27 May 2007

Wendy Haynes Connor Remembers Baba

Baba hugs Wendy, photo by V. Sadowsky/D. Eaton

Wendy Connor’s world is made of stories—so many stories, she says, that it is hard for her to choose only a few to share with us in the time allotted for her talk, to demonstrate what remembering Meher Baba means to her. She recalls Mani clapping her forehead and saying, “Oh, too many stories!” because Baba’s hand is in every detail, so every detail is a story, and every story triggers another story.

On April 15, 2006, the day before Easter Sunday, Wendy gave a talk at Meher Center. Wendy tells us that Easter was always a very special time for Elizabeth Patterson. Even before she met Meher Baba, Elizabeth loved Eastertime, since she was raised as a Christian in the Episcopal Church. But it was particularly special to her because it was at Eastertime in 1934 that Elizabeth first saw the property in Myrtle Beach that was to become Meher Spiritual Center, though she did not know it then. At that time her father, Simeon Chapin, had invited Elizabeth and her husband, Kenneth Patterson, to his home, Youpon Dunes (where Baba was destined to stay while recovering from His 1952 automobile accident.)

In a March 1934 letter to her friend Norina Matchabelli (quoted in Kitty Davy’s book, Love Alone Prevails), Elizabeth described the beautiful property owned by her father. The land had seven freshwater lakes within sight of the ocean (an unusual feature), dunes with more underbrush and trees than the Pacific dunes, and many birds, deer, and other animals. At that time Elizabeth thought of this wild and unspoiled place as a potential spot for camping, which she and Norina enjoyed. Years passed and she never thought of the property in connection with Baba. Baba had dropped a veil over her eyes, mind, and heart, says Wendy. Not until a later visit with Norina to Myrtle Beach, in 1943, did Elizabeth realize that the property fulfilled Baba’s conditions for the site that was to be His “Home in the West.”

Wendy remembers the day she first met Elizabeth Patterson and Kitty Davy. Her mother, Jane Barry Haynes—Wendy’s link to Baba—brought Wendy to Youpon Dunes at age five. The little girl was all prettied up for the occasion, and when she walked up the steps of the house, she thought she was ascending the steps to heaven. Elizabeth was standing at the top of the steps dressed in her favorite shade of blue and holding her hand behind her back, as she characteristically did, because her back was a bit off kilter from her having fallen off a horse at age fourteen. With the sunlight illuminating her white hair, it looked as if she had a halo, and Wendy forgot all about her mother as she gazed up at Elizabeth.

Wendy reached the top of the stairs without feeling the least bit nervous, and Elizabeth said, “You must be Wendy. I’m Elizabeth, but you may call me Auntie Boo.” “Boo” was what Elizabeth had called herself as a child when she could not pronounce her own name. Ever since, it has been an effort for Wendy to refer to her Auntie Boo as “Elizabeth.”

Then a whirlwind appeared in the doorway behind Elizabeth in the form of a woman with incredible energy— Kitty Davy. Wendy, who was mesmerized, had never heard the name Kitty before and asked, “Like a kitty cat?”

In a sense, that first meeting was Wendy’s first meeting with Baba, because it was her first experience of complete acceptance and unconditional love from these two extraordinary women who greeted her like an old friend and who embodied the special qualities of naturalness, purity, and absolute surrender to the Beloved.

The following year, Wendy met Meher Baba for the first time, when she was two months shy of her seventh birthday. He had come to Center in May 1958, for the last of His three visits.

All Wendy knew about the man she was going to meet was that He was named Baba, which meant Father, and that He was from India (she had no idea where that was). She could feel how very excited Kitty and Elizabeth were in anticipation of Baba’s arrival. Imagine Kitty, already so full of energy, going into high gear!

In preparation, Jane took Wendy shopping for a dress to meet Baba in. They found the perfect outfit—a sleeveless purple dress in dotted swiss (a lightweight cotton with little raised white dots)—and there was one just like it for Jane to wear: their first mother-daughter outfits. Jane also took Wendy for a haircut, and her flaxen hair was styled with bangs for the first time. She was thrilled and excited, ready to meet Baba. Yet she had no idea, really, who she was going to meet.

Baba arrived in Myrtle Beach on May 17. Jane Haynes met Him on Monday the 19th (this powerful story is told in Jane’s book, Letters of Love for Meher Baba, the Ancient One). Baba had said Jane was not to take the three children out of school. Her eldest, John, met Him after school on the 20th, Charles on the 21st, and Wendy on the 22nd.

