Looking back


Whenever a special day comes up, we tend to reflect on that same day years before: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays (whether devotional or secular) often spark a train of reminiscences. As we age, naturally this reflective tendency increases---we have stored up more years’ worth of memories than we had when we were young.
This month, February, happens to be the month in which my birthday falls. So I’m remembering birthdays gone by. And one particular birthday stands out in my mind, from 1973. Although I’d grown up in Virginia, quite on the Eastern side of the United States, I’d been living in California for about a year. My father called me on the phone to extend his good wishes to me, and also asked me, “What would you like for your birthday?”
You have to understand, that all the while I was growing up at home, I was quite a greedy girl. Being the youngest, no doubt I was sometimes shown special partiality by both my mother and father, and I’m aware that my older sisters sometimes considered me ‘spoiled.’ Of the four of us, I was the only one who even wanted (and got) such things as a high school ring and a letter sweater. I’d been very aware of what brand names of clothing were considered status symbols, and actively tried to acquire them. (I definitely recall my father, at times, shaking his head in frustration with my demands and saying, woefully, “I wish I had a money tree!”)
But things had changed when my mother died while I was in my senior year of high school. My father could not bear her loss, and after an extended period of grief and loneliness, had chosen to try to fill the gap by remarrying. Enter the stepmother. The word itself conjures up the archetype. Suffice it to say that, within a few years, I felt I had lost not only my mother, but my father and my home as well. Add to that the turbulence of the late sixties and early seventies in America, and you can get the general picture. By the time my father called me that day in February, I had already made a number of choices in my life that he would never have wished for me. And yet, he loved me and wanted to do what he could.
What he didn’t know was that the trajectory of my life had recently undergone a drastic change. Instead of going deeper into the depths of depravity and despair, I had been making some major changes, and was now heading upwards, all due to the mercy of Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada, and their followers. So. . .
There was nothing I wanted. I couldn’t think of a thing. Really. He was, needless to say, surprised. “There must be something.” But really, there was nothing. Suddenly, it occurred to me what he might do for me:
“If I send you a book, would you read it?”
“What is the book?”
“Oh, I’ve read so many Bhagavad-gitas.” (My father was a literary man and had lived in India.)
“But this one’s different. (I was, of course, referring to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada) This one is not someone’s interpretation; it’s as it was intended by the speaker Himself.”
“Oh my dear, the person who wrote the Bhagavad-gita has been dead lo, these many years.”
Although I didn’t try at length to educate him on Krishna’s true position, I did send him the book. Years later I saw it still on his bookshelf, the paperback MacMillan edition that had just come out in 1972. And although his initial response to my deep involvement with the Hare Krishna movement was not what you would call enthusiastic, by the time he passed away, years later, I was back in his good graces and had been able to share with him some of my newfound joy. More on all of that, later.