Symbols of the world's religions


Heather's Story:


Heather Nadel

I've lived here in Meherabad for 22 years and in India for 24 years. I've done many things here
in terms of service over the years. I have always worked with the pilgrims and their accommodations in Meherabad. For a long time I was one of the many assistants to Meher Baba's sister, Mani, helping her with her duties as the Chairman of the Trust. As Mani got older, I worked with her more intensively until she passed away. I also do some work in Meherazad where the mandali live, as well as many other miscellaneous chores that come up as part of life here.

I was born into a Presbyterian family. We had a lot of traumas as children, they were the usual kind of things—sickness, divorce, mental illness in the family. As I neared my teens, my father remarried and my stepmother was a Catholic, so I, of my own choice, became a Catholic. I was very enamoured of nuns when I was young.

My first experience of God occurred when I was sweeping the stairs one day when I was about twelve. I remember that I was angry because I wanted to do something else. But this was one of my chores and I had been made to do it. I was very irritated at my situation in life. Then, all of a sudden, I had the knowledge deep inside of me that my life was charmed. I knew it. It was a revelation. I knew I was different—that there was something magical about my life, and that my sister also had it. Years later I realized that this "charm" was a strong inner life that both my sister and I developed. It was a very deep knowledge which came to me that day, and that inner knowing somehow gave me strength for a number of years.

A few years later I was on an airplane, reading about how the Virgin Mary appeared to a girl in Lourdes, France. For a moment I gazed out the window of the plane, and there before me was an unusual cloud formation; in the cloud I saw Christ, opening his arms to me. I was so struck by it that I sobbed for hours. My parents didn't know what to do with me. But it was an inner realization of the love he had for me; it was very deep and strong.

So that made me very, almost violently, Catholic for many years—until I got to college. And then, of course, it was so fashionable to be an atheist, and I became an atheist—just from group pressure. I did not believe in God for a long time, and I didn't want to. I wasn't interested in God; I had a lot of other things that held interest for me at the time. I went around with a wild, somewhat revolutionary crowd in those days. We had a lot of student strikes and minor felonies and that kind of things when I was in college.

Then something happened in March of 1969. Some of my friends knew some people who were older than us, and very "far out" in their lifestyle—so far out that they didn't even go to college! We were in California; I went to Stanford in the Bay Area, and these people lived in a commune up on a mountain near us. Between Stanford and the ocean there are some very high hills and a town called La Honda. They lived among the redwood trees up there, and there was something very intriguing and mysterious about them. So my friend Judy and I decided to go up and see them one night, because they were always into something far out.

Judy and I were sitting on their couch in front of a fire, when all of a sudden someone came in the door behind us and said to the woman of the house, "I found it! I found a book about Meher Baba." We didn't know what that was, of course, and we ignored it, they obviously weren't talking to us. But everyone else of the household became very excited and ran over to look at the book. They were talking excitedly about the pictures—"Wow," and "at last" and for "how long" they had been "looking for something about Meher Baba!"

Well, we were just sitting on the couch doing our own thing, but finally Judy turned and said, "Let's see the book." So they brought it over and handed it to us. Judy looked at it, then handed it to me. It was The Everything and the Nothing, the Australian version, and it had a picture of Meher Baba on the cover. When I looked at Baba's picture, I gasped and said, "Oh! I know this man!"

Judy looked at me, puzzled. "How do you know him?"

I stared at her with a mix of surprise and curiosity. "I don't know. But I know him. I've seen him before ... I, I know him...."

I looked closely at the picture, but I couldn't quite figure it out. Of course, we'd been smoking something, as was often the case in those days, so my concentration wasn't good. But I kept looking at the picture and saying, "I know him." I couldn't get it. "Was it in New York? It could have been New York. He looks like a salami salesman. He looks Italian." We laughed about it, but at the moment of seeing him, somehow I knew I knew him. Finally I asked, "Who is he?"

"He says he's God," Judy answered.

I opened up the book, intrigued, and scanned it for a moment, then said, "Well, he looks like he has an honest face, so if he says he's God, maybe he is. And I'm not God, so I don't know that he's not. So, he might be."

Then I paused for a moment as another thought hit me: "But if God is the writer of the book, who's the publisher?" Because in my mind, publishers were big and writers were little. So it was all quite curious.

But my memory of this episode totally disappeared. I completely forgot about it until years later, when I became connected with Baba. And, at the same time that this memory returned, I also recalled another incident which occurred later the same evening:

A couple of hours had gone by as we sat around with our friends. It must have been about 2:00 in the morning when Judy and I went out to the car to drive back down the mountain. It was near the ocean, so the fog had rolled in, and it was really intense. The road home was steep and curving. It was really dangerous, even in the light. Our friends suggested that we stay and drive down in the morning, but we declined.