Kitty had the idea that Baba should see the film of His 1956 visit to America that had been taken by the Sufis of Sufism Reoriented, and the perfect place to show the films would be the summer stock theater in Myrtle Beach that Jane directed (the building that housed the theater—the Shrine Club—is still there on Highway 17). So, on the 21st, Baba told Elizabeth to tell Jane to bring Wendy to the theater a half hour before the films were to begin.

On the way to the theater, Kitty asked Baba, “What about Jane and Charles?”—referring to Jane’s husband, from whom she was separated. Baba made a gesture meaning that they were meant to be separated. Kitty said, “But what about the children? Don’t they need a father?” And Baba gestured, “What do you mean? I am their real Father.”

Wendy recalls, “My mother had become the center of my universe. I was holding on to her hand, not knowing what to expect.” Suddenly Baba appeared in the doorway, wearing His pink coat, carried in His chair by the dancers (four young men who were Margaret Craske’s ballet students). The sun pouring in lit up His head like a giant halo.

Baba gestured for the dancers to put His chair down. He had a big smile on His face. The very first thing He did was express His delight at how Wendy and her mother looked in their matching dresses. He put His fingers to His chest to show that His heart was touched. Baba also commented on how tall Wendy had grown. She replied, “Yes, Baba, I’m very tall.” She was not at all aware of His silence during this exchange.

Baba beamed and opened His arms wide. Wendy remembers letting go of her mother’s hand and running into Baba’s arms without any hesitation. In His embrace, time stopped. It felt as if that embrace went on for hours (Eruch later said it was maybe three minutes). Then Baba took Wendy by the shoulders and pushed/pulled her back and forth. His whole body was shaking with silent laughter and His face turned pink as He playfully squeezed her cheeks together and then told her to speak.

Someone said it was time to go into the theater, and Baba signaled for the dancers to pick up His chair. Wendy knew, “That was it for me,” and she started to panic. “Baba, may I stay with you?” she implored. Baba said she could walk with Him into the theater.

Inside, she plopped down by Baba’s right foot, while her brother Charles sat at His left foot. Suddenly she remembered her mother. Jane was signaling for the children not to be so forward. Immediately Baba told Jane to leave them be.

This story seems so natural that it wasn’t till later, after Wendy’s talk, that I thought of the famous scene in the New Testament (e.g., Mark 10:14) where Jesus admonishes the disciples, “Let the children come to me.”

The film was then shown to Baba and the others. “Can you imagine looking at a film of Baba while He is sitting right there? Even as a child I knew it was silly,” Wendy says. She could not take her eyes off His beautiful feet. Whenever she looked up at Him, He patted her on the head or stroked her cheek.

Baba left on May 30. In June, He wrote to Jane from Meherazad: “Keep happy in My Love and let your three dear little ones love Me more and more.” After that, Baba referred to the family of four collectively as “Jane Trio.”

Jane Trio saw Baba again in November 1962 at the East-West Gathering in India. Wendy was eleven—a huge difference from age six. She felt very shy, because now she had been told that she had met the Christ.

Wendy went up the steps to Guruprasad in Poona and saw Baba seated on the blue sofa, wearing a blue coat this time. Baba noted that now Wendy was even taller than at their first meeting. In fact, she was almost as tall as Mani by this time.

Baba saw the Westerners in groups, and the Haynes family was included with the Myrtle Beach group even though they lived in New York at the time. Baba asked everyone about their health. Did they sleep well? Did they eat well? He related to people on their level, in a way that even a child could understand—no discourses.

The women mandali dressed Wendy in a sari. She was very self-conscious and nervous when they pushed her in front of Baba. Baba stopped everything, as He always did for children, to say how beautiful Wendy looked. He gestured for her to sit, and she sat down at the edge of a semicircle of people. Then suddenly Baba asked her, “Who do you love more, Mommy or Baba?” At that moment, Wendy had been looking at her mother and wondering what she thought of her sari, so she began to say, “Mo—“ and then caught herself: “Oh, no, I love You more, Baba.”

Another time, Baba turned to Wendy and said directly to her, “Always keep cheerful in My love.” She didn’t know what that meant, but over the years she has come to understand that cheerfulness is not about pasting a smile on your face; it’s about an inner attitude of accepting His will. “For me it means not allowing yourself to be brought down by what He brings up.”

