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I4arks, J 7 14eIi.er Centcr, J14aj 17, 2002 7 2tigliliglits of a 7ctlk by Ella J 2<endrn Crossen i3urroughs, JMyrtIe EBeach eher Center has been celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Avatar Meher Baba’s first visit to Meher Center in Myrtle Beach, which was founded for him in the 1940s by Elizabeth Patterson and Norma Matchabelli. Arriving at the Center on 20 April 1952, He remained until2l May, when He and His companions left with the intention ofvisiting Meher Mount in Ojai, California; the journey was interrupted by the momentous event ofHis car accident in Oklahoma on 24 May. As part of the celebration, some of those who saw Baba during that 1952 visit have been coming to the Center to share their memories. On the evening of 17 May, Ella Marks—one of the dancers who came to Baba through Margaret Craske—recalled her meeting and life with Baba. Ella’s lovely face appeared lit from within as she beamed at the large audience. “Where to begin?” Today was the exact fiftieth anniversary of her first meeting with Meher Baba. Ella said she had formulated a wish for herseiftoday. Usuallywhen she wishes, it is for someone else—her children or people at work—but what would she wish just for herself? “To see Baba again. To have Him present in form.” Born into an old Episcopalian family, Ella grewup on a farm in Virginiawith four rowdy brothers. Her parents directed her toward studying dance, and it was her dream as well; after high school she went to Jacob’s Pillow University ofDance in New York State. She had heard about “a wonderftil teacher from England” there, and placed herself believing rather prideftilly that she belonged there, in one of her advanced classes. Ella was quite pleased when Miss Craske came up to her at the barre. Miss Craske looked at her and ordered her out of the class: “You are not ready.” The next day, Ella swallowed her pride and with some trepidation went to a much less advanced class. Miss Craske again approached her at the barre and corrected her placement. Ella turned and looked into her eyes and was flooded with a sense of bot tomless love and compassion. Although with her loving parents she had experienced love, that one glance opened up a new dimension ofReality Being taught by Miss Craske and being in her presence made it the happiest summer of Ella’s life. Her parents afterward
allowed her to continue her studies in New York City where Miss Craske taught. There was an intriguing air of mystery about Margaret Craske. It was said that she’d been to India and had a guru there, and once a year she disappeared and didn’t speak for a day. The first time Ella heard her talk about Baba was in the fall of 1947. Miss Craske’s generosityin sharing stories ofBaba with her students was extraordinary—after teaching twenty to thirty students two to three times a day, she would give an hour or two to those who wanted to hear about Baba. Ella, who fancied herself an intellectual, decided to prepare for these discussions by readingThomas Aquinas. She laughed as she recalled the quizzical look on Miss Craske’s face in response to this. Ella later understood that what is important with Baba is not what is in the mind—it is the experience of love. Miss Craske did not lecture or make pronouncements about spiritual truths; she simply shared stories ofBaba. She also spoke about how ego stands in the way ofperceiving His Reality—and Ella admitted that she had more than her share of ego. Another value that Miss Craske impressed upon Ella was that “small things are important”—don’t be late, don’t be careless, be clear. “Miss Craske was so beautiflil to me,” Ella said, teaching her that people come to Baba in different ways—some immediately, others more slowly—and that it’s OK to come more slowly or be more questioning. There was a centeredness about her, an inner space ofqui etness and integrity thatyou could hold on to, even ifyou didn’t yet know what love was. Ella received from Miss Craske a book about Baba—by Charles Purdom, perhaps— and was filled with a dread of entering alien territory that her family would not approve of: However Ella says she never read much in the begirming, since Miss Craske taught them that Baba’s way is experiential, not cognitive or intellectual. But there is nothing wrong with using the mind, and “my understanding is that Baba expects us to use our mind.” Today she can read Baba’s books, and it comes together more meaningfully for her now. When the students were informed that Baba was coming to Myrtle Beach, Ella wanted to go. (Miss Craske never tried to convince anyone to come to Baba, but simply
said, in effect, “Here it is—it’s up to you.”) She was living on very little in New York and didn’t want to ask her father for money to see someone who was said to be the Christ, so she scrimped and saved and bought the ticket herself Ella flew in to Wilmington the night of May 16, 1952, with two other young women. The next day was her first meeting with Baba, in the Barn. “I only remember seeing His form and His eyes—that’s all.” Wistfully Ella said, “I did not see who Baba was”—something that has always been a great loss to her. She stumbled out ofthe Barn and had to be alone. Being a country girl, and not realizing that one was not supposed to stray offthe paths, she walked for a while through the woods. After she returned, she learned that she and her friend Myrna were invited to tea with the women mandali. Being the only girl in a family of boys, Ella was used to a certain toughness, and so what struck her very strongly about Mehera and the other women was their incredible gentleness and their genuine interest in each individual. After Ella met Baba, several significant things happened. The love of her life had been dance, but she now realized that she did not have the qualities necessary to become the dancer she wanted to be. At that time she also underwent “a rough surgery.” Soon ther she met her husband-to-be, Peter, who was studying to be an Episcopal priest. After marriage, they lived in the inner city where Peter served an impoverished community ofrecent Puerto Rican immigrants. Miss Craske was very patient with Peter, never speaking about Baba to him unless he asked. (Eventually he did become desirous of speaking with Miss Craske alone.) In 1956, when Ella was expecting her first child (Wyatt, later known as Viola), Baba came to New York, where she saw Him at the Hotel Delmonico. He touched her once, very quickly—an event she connects with the great transcendent joy she experienced in giving birth. Peter, a very reserved man, came to the hotel in his clerical collar to meet Baba. Ella joked that when Peter saw Baba sitting flankedby Eruch andAdi in their dark suits and with arms crossed over their chests, he had the impression that he was meeting maflosi.
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