We started going down the mountain; I was driving and Judy was sitting next to me. The fog was so thick that I couldn't see more than about a foot in front of the car, maybe three feet at the most. As we curved back and forth, I couldn't remember it being that treacherous a drive. Hairpin turns would appear out of nowhere, and we both became very afraid because the driving was so difficult. It was so hard to see.

All of a sudden I felt something strange. "Do you see anything on the steering wheel?" I asked Judy.

"No," she answered, eying me carefully.

"I don't see it," I said very slowly, "but I feel it."

She gripped the door handle. "Feel what?"

By this time the effects of our partying that evening had worn off, and we were both keenly awake. I was very clear about what I was experiencing, and I said slowly, "Two hands are steering the car."

"WHAT?" She gasped.

"I'm not kidding. Someone else is steering the car. There are two hands. I can't see them, but I can feel them. I know that they're there. I'm not steering the car!" Of course, at the same time, I was still steering with all my might. It was a very strange impression. But she believed me, because I was very shaken up by it.

So, slowly, we got to the bottom of the mountain. At the end of the steep descent we pulled up to a stop light. Now it was very late and the roads were empty. Straight ahead was a road we had to cross, and then there was a gas station. After the light changed, I couldn't get the car into first gear. After struggling with it for a while and trying all kind of things, I finally put the car in neutral and we coasted across the road into the gas station.

In those days gas stations had garages attached to them, and there was an all night attendant. We asked him to fix the car, then called my boyfriend who came and took us home.

The next day I phoned the gas station, and the car was ready. When I went back to pick it up, the attendant came up to me as soon as he saw me and asked, "Lady, where did you come from last night?"

"La Honda," I answered.

"Naw, c'mon. Really, where did you come from?" he persisted.

I looked at him, curious about his reaction. "We came from La Honda."

"Don't play with me, lady." Now he was disgusted. "That's impossible. I got into this car, took one circle around the station and the front wheel came off! Now, don't tell me you came from la Honda."

He thought I was lying! Now I was amazed that we had made it down the mountain. Then I remembered the hands on the wheel.

Years and years later, someone asked me how I heard of Meher Baba. I answered, "Oh, I heard of Baba through my husband. He was a Baba lover, and we went to Myrtle Beach," and I went on to tell about what I remembered at the time to be my first awareness of Baba.

"That's when you first heard of Baba?" she asked again. "From your husband?"

"No." I paused to think. "No, I think I heard of him before...."

Then all of a sudden I remembered. I realized that it was the night of the two hands on the wheel that I first heard of Baba. Until that moment, I had never realized that, nor linked those two incidents. I had dismissed the entire thing.

It was actually two more years before I actually came to know something about Baba. That happened when I met the man who was to become my husband, Eric Nadel. Eric was already a Baba lover when I met him. Baba had come to Eric on the night that he dropped his body, on January 31, 1969. Eric was, at that time, a caretaker in a forest. That night, as he looked up at the full moon, the moon appeared to come spinning out of the sky and it entered Eric's heart. At that, Baba took up residence there, and he has been in Eric's heart ever since. That was Eric's coming to Baba.

After we met, Eric tried very hard to get me to be a Baba lover. He did a thousand tricks. He would make me get up at 5:00 in the morning to sing "Begin the Beguine," because all of the mandali used to get up at 5:00 in the morning and because "Begin the Beguine" was Baba's favorite English song. And he did his best to get me to go to Baba meetings. He tried everything. Eric was the first person I had met in years, maybe had ever met, who really believed in God. I mean he really believed in God and lived a life for God. I had great admiration for that, although it didn't make me believe in God. But it took me a little away from the atheism.

One day he finally said to me, "Meher Baba is the Avatar! Don't you realize what that is? He is the Avatar, the Christ!"

"I'm happy that he came. I'm happy about it. But what has that got to do with me?" was all I could say.

"What has that to do with you? The Avatar has to do with EVERYBODY!"

But I didn't feel it inside—that he had anything to do with me.

So Eric and I went through many difficult adventures, and always Meher Baba was a part of them, but not directly for me. Finally we broke off, and Eric went away to Canada. I fell into a very deep depression, because when I met him, I knew that Eric had the key to my destiny. I knew it. We'd had a very dramatic first encounter where we recognized each other, and I then got terrified, because I didn't know what it meant. But when he went away, I knew I had lost the thread to my life. And it wasn't just him, but something he carried with him. He was certainly the most fascinating person I had ever met, but even more so because of the feelings he had for God.

