Posted by Sen on December 20, 2008
I have a lovely story to share, told to me by Brent Poirier and shared with his permission. He heard it around 1980 from Inez Greeven, whose sister was India Haggarty, the subject of our story. India Haggarty was a Bahai living in Paris in 1931. I will let Brent tell the story:
“Here is a beautiful, beautiful story about Abdu’l-Baha … It is so touching, so moving, and shows how infinitely precious our work is – not only serving the Baha’is – but serving the peoples of the world on behalf of Abdu’l-Baha. It is a story of a home visit and is infused with such love that assures us that the beloved Master hears our hearts at all times and will send someone to help us – whatever it may be.”
Inez’ sister India Haggarty was a pioneer living in a hotel in Paris in 1931. This was 10 years after the passing of the Master, and 20 years after His visit to that city. There was another pioneer in Paris at that time, and I’ll call her “Mrs. S”.
One night in 1931 India had a vision of Abdu’l-Baha. He appeared to her and told her that He wanted her to go, right then, to her Baha’i sister Mrs. S. “Bring her flowers, and bring her money,” He said.
India got up out of bed and immediately prepared herself to leave her hotel. As she was fixing her hair in the mirror, her face was still radiant from the vision of the Master. She called down to the hotel clerk to summon a taxi for her. She gathered up all of her money. She set aside the money she needed for her personal expenses, and put all the rest of her cash into a small purse.
She went downstairs and asked the clerk, “Where is the nearest florist shop?” The clerk answered that there was one quite close by, but as it was just 5 o’clock in the morning, it was of course closed. India said thank-you, and waited for the taxi. When it arrived she said to please take her to that florist shop. The driver said all right, but it’s closed. She said, knowing that the Master had a way for her to get flowers, that he should take her there anyway. They arrived, and the windows were all dark. “I told you it was closed,” the driver said. India said to take her to the next florist shop, and it, too, was closed. As they drove through the city, they came upon the farmer’s market area, where all of the local growers brought in their vegetables and flowers to sell to the local stores. There was a wagon filled with flowers, and India got out of the taxi and went over to the driver. She came back with an armful of red tulips, and got into the taxi. She handed the driver a slip of paper with the address of Mrs. S. on it, and they drove across Paris in the early morning darkness.
[At this point in the story, Inez said to me, "Now imagine. A conservative American woman is going across Paris at 5 in the morning to bring flowers and money to another conservative American woman."]
The taxi dropped India off at Mrs. S’s front door, and she stood there, with her arms full of red tulips. She knocked at the door. She heard a rustling, and the door opened. Mrs. S. was standing inside, wearing a heavy black coat, and it was obvious that she had been crying. Her face showed great distress. Mrs. S looked at India, and at the red tulips, and cried out, “OH! ABDU’L-BAHA!” and burst into tears.
She sobbed and sobbed. She and India went into her home and sat down, and India tried to comfort her friend. After she was composed, Mrs. S asked India, “Why have you come here?”
India answered that the Master had come to her in a vision, and that He had told her to bring flowers, and money. She handed the purse to Mrs. S.
Mrs. S. was astounded. When she could speak, she said, “You think I am rich. Everyone does. And I did have money, but I ran out, and I was ashamed to tell anyone. There isn’t one speck of food in this house. As you can tell, the house is cold; I cannot afford to heat it. I have been suffering, and I could no longer bear it. I decided last night, to end my life. I awoke this morning, and I went and put on my coat. I decided to cast myself into the Seine, and drown myself. I went to the front door, and was just putting my hand on the doorknob to go out, when suddenly, you knocked. I opened the door, and you were standing there. I could not believe my eyes. Twenty years ago, Abdu’l-Baha came to my house, in this city. And when I opened the door to receive Him, He was standing on my front porch — with an armful of red tulips. And to see you standing there with these tulips, and bringing this money, I could not believe it.”
Inez then showed me a postcard that Mrs. S had written to her sister India. It said that for this gift to have reached her at such a time in her life, showed how great His love was. Now that’s a true story, because I heard it from Inez Greeven, and she showed me the postcard.”
It’s a lovely story. The red tulips are the sign for Mrs. S, and for us, of Abdu’l-Baha’s intervention to care for his loved ones. Red tulips in the hands of Abdu’l-Baha, red tulips bought, unknowingly, by Inez Greeven.
Last time I heard this story from Brent, in 2006, he also explained why he was visiting Inez Greeven around 1980, and so had the chance to collect this precious story. But last time he told the story, the tulips were yellow.
The creativity of memory may well be built into our brains. Apparently our optic nerves are equipped to carry roughly the equivalent of the information in one TV picture, yet we think we see a high-definition surround-image world. Most of the picture we ‘see’ at any moment is actually created in the brain from its knowledge of what ought to be. Our eyes are continually flicking rapidly from point to point, making detailed pictures of small areas. Our brain makes a composite picture for us. We also draw on earlier experience, and if necessary, our minds simply fill in the gap. We cannot distinguish between what we created for ourselves, what we are recreating from immediate memory and what is, at a given moment, actually being transmitted from our rods and cones, through the optic nerve.
So what we call “reality” is in fact 95% virtual reality. Likewise, we do not “understand” the meanings of things, we (largely) make their meanings. And what this story means for you, may not be what it means for me, or for Brent, or what it meant to Inez.