In 1958, when Baba returned to the U.S., Ella was pregnant again. Tex Hightower and her other dancer friends would be going to Myrtle Beach, but since Ella was eight or nine months along, she decided she had better not go. There was a sadness upon hearing how beautiftilly the dancers had performed for Baba, but it was special knowing that her second daughter, Alex, had been born while Baba was at Myrtle Beach. (Ella had four children in all--Viola, Alex, Susan, and Peter--and each was special, but the first two children had the distinction ofbeing associ ated with Baba’s visits.) The life of a clergy wife was difficult, and Ella went through times ofdepression. Part of beingwith Baba, she reflected, is relinquishing things, letting go of illusion. When she first heard about “illusion,” she had no idea what it meant—but “youleam what illusion is.” Ella had to let go of the persona of a dancer (she later became a psychotherapist). There was much grinding down of the ego and facing of harsh realities. Miss Craske’s stories had helped prepare her for some of the rough times when “you think you’re over something and then—bang!—you get another blow.” After Baba dropped the body, Ella had planned to go to the 1969 Darshan, but that did not come to pass. And so her first pilgrimage to India was in the fall of 1980. It was a greatjoy to be at the Tomb with Mansari. Ella’s mother had died that spring, but she had not truly mourned her. On thelast day of her trip, Ella was at the Tomb and visualized her mother’s funeral cortege; she was living it again, and for the first time in her life she experienced her mother’s true goodness and love—something she had not been able to see because of the powerfhl personality that her mother was. She was able to grieve, weeping copiously on Mansari’s shoulder while Mansari looked on with compassion and a quizzical expression. On a subsequent trip to India, Peter agreed to go along. While walking up Meherabad Hill to the Tomb, he was suddenly flooded with a beautiflil Easter hymn (“Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed”). At Arti, he was sur prised and said to Ella, “You didn’t tell me they have a liturgy here!” The mandali were so beautiflil to him—Eruch even asked Peter for his blessing, and then Mani came running: “Me too, me too!” Peter just melted. Being with the mandali reminded him ofthe early days ofthe Christian era. A young man Peter met in India told him in the course ofconversation, “Ifyou’re ever in trouble, call on Baba’s Name.” Peter Continuedonpage 41 40
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tella and Ralph Hernandez shared their story of meeting Baba during the recent volunteer/community sahavas held at Meher Center in Myrtle Beach. For those of you who don’t know this muchloved couple, Stella is one of the Center Board members and is frequently a hostess at Baba’s House. Ralph worked for many years in the Gateway and as a caretaker. Both have regularly conducted tours of the Center for visitors. Ralph started out telling us how they first learned of Baba through Dana Field, who had attended the 1954 men’s meetmg known as the Three Incredible Weeks with Baba in India. Baba had mentioned that He would be coming to the United States in 1956-to Meher Center and other places-and Dana came to St. Petersburg to tell people who might be interested in meeting Baba. Ralph and Stella and their children were living there at that time and had recently become interested in spiritual philoso phies. They were meeting in a group with other couples who were mostly reading about Catholic saints; they knew nothing of Indian religions. They had read about “cosmic consciousness” and the teachings of mystics likejoel Goldsmith, and they had a little inkling ofwhat a master was-”but not much,” Ralph admitted. They didn’t know anything about practices like vegetarianism or celibacy, and here came Dana with his seemingly fanatical ideas about food (his own diet consisted mainly offruits and nuts) and his reluctance to sit close to a woman. Ralph said they didn’t take him seriously and considered him a bit nutty In later years theywouldjoke that they had come to Baba in spite ofDana, because “when Baba wants you, He gets you!” Dana came to the group meetings with pamphlets and pictures of Baba, and the first image that Ralph and Stella saw was the Mahabaleshwar photo of May 1954, in which Baba is leaning against a railing against a mountainous backdrop. Stella picked up the story at the point where they were to meet Baba at the Center. She said that although she had attended the spiritual discussion group, she was so busy raising her children that she didn’t really take it seriously-it was just a pastime. She
welcomed the chance to go to the Center because she hadn’t had a vacation in years. With the children being cared for by their grandparents, she figured she’d have a lot offttn in Myrtle Beach. Well, she did—but not the way she expected. “The first time I saw Baba, that was it,” Stella said. Baba came out of the Lagoon Cabin and stood in front of it just as Stella and Ralph came along, and for a few seconds He looked right at her. With that one glance, He stole her heart completely. Baba proceeded down the steps and over the bridge that crosses the lagoon. Ralph watched in awe at Baba’s physical being—His presence, His aliveness, His eyes, His beauty All ideas he had formed about masters seemed like mere foolishness, and “we stood there, dumbfounded.” When Baba’s eyes met Ralph’s, “something happened deep inside ofme. I got all shook up and couldn’t think.” Not wanting others to see him sobbing, Ralph walked behind the kitchen. When the people from Florida were called in to meet Baba in the Lagoon Cabin, Ralph saw no one but Baba in the room, although he knows the others must have been there. Baba conveyed in a natural manner such questions as, “Are you happy to see Me?” “Do you want to say something?” Ralph said, “Baba, when I saw You near the boathouse, You took my breath away.” Baba replied, “I take away very little, and I give the infinite Ocean of Love.” Stella hardly recalls the details of the meeting; she could only look at Baba. She was confused—”Who is this man? Why do I feel this way?” She hadn’t heard much about Baba or read anything about Him yet, but she felt like a little child who had been taken to the fair. The Hernandezes met Baba in 1958 as well but concluded their brief reminiscence here. Interestingly, when they returned home and wanted to tell the group about Baba, it had disbanded and they never saw those people again. Ralph added humorously that they last saw Dana Field not long before he died, when they visited him in a nursing home in California. Ralph chuckled, “And they were feeding him meat!”
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