June 27, 2011
Continental Airlines 3440 was supposed to be a normal routine flight. A straight shot from Myrtle Beach to Newark. The two hour flight would serve as a destination point to transfer to my international connection; Continental Airlines flight 48/ Newark to Bombay.
However nothing is really all that simple with Baba, especially when the ties to the US are being methodically undone; circumstances seemingly beyond my control that are re-arranging things, pointing to possible residency at Meherabad. You see, with determination and apparent impunity, having been given the unique latitude to take off for long annual visits to India that ranged anywhere from 5 to 6 months, I was able to forge an adaptable life-style for myself. I’ve done it virtually all my life, this penchant for ‘pilgrimage’ and trying to maintain an ordinary life in the west. Living in close proximity to the Baba Center in Myrtle Beach six months out of the year and 6 months at Meherabad had become easier with time. However something different had emerged recently. After 11 years on the on-call Hilton banquet staff (supplemented by a couple of other on-call banquet waiter positions, most notably the Dunes Country Club); the employment at the Hilton, my main source of income had come to an abrupt end two months ago. With a new banquet manager in tow and corporate deciding to take a stronger stand on my seemingly care-free life-style, I was ejected out of the system late last year and couldn’t get back in when the re-hiring re-started in the Spring. And to complicate matters, the Embassy Suites; a sister hotel chain which sometimes served as my other option, this was owned by none other than the same Hilton Corp. placing me in a difficult, untenable position. The only fortuitous saving grace was that I had just turned 62. With eligibility for social security benefits kicking in, a way was being paved providing an opportunity to live at Meherabad as a full-time resident.
Moving out of the lovely home where I have lived for the past 6 years was a daunting task. And then, the car, with a very strange sense of timing; several days after my last function at the Dunes Country Club and two days before departure for India conked out on me. Estimates of repair (a malfunctioning computer and other yet to be determined problems) made it prohibitively expensive for repair. The underlying message was becoming clear – it’s time to make the transition.
So, the reader may ask, how does this relate to last Thursday’s Continental flight 48 to Bombay. Well, I will explain….
In the interest of keeping things down to a manageable budget I am often on the look-out for other arrivals into Bombay that coincide with mine. A shared car ride to Meherabad is always beneficial for all concerned, not just for the savings but for making things fun and interesting. After a couple of discreet inquiries to the Trust in mid May and nothing showing up on the arrival list for June 24th, I went ahead and made independent arrangements for a car hire.
Thursday June 23rd… I was informed upon arriving at the Myrtle Beach airport that due to heavy inclement weather in the New York area my flight to Newark had been cancelled. I was shunted on to the 1 pm US Air flight to Charlotte with a scheduled connecting 3: 15 pm flight to Newark. Immediately upon disembarking in Charlotte I learned of the unpleasant fact that the ongoing flight to Charlotte had been cancelled as well as many other flights to and from Newark. Many disgruntled passengers and long lines at the US Air and Continental ticket counters made it a challenging prospect – how to make the 8:30 pm Continental flight 48 to Bombay? Baggage had to be picked up at baggage claims which proved to be time consuming. Slowly and laboriously, after an hours wait on line I finally got to the front of the US Air ticket counter. The 5:30 pm flight to Newark I had placed over the phone an hour earlier had also been canceled. The US AIr ticket agent directed me back to the Continental Air desk since it was ‘Continental’s responsibility’ not theirs. Another disquieting long line and hurdle had to be faced. It was beginning to look as though I was going to spend the night at the airport. Finally my turn arrives at the Continental ticket counter. The attendant, a charming french lady, studiously analyzes the possibilities on her computer. Reality was setting in. I wasn’t going to make the Continental flight 48 out of Newark. Most flights to Newark were being systematically cancelled anyway. I was resigning myself to a sleepless night at the airport. Would I be interested in a 6:20 pm flight to Dublin with a connection to London and then a third connecting flight to Bombay she asked? Noting the short connection intervals, although the legal requirement of two hours connecting time was feasible, I was a bit dubious. The prospect of lost luggage crossed my mind making me feel a bit unenthusiastic. But I was willing to give it a try if it could be confirmed. 15 minutes went by, no confirmation. 20 minutes – nothing. It was 5 pm, time was running out. Another group standing beside me, a rather smart, well dressed Indian family of 6 at the next ticket counter were animatingly discussing with the agent a possible Lufthansa flight to Munich and then a connection to Bombay. Was it this evening – was it tomorrow? It wasn’t clear. My attention returned to the agent standing before me who was still looking into the alternatives. She informed me that she could put me on an early morning flight to Newark the next day with an ongoing 4:25 pm flight on Air India to Bombay. What about hotel arrangements and meal vouchers I asked – could that be provided? Yes came the answer. The deal was done.
The Holiday Inn at Charlotte airport was comfortable enough. I used the time to full advantage. I knew Kim Witkowski (from Myrtle Beach) was vacationing in Amsterdam with her daughter and would be arriving into Bombay the 25th evening; 5 hours after my arrival. Tried to reach her by phone but to no avail, I called her husband Walter in Myrtle Beach. He wasn’t certain whether she was staying the night in Bombay. I then called the driver at his suggestion. Both Kim and her daughter were indeed staying on in Bombay. They would not be arriving into M’bad until the 27th. Based on that information I then Skyped a friend in London and with her assistance managed to contact the driver of my car and relayed the scheduled changes. Upon my arrival in Bombay because of the unconventional early arrival time of 5:15 pm I managed to contact a friend at Meherabad and she agreed to let me stay the night at her house before the MPR opened for registration.
