I can’t wrap my head around this, what to speak of my soul. I’ve been holding back sharing this for so long that I can no longer hold back. What I am about to tell you is the God’s honest truth so help me God. It was around 1978 in New Dvarka. I was temple Commander, Rathayatra festival manager and also ran the maintenance management for the New Dvarka Property Division on Watseka Ave.
One day, one of the BBT artists, Murlidhar Prabhu (who painted at least 1/4 of all the paintings we see in the books) came down with a death threatening case of spinal meningitis. I remember announcing at mangal arati the next morning that Murlidhar Prabhu needed prayers and visits across the street at the Brotman Memorial Hospital. Every day for two weeks I showed up and read to him between the hours of 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM, relieving his wife Yogamaya Devi Dasi who would sit there all night and day long.
These two devotees were of the most stoic, sober, unflinching character most of us have ever seen in this life. They were steady, regular, committed and devoted. I had met them 5-6 year before in Brooklyn when I worked at the BBT Art Department in Tiffany Place in early 1972. All those years they were models of Srila Prabhupada’s message of “steadfastness.” Those who remember them will attest to this statement.
Every day at the hospital I would watch this strong stoic senior god-brother literally wriggling and contorting in pain. His face and body twisting beyond recognition. I would silently cry and pray and wait for the spams to pass so I could go on reading. After about two weeks, the spams stopped and the doctors announced that the antibiotics had taken effect and he would soon be going home.
The community was thriving back then. Mangala aratis were three-hundred-plus attendees, and the overall community was double or triple that. A few days after he was released, I was standing just across from the temple gardening when his wife Yogamaya walked up to me calling my name with alarm. She came right up to my face, very close, (back then men and women did not come close or look closely into each others eyes unless you were married). She grabbed my arms, disturbed as in disbelief and let go. Then shook both hands up and down in the air in front of me.
“Yadu!” She said again in a loud voice, even though she was inches from my face. “You were the only one!!”
I asked, “What are you talking about, mataji?”
“Yadu, you were the only one! How can that be??” A tear rolled down her face.
I still had no idea what she was talking about.
She continued to repeat over and over again, “Yadu, how can that be!? You were the only one??”
When I finally calmed her down we both began to cry. She kept repeating again and again, “Yadu, nobody else came! You were the only!! Not one single soul came. Not even once!!”
I still cry when I remember or talk about it. “Nobody else came!!” Not one single person; not once in two weeks across the street. There were hundreds of devotees all around (maybe a thousand) and I had personally told everyone at the BBT, those under me as Temple Commender and the Rathyatra Festival meetings I lead, and making morning announcements to a temple packed for morning program, that he had a life threatening and excruciating condition, asking devotees to please visit him, literally across the street!
Nobody else came!!! I still don’t understand that, and neither do Murlidhara das and Yogamaya devi dasi. They left a few months later; and I heard they became Christians. I don’t know. I miss them greatly and I love them both more than ever, especially because I was there every single day and saw their humanity and their pain for all these years, that “nobody came.”
That was when I started looking around and paying attention that most of us are too busy with “my service, my guru, my rounds, my gayatri, my temple, my sanga,” my twist… to walk across the street and visit a devotee who is in pain. Since then, I have seen this in many forms over and over again, over the decades. It’s not everybody, but it’s still most of us. That is the problem. That it’s still most of us.
I can’t wrap my head around this, what to speak of my soul. Over the years I have asked senior Vaishnavas who were in the community at the time. When I tell them the story one-on-one, “Why didn’t you come?” It’s always the same reply, in one form or another, “I don’t know why I did not come, prabhu, I was just very busy with my service.”
So since 1978 I have been begging that we focus on relationship (sambandha) and being kind to each other, and caring in the service of the human devotees before the cows and the temples and even the outreach.
I can’t wrap my head around this, what to speak of my soul.