So I was extremely depressed, and my friend Judy suggested we go to her family's house in Oregon. Judy was the one who had been on the mountain with me and had also introduced me to Eric. It was Easter break, and she said to me, "Let's get away from here. You don't need to be around the places you always were with Eric."

We left Stanford and went up to Oregon for two weeks. Judy's parents were darling. I think she had hinted to them that I was depressed, and they were very warm, and loving and friendly. But I couldn't get out of that despair I was in. One day in order to help pep me up we all went for a family picnic, through the woods and to the beach. Now Oregon has all these little towns that have literally nothing in them except a post office, a grocery store and a gas pump. So we drove through a lot of these towns on the way to and from the beach. I was still in my depression—but trying, trying—and we were driving through one of these towns, when all of a sudden Judy said, "Let's stop here." It must have been the tenth of these little towns. I don't know why she picked that one.

Her parents were being very accommodating, so they stopped the car. Something had caught Judy's eye. "Let's go over there—there's an old junk shop." I won't say antique shop, for it really was a junk shop. And for some inexplicable reason, we all thought it was a great idea.

We went inside. Her father and brother went to look at the old books, Judy and her mom went to look at the broken crockery, and I somehow ended up in the back of the store where there was a pile of small carpets, and deep in the middle of the pile was a book. I pulled the book out of the pile, wondering, "What's a book doing in the middle of this stack of carpets?" It was so bizarre.

It was a coloring book created by Adah Shifrin, a Baba lover. It was for Baba children, and it had a picture on the front of Baba in Meherazad, holding a lamb. He was very old in the picture; he was wearing his blue coat and he looked very beautiful. The book was called Meher Baba's Love, and I just stood there holding it. As I looked at the book, and at Baba's face, all of those memories of Eric flooded back to me, and even more so, that sense of destiny that I had lost. Suddenly, as I was looking at the picture, I heard a voice in my heart which said, "I am your real Beloved, and I will never leave you."

With those words, all of my depression totally evaporated, totally, completely. In fact, for a moment, I was so overcome with relief that I started to weep. The amazing thing was, I later realized, this was not my time to come to Baba. But in his mercy, he came to me and lifted my despair.

Within five minutes I forgot about the voice; all I knew was that I felt wonderful and that I was holding this book. I went to the counter to buy it—it was only two dollars—thinking, "Eric would like this book." At that moment everyone else in the family arrived at the counter. No one else had anything to buy and they were all ready to go. I mean, the instant I found the book, everyone was ready to go!

I gave the book to the man at the cash register, an old man with an earring who looked like a pirate. He looked at the book, then eyed me for a moment, and exclaimed, "Aha!" That's all he said. And I'm sure he had hidden that book for the person who was destined to find it. He looked really delighted, took my two dollars, didn't say a word, and handed me the book.

As we walked out, Judy asked me where I got the book. I told her about the stack of carpets, and we both looked back—because the man was so funny, the way he had looked at me about the book. And as we looked back, there across the entire store front, we saw all of these tiny Baba cards propped up in the window!

Years later, when some people from Oregon heard this story, they went back to the store, but the man was gone and the store was closed. Other Baba-lovers in Oregon had heard of him, but I never found out who he was. Yet that moment totally changed my life. Somehow I managed to give up Eric and live my own life.

The next year I was engaged to a wonderful man, a sweetheart, a Russian violinist. He was very beautiful and romantic. One day we had gone to a concert in the city, and we were driving back home, when all of a sudden I had this internal sense of something being cut. Just cut. I was driving, and it was so strong and so shocking that I stopped the car. He looked at me and said, "Did something just happen to you?"

"Yes," I answered, baffled. "Did something just happen to you?"

"Yes," he answered, apparently equally as perplexed.

"What?" I asked.

"I don't know. It's like ... it's over."

I stared at him. "Yeah." We were very much in love, and had plans, had told his family—everything. "I feel that too," I said, a little stunned. We just looked at each other.

"Now what do we do?" he asked, reflecting the same surprise that I felt.

"Well, maybe I'll drive you home," I responded, not knowing anything else to say. So I drove him home, and we never saw or spoke to each other again. I don't know what happened; maybe the karma was over. It just stopped.

Now I had not thought of Eric in months. That night all of the people in the commune where I lived sat down and did a Tarot reading for me, because such an odd thing had happened to me that day. At the center of the spread of cards was love—not just love, but the highest spiritual aspect of love, which I was to find through a romantic love relationship that would be very intense and would lead me to the highest spiritual level possible. We stared at the cards, incredulous. We didn't use the Tarot very often, so it was a new thing for us, but we still knew the reading was unusual, especially since my romantic relationship had just ended.

