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Spirit of '76

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Author: 
Vegavati

In the course of a day here at BTG/Krishna.com, I was asked by my manager to go through some old BTGs. Doing so brought back a flood of memories. Here’s one: in 1976, in July, there was a special issue focused on the theme that America was celebrating its bicentennial, having declared its independence from England on July 4, 1776. The cover showed a festive arrangement with the original American flag in the background, and a bright-faced young devotee in the foreground, singing. The caption read “Declaring Our Dependence on God.” On seeing this magazine, I was transported back in time to the summer of ’76.

Those days I was functioning as part of the Los Angeles temple, on a traveling sankirtana party dedicated to getting Srila Prabhupada’s books and magazines out to as many people as possible. We were very starry-eyed, imagining that in a few years the world might become completely spiritualized by reading these timeless literatures. So I and two other young ladies (all in our early twenties) were sent, for the summer, to the Grand Canyon. We had rented a motel room in nearby Flagstaff, Arizona, taken all the furniture out of the room so we could sleep on the floor, and every day, on the half-hour drive to our sankirtana spot, we would sing the guru-puja prayers. At lunch we read from Caitanya-caritamrta, and sometimes, on the way home, we memorized Bhagavad-gita verses (to this day I still recognize many verses from the 4th chapter because of this practice).

So there we were, stationed in the parking lot of the visitors’ center, approaching everyone who came or went. We got their attention with a friendly greeting (“Hey, where’d you get that hat?” was a favorite of mine) and then showed them the magazine and tried to get them to give a donation, so we could in turn give them the transcendental message of the Gita.

One day, as I was going from one person to another, I saw two young men coming my way. I began as usual, when one of them said, “I know you—I’d recognize that smile anywhere—(remember, we were all younger then)—I met you in LAX (the airport in Los Angeles, where I’d previously distributed books).” He’d had a positive impression from our first meeting, so he and the friend, to whom he introduced me, both left with the Back to Godhead magazine. A few days later, I saw the friend. As we’d all had a bit of a chat before, I naturally asked him about his companion—let’s call him Jeff—and he grimaced. “Jeff was a firefighter. He was killed two days ago, fighting a fire.”

I was stunned. Who would have thought? Just a short time before, he was a young man in the prime of his life, smiling and joking. And now he was gone. But one of the last things he’d done in that lifetime was to get a magazine about going Back to Godhead. It was very sobering. Yet I was so grateful to have played a small part in that soul’s evolution. I even wrote a letter to Srila Prabhupada about it. It’s the only letter I ever actually mailed to him. I wanted him to know how very grateful I was, not only to have been given Krishna’s teachings, but to be able to share them with others. Life is short, and there’s no guarantee what will happen from one moment to the next. At least this one day, we can try to engage in Krishna’s service, somehow or another. And somehow or other, we can try to share that wealth.

(It was some months ago that I was going through those old BTGs. Now I can’t find that particular one. But I did find it on the DVD, “60 years of BTG,” available at store.Krishna.com.)