with such a sweet smile on His face and gestured, “Are you happy?” In an instant, all my nervousness and shyness disappeared. I nodded my head and said, “Yes, Baba, very happy.” I went in the hall to receive my first embrace and, as Baba enfolded me in His arms, I realized He was the same loving presence. He was my Father and I had come Home.
I felt happy everyday during the Gathering, from that first glimpse of Baba to the last unexpected darshan at Bund Gardens when we saw Baba off to Meherazad (unexpected because we had said our farewells a few days before). I soaked up the moments in Baba’s loving Presence, as best as an eleven year old can. I had many experiences — some were fun, others sad, and others that felt particularly significant to me, even as a teenager. There are too many to share in one column so I’ve chosen two very different memories that are particularly close to my heart.
One of the most fun experiences for me was the day it rained. It was during one of the afternoon programs when Baba suddenly wiped his forehead, then made a gesture toward the sky, “It’s very hot. Don’t worry, the rain will come.” It couldn’t have been more than three minutes later that not only did it start raining but it was such a downpour that the rain broke through the pandal on one side. It happened to be the side where the Western women were sitting. We were immediately drenched and, seeing this, Baba called us all up onto the stage and motioned for us to go inside to the women’s quarters. We found the girls hurriedly opening trunk after trunk looking for dry clothing. It was such a delightful scene, chaotic and lively, with lots of laughter as we tried on dresses that were too small or too big. Eventually, we each found something that fit — although in some cases, a safety pin or two was required. My mother ended up in a lovely cotton dress that belonged to Mehera, and Mani found one of her dresses for me to wear. We were all admiring each other — albeit, we were definitely a motley looking crew, when we realized that Elizabeth was standing silently, in her wet slip, looking rather woebegone. Apparently, nothing had been found that fit her but Rano didn’t give up and, at the bottom of one trunk, she unearthed something for Elizabeth to try on. Amazingly, it happened to be a beautiful silk bathrobe that Elizabeth had given Rano just before leaving the Nasik ashram! Elizabeth tried it on and it fit just right; she was very happy. We all went back out and sat down. (Interestingly enough, Baba had us change seats with the Western men. It seemed quite natural at the time but I couldn’t help thinking later this was somehow connected with the work Baba has done with women in the West.)
Baba asked Elizabeth to remain behind on the stage with Him. To her surprise, He introduced her to the yogi (dressed in orange) who had been sitting at Baba’s feet everyday during the afternoon program. Baba touched Elizabeth’s head and gestured, “Elizabeth is the head of my Home in the West”. The charming thing was that Elizabeth was completely at ease in her bathrobe, not self-conscious in the least about the fact that thousands of people were looking at her. The next day, in the morning session, Baba talked about the rain and remarked to Elizabeth, with a twinkle in His eye, “You looked very fine in your brown dress.” Elizabeth replied, “Yes, Baba, it came back to me after all these years!” When Elizabeth would tell the story later she would laughingly add, “I’m sure he (the yogi) thought it was my presidential robe!”
My most poignant memory is of my last glimpse of Baba. Once the darshan came to a close, Baba arranged for the group to visit Meherabad and Meherazad. Upon our return to Pune, we were welcomed with the incredible news that we could see Baba one more time at Bund Gardens, for a farewell glimpse. We were to be there at 7am sharp, there would be no discourses and no embraces. When we arrived, Baba was already seated in the chair under the large mango tree. We all gathered on the ground in a semi-circle around Baba; we sat there in silence, gazing at Him, drinking Him in. It was as if we were enclosed in a giant bubble set down in the middle of this bustling city; there were no sounds and no sense of time.
I don’t know how much time passed but, at some point, Eruch came up to Baba telling Him it was time to go. As Baba rose, the crowd immediately jumped to its feet and surged forward, everyone instinctively trying to get as close as possible one last time. I, too, was longing to get up close to Baba but it seemed as if the harder I tried to move forward, the more I was pushed to the back of the crowd. I started crying, my heart breaking, when suddenly, I somehow found myself right up next to the car, on the drivers side, (Meherjee was driving). I was still crying, my face wet with tears, when Baba turned His face toward me and gestured, “Don’t cry, Wendy. Don’t be sad. I will always be with you.)
I do feel that Baba has been and is always with me, but that awareness took years; a journey in awareness that didn’t begin until after Baba dropped His body. From January 31st on, I felt lost knowing I wouldn’t see Baba again physically. For eleven years, I had focused solely on His beautiful form. While my memories of being with Him are most precious and give me great happiness, they aren’t enough. It became clear over time that Baba wanted me to develop a different kind of relationship with Him — an inner relationship.
I know now, that through my experiences of being with Him, both in Myrtle Beach and at the East West Gathering, Baba was planting the seeds for my developing that inner relationship with Him. The memories are indeed precious, but the real work, the everyday task, is figuring out how to water those seeds and find Him within . . . and realizing that’s where He’s been all along.