"Who could this man be?" I wondered.

My friend Andy looked at me and shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe..." and he named a few of the men I had been friends with in the past. Then the rest in the group pitched in with different ideas as to who it might be.

All of a sudden the phone rang. Andy answered it, and it was Eric.

"Maybe Eric's the guy," Andy offered as I walked towards the phone.

"Nooo!" I answered firmly.

I picked up the phone, and Eric asked, without even a hello, "Are you finished with that guy yet?"

"What?" I couldn't believe he was asking this.

"Are you through with him?" he asked again.

I paused, guarded. I hadn't even spoken with Eric in six months. "Well, why do you want to know?"

"I just want to know. Is that over?"

"Well," I answered, trying to sound off handed, "yeah; we broke off yesterday."

"Then why don't you come see me?" he suggested.

"No, I don't think so!" I was adamant. He had been a heartbreak for me, and now I was over him. I didn't want to open that up again.

"No, no, no, we can just be friends. I'm out in Ohio. It's fun. It's winter here, and you've never been to Ohio. Why don't you come out and visit?"

"I don't know..." I just wanted to put him off. "Let's write about it."

Well, he wrote me this amazing letter about how great it would be to be friends, and how we had this destiny together, and somehow he talked me into going out for a month. And of course we fell in love again.

Yet after some time Eric realized within himself that since it was now getting serious between us, either I would have to come to Baba, or we had to stop before either of us got hurt. He realized that he was so extreme a person that he could not marry someone who did not love Baba. He knew it would drive the other person crazy, since he would want to do odd things with his life, like go and live in India—which is what happened. And he also realized I would not be able to do that unless I loved Baba, or it would create a lot of heart aches.

So Eric decided I would have a last chance, which would be that we go together to the Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach—and if I did not come to Baba at the Center, then he would have to break up our relationship. Of course, I did not know that he was thinking these things. But he was really scared now, because we were really serious, and the consequences of marrying me without my being a Baba lover had become very clear to Eric.

Eric asked me to make the reservations at the Center, which I agreed to, since he was busy with school. I took his copy of God Speaks to the phone when I called; it had the address in the back so I could get the phone number from information. My call was answered by Kitty Davy, this very peppy, chirpy little English woman who was one of Baba's Western mandali. She immediately launched into the rundown on procedures and regulations at the Center. As we were wrapping up the conversation, she reminded me that we needed to arrive by five.

"Well, we're coming from Ohio," I said a little hesitantly.

"Oh," she exclaimed enthusiastically, yet full of British propriety, "for only three days? You must be very devoted."

To myself, I thought, "Well, I don't know about that..."

Kitty chirped, "Jai Baba. Jai Baba."

I didn't know what that meant, but I said goodbye, hung up the phone and started down the hall towards Eric's room.

I don't know what happened to me, but the next thing I was aware of was that I was sitting on the hallway floor, dazed. Eric was standing beside me on one side, and his friend James Cox on the other. I was holding God Speaks and gazing at Baba's picture, in some kind of state.

Seeing them beside me, I looked up and said, "I don't know who that person on the phone was, but something strange is going on here."

Eric smiled and simply said, "Yeah."

It gradually began to dawn on me that the place in Myrtle Beach might be more than I had bargained for. But on the other hand, I was hooked—I wanted to check it out.

Our trip was scheduled for April of 1971. On the way down we had a flat tire. Then another. Then the other two tires of the car went flat. The people we were traveling with decided it was a test, and that we were not supposed to go. Eric also thought it was a test, but his interpretation was that we were supposed to get there anyhow. So we spent the last of our money going to Myrtle Beach on a Greyhound bus. We arrived in the middle of the night, slept on the beach, then headed for an early morning breakfast place.

We were sitting at a booth, sleepy-eyed and dressed in the hippie garb of the day, when a bunch of motorcycle guys came in and sat down next to us. They guessed that we were going to the Meher Center and offered us a ride. Nowadays I would refuse—they were very rough looking guys—but in those days we just said yes. They were very sweet, and they took us right to the Center.

The place where people check in was still closed, and no one was around, so we climbed over the gate and just walked in. As we were walking through the woods toward the Center, I realized that this place was enchanted—it was spell binding. Eric looked at me, and we started singing and old Appalachian song:

"What wondrous love is this, oh my soul, what wondrous love is this, oh my soul..." We felt enraptured.

When we got to the lake, the only person there was a little girl. Delighted to see us, she gave us a complete tour of the Center until the grownups woke up. Then followed all of the introductions, including meeting the amazing Kitty Davy, who was almost like a cartoon character, she was so energetic and lively.