The Westerners got extra time with Baba—perhaps He felt they needed it more. On one of these occasions, Baba gave Wendy a tiny glimpse of His divinity.

He didn’t allow people to embrace Him every day, only on the first day and the last day. On the last day, when it was Wendy’s turn, she was walking toward Baba when something stopped her in her tracks. He was looking directly into her eyes. She felt a wave of love coming to her and then going back to Baba. Although her body was standing there, “Wendy” had disappeared. Thinking back on it now, she says, “I felt we were one.”

Wendy began to swoon and fall backward, but then Baba did something so that the feeling stopped and she recovered herself. Baba gestured as if to say, mischievously, “What did you think of that?” Wendy knew He was who He said He was—God in human form—and that if He really showed Himself to us, we would lose consciousness.

When they visited India in recent years, Wendy and Buz Connor had the privilege of accompanying Eruch on his early-morning walk. One time, Eruch stopped and said he’d just had a memory. He remembered something Baba had said:

To love Me is to love all.

To love all is not to love Me.

To love Me in all is to love Me.

Then Baba said, “How do you do this?” The mandali had learned early on not to reply to such questions but to let Baba give the answer. He said, “Be mindful of the goodness in each one, because I am Infinite Goodness.” And He added: “And leave the crap to Me!”

Eruch told of a time that Baba was sitting in Mandali Hall with the men. In a light mood, He was toying with a jar of sweets, twirling it in His hands. Suddenly the atmosphere changed and He became serious. Slowly and deliberately He opened the lid to the jar and picked out the sweets, one at a time, and distributed them to the men. He told them, “The sweets of My love are always available to you within. But the effort it takes to open the lid is in your hands.”

Now a story about Kitty. For Kitty, the high point of her day was getting the mail. When it came, she liked to read it by herself first; then she would call for Wendy. One time, she was quite serious when she asked Wendy to read a long letter, on four pages of yellow legal paper, from a couple who were describing their difficulties in deciding whether to buy a house or a condo. To Wendy, this was a joke—she was inwardly feeling very critical of these people. But Kitty took the letter quite seriously. She told Wendy to get paper and pencil and take down a reply. Then, in characteristic Kitty style, she dictated points:

Point #1. Baba loves obstacles and challenges. It’s His way of working.

Point #2. Kitty recalled a day in the early 1930s when the Western women on Meherabad Hill were arguing over whether or not the right decision had been made about something. Just then Baba strode into the compound. He pulled out His alphabet board and told them, “You Westerners are always worried about decisions. Don’t you know I made the decision long ago? It’s not in your hands.” And He said, “There is no such thing as a mistake. All I care about is the motive behind the decision: is it for Me, or is it for you?”

Wendy closed her talk with a story that took place on Saturday, February 1, 1969. She was at home getting ready for Happy Club (the Saturday program at the Center for poor inner-city children that Wendy started around 1965 or 1966). She was making the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that the children always had for lunch. The phone rang, and it was Kitty, telling her, “Auntie Boo wants you to come over.” Wendy said OK, and since she was not dressed yet, she took her time. Five minutes passed, and the phone rang again. It was Kitty, demanding to know where she was. Wendy was surprised—she’d thought Kitty meant she was to come just before Happy Club. Kitty replied that here wouldn’t be any Happy Club that day. And then Wendy knew.

She went immediately to Dilruba and walked in to find Elizabeth lying on the bed. Two tears rolled down her face—and Wendy had never before seen tears on Auntie Boo’s face, except tears of joy. Elizabeth told her that Baba had awakened her at four a.m. and she had spoken the words “My Redeemer liveth,” an Easter quote from the Bible (Job 19:25). Three hours later, the Western Union man called, the same messenger who had always brought cables from Baba, but this time he told Elizabeth, “In all the years I’ve delivered cables to you, Mrs. Patterson, this is one that I don’t want to give you.” And she said, “It’s all right. I know.”

The cable was from Adi K. Irani, saying that Avatar Meher Baba had dropped His physical body at Meherazad at noon on Friday, January 31st, “to live eternally in the hearts of all His lovers everywhere.”

And so the Easter talk came full circle. Jai Baba.


Larry Hunt said...

Thank you for these wonderfully inspirational stories. Jai Baba!

lin said...

Jai Baba!
I had trouble reading the last paragraph through the tears. Thank you for the wonderful stories of times spent with Baba. I especially smiled and felt such joy when Baba and Wendy "connected" as he looked into her eyes she got a glimpse of the devine.

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.