The incident described above are somewhat disparate details that ordinarily would not be of any of interest. Just random events, typical of what occurs when flights are disrupted. So that being the case, what was going on internally? The fact was, I was rather apprehensive about the affairs of my life. The doors were drawing to a close in my life in Myrtle Beach. The car, the house, the job situation, as if by some unseen hand they were all being meticulously discarded. And in its wake, thoughts of doubt kept arising – What if I am not granted Indian residency due to some Indian bureaucratic technicality? What have I done? So many anxious thoughts plaguing my mind throughout the journey to India.
Arriving at Meherabad I was greeted by a number of familiar faces. Dalia Rock from Charlotte, NC whom I have known for many years and with whom I have traveled with in England along with a number of visits to Tuscon, the Baba Center and Meherabad, had just arrived the day before. Come to find out, she was on that same long line in the Charlotte airport at the same identical time and yet we didn’t see each other! How in the world did we not notice each other? She was on the 5:30 pm flight to Newark that I was on, with the same ongoing Continental flight 48 connection to Bombay, but due to the Continental flight cancellation out of Charlotte, she was diverted and boarded that Lufthansa flight to Munich/ Bombay the very same flight itinerary I overheard being discussed at the Continental ticket counter. She was able to meet up with Gil and Chitra Alverado (mutual friends of ours) who were also on flight 48. They had arranged a hired car to M’bad in advance and Gill, being notified of Dalia’s flight changes to Lufthansa (via cell phone texting) made a point of waiting those extra hours for Dalia at Bombay airport. Gil and Chitra just barely made it on Continental flight 48 due to flight delays out of Raleigh/Durham. To add to the intrigue, Robert and Sharon Philips (also mutual friends) were flying in from Atlanta to join the others. I understand they just barely made the connection from Atlanta because of weather delays. They had a pre-arranged meeting with Susan Kaplan from Minneapolis (who is also a mutual friend in the Baba community). Susan flew from Minneapolis to Newark to join them as well. Amazingly, all told, there were seven of us Baba lovers all scheduled to converge in Newark for Thursdays Continental flight 48 to Bombay. And for some strange inexplicable reason, I was the only one who didn’t know about this unusual Baba convention meeting of sorts that was occurring on flight 48.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Was that a missed opportunity? Was I not being diligent enough to connect up with these friends who I know so well? Trying to make sense of it all, a friend of mine observed, that on the surface of it at least, these are all individuals visiting Meherabad for a relatively short time (two to four weeks), consequently they probably needed to make the most of their stay at M’bad. On the other hand, with a 6 month stay and possible residency in place. I may be in a different set of conditions. Sounds rational enough, but digging deeper, I am acutely aware that my tendency to worry about finances (sharing the car expenses was a concern, and as Pat Sumner eloquently put it upon my telling her of the strange circumstances – she quipped without hesitation “it’s only money”). But there is a larger issue which gains prominence and demands my attention. It’s the ‘what if’ syndrome – the car, the home, the job etc. This resistance to changing circumstances tends to accentuate conflict, that perplexing need to have things a certain way.
It’s comforting to know that Baba would exhort His dear ones to remember that material circumstances in and by themselves have only relative value. Baba’s methods was to use situations for His work. Once the intended purpose has been served, like a temporary scaffolding, the props are no longer required. Material acquisitions are not indispensable as most people seem to think they are. There’s something to be said about not holding on to pre-conceptions, thoughts fixated on the past about what could have happened if only there was sufficient foresight, holding on to the what-ifs, can prove to be a drag on the ability to living life to the fullest. Meeting life as it comes without pre-conception, now that is a life worth living. It’s a great and proper introduction to this new transition I find myself embarking on. It’s Baba’s way of saying Welcome to Meherabad Jerry. Welcome home.
June 28, 2011 Update
Am settling in at the MPR. Jet lag and fatigue slowly diminishing. It’s nice to be here as always. The monsoon season as usual creates such an interesting atmosphere here with wind, overcast skies and occasional rain.
Leah J. posted a quote of Baba’s recently which aptly sums up the entire experience for me….
“Shut the trap of your mind and end all worries. Open the trap of your heart and release love.”
APRIL 2018 UPDATE
It’s been nearly 7 years since posting. A lot has happened since then. Many rich and endearing experiences. Suffice to stay, by Baba’s grace, I’ve managed to create a rather comfortable, lovely life for myself here at Meherabad. A beautiful, spacious home and all the amenities and luxuries one can think of (within walking distance of the samadhi/ Baba’s tomb). In January 2015 I married a bright, cheerful, loving devoted Baba lover who is intimately close to Baba and the Dehran Dun Baba family. A short two minute video of my wife’s grandmother Prakashwati can be seen garlanding Beloved Baba (turn on the audio for the soundtrack). Click on the following video:
A Decidedly Touching Moment With Meher Baba/ Prakashwati Sharma And Baba – Dehra Dun 1953