Of course we were staying in separate cabins, because we were not married. And—Oh! I realized just now!—my roommate was Adah Shifrin, the woman who wrote the children's book, Meher Baba's Love, which I had found in the stack of carpets.

Adah and I stayed in the Log Cabin together. There was a poster over my bed that quoted Baba: "Think of me the last thing before you go to sleep and it will benefit you," or something to that effect. So, having the idea that this was part of the program there at the Center, I thought about him and pictured his face as I was going to sleep. I didn't know, maybe it was one of the rules or something. That night I had a dream. You know how dreams are—you can't really explain them in waking terms. But in the dream, Baba's face was 360 degrees around me, yet it was not distorted or stretched out. All around me was his face, and it was very beautiful. It was the same face that was in the picture over my bed. As the dream progressed, I found myself falling through fire in ecstasy. I didn't want to wake up. It was fire, but a fire of bliss.

Meanwhile, Eric had spent the night weeping. He was in a total state, himself. We saw each other, and wandered around together, but we were both in our own experiences. He was going through one thing, and I was going through something else.

The next night I dreamed that everything I saw throughout the dream was Baba. The tree was Baba, the ground was Baba, there was a horse, and it, too, was Baba. And I woke up, once again overwhelmed. That day I realized I was getting into something very deep, so deep that the question of Eric's and my relationship didn't even enter my mind as I wandered around the Center wondering what on earth was happening between Meher Baba and me.

I remember walking across the bridge over the lagoon and thinking that I had to decide. Somehow I knew that I couldn't use my mind too much with this, but that I did have to decide. I stopped there on the bridge, and at that moment, I made a vow to God.

"You know everything," I said, "and if you are Meher Baba, then my giving my life to him would be the best thing I could possibly do. If you are not Meher Baba, you know that I mean to come to you, so even then, you will accept my giving my life to him."

So there, on the bridge, I decided to give my life to Meher Baba.

I wandered around for a while. Eventually, Eric found me and told me it was time to go to Baba's house. In those days, you could only go to Baba's house on Sunday, and I'd been hearing about it for a long time. We were on the tour through the house, and though I was listening to the stories, I somehow wandered ahead of the group into Baba's bedroom. Of course, I didn't know it was Baba's bedroom, since I'd never been there before. As I walked into the room, I had an inner experience of Baba where I recognized him. He was sitting on the bed. It was not a vision, but an inner sight. I saw him; I knew him; and more than anything I remembered him—perfectly. It was as though a veil was torn away from me completely, and I felt so much love for him that I burst into tears.

All I could say was, "Forgive me for forgetting you, Baba." How could I have forgotten him? He was my Beloved. He was my love! And I had forgotten him! It was so ... it was the experience of my life. I realized that I knew him, and that he knew me, and he was my love. How had it happened, I wondered, that I had forgotten him? I could not get over that. I felt so much love for him that I was just ... gone.

Jane Haynes came in and looked at me. She gently brushed her hand along my cheek and said, "The heart knows what the mind cannot understand."

She let me out into the garden, for there were other people in the home, and I obviously needed to be by myself. I sat on one of the benches and wept and wept, saying over and over again, "How could I have forgotten you? Forgive me, my darling."

I gradually recovered and started out of the garden just as Eric was leaving the house. He had had his own wonderful experience of Baba, this being his first visit to the Center after a couple of years of loving him.

We went to the porch at the library and sat there. Eric knew something huge had happened to me. I looked at him, and said to myself, "Oh, no. Now what to do with this luggage that I picked up along the way?"—meaning Eric.

At the same time, he was looking at me and thinking, "Well, now that I'd brought her, it's happened. Now what?"

He looked at me. "Do you want to get married?"

I looked back, paused for a moment, and answered, "Okay."

It wasn't actually a proposal at that time, it was an agreement about something we would do. But it was not at all a focus for either of us at that moment, since so much else had transpired.

We left the next morning and got a ride to our car from a Baba lover. All kinds of things happened on the trip, but as we were heading home, we picked up some hitchhikers, who took one look at us and asked, "Guys, what are you on?"

"Meher Baba," Eric told them.

"Naw, c'mon. What are you on?"

We kept saying, "Meher Baba."

No, the pills, the dope; what did you shoot up? What is it?"

"It's Meher Baba!"

"C'mon; you can't get that high from a person!"

But we both had it—we had the look. We were bursting with Baba's love.

And from that moment when I experienced Baba in my heart, I have never had a doubt in all these years. The conviction that I got in that moment was indelible—indelible. And that's my story.

Edited by Carolyn M. Ball
2000 © Carolyn M. Ball


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