26 May 2007

Stella and Ralph Tell Their Story

Stella and Ralph Hernandez shared their story of meeting Meher Baba at Meher Center in Myrtle Beach. For those of you who don’t know this much-loved couple, Stella is a hostess at Baba’s House on Sundays, giving the tour of the 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 meeting 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 philosophies. 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 like Joel Goldsmith, and they had a little inkling of what 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 of fruits 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 they would joke that they had come to Baba in spite of Dana, 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 of fun 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 of me. 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 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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All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.