2003 Age Has Widened My Perspective
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,
Please accept my humble obeisances at your lotus feet. All glories to Your Divine Grace. You are my unfailing beacon in the raging storm of time. I take shelter at your lotus feet, where the passing of days becomes the key to eternity.
2:34 am: Early in the morning, but past deadline, I sit to compose your Vyāsa-pūjā homage. Just a minute! My back is giving me so much trouble I have to lay down on the floor, legs up against the wall to realign my spine. The chiropractor recommended it. Perhaps the extra blood flowing from my feet will oxygenate my brain and give me fresh inspiration. In this position I think, “What should I write to Śrīla Prabhupāda.”
2:45 am: Back to the table and feeling a bit better. I open my computer, and true to form, my early morning headache starts to dawn. How long can I tolerate it before I reach for the medicine chest? Yes, it is a chest, not a box. There are all sorts of pills to treat ailments, like a swollen prostate, high blood pressure, vitamin deficiency, nervous disorder, and of course my headaches. In the hopeless battle against age, my newest opponent to serving you, my multicolored medication is a newfound friend.
2:50 am: “Now that is a good theme for an offering”: how Śrīla Prabhupāda, at the age of sixtynine, despite his heart condition, headaches, and fragile health, raced with time to establish his mission. It will probably be more acceptable to the editors than “How the GBC Gave Away Its Authority to ISKCON Gurus,” “Why Vaiṣṇavas Outside ISKCON claim to Be Prabhupāda’s Followers,” or “Parallel Structures Within ISKCON.”
3:00 am: But first I need to take my series of pills and drink a liter of water. With luck I won’t catch a cold from drinking unheated water. The last cold took two months to get over. What a state! Here I am moaning and groaning, and still a generation younger than you were when you stepped aboard the Jaladūta. While I cringe at the thought of a two-hour flight in an economy seat, you braved a steamer cabin for one month. The effects of age have widened my perspective on your achievements.
3:12 am: Some years back (I can’t remember just how long ago- my memory is not so good any more), our Queens Counsel (QC) lavished unending praise upon you. To better represent us in the public inquiry on the Manor, he had speed-read through all our books. The one he liked best was Prabhupāda Līlāmṛta. What touched him most was that you ventured out from India at the late age of sixty-nine and began your twelve-year yajña of traveling the world to establish Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
3:15 am: I can see QC’s stocky bowed form, is white hair and age-lined face. While speaking in the best Queen’s English to a group of devotees, he leaned forward and said, “Do you know what a marvelous thing your leader did?”
I nodded. Of course we did.
“No you don’t!” he answered his own question.
I blinked. What did the QC mean that we did not understand the marvel of your achievements?
“I am not just speaking about how he started the movement, established temples, and wrote books. That was undoubtedly a miracle. But…” he raised his hand for emphasis, “to do all that at his age. To begin at seventy! That was the miracle.”
The QC looked at each one of us and shook his head. “You can’t know what that was like. To set out on such a mission at seventy.”
“Just a minute here!” I was just about to protest, explaining how we, as disciples, certainly understood our spiritual master. But he saw it coming and in his best courtroom manner added, “And do you know why you can’t know?”
And, out of courtesy we said nothing.
“Because you do not know what it is to be old.”
That was a bit of a bombshell. After all, I had read the Gīta and Bhāgavatam and certainly understood about inevitable old age. Perhaps the QC needed a few lessons in philosophy. Didn’t he know that realization through hearing was, for the wise, far superior to experience?
He repeated, “You don’t know what it is like to be old. But I do. And because I do, although I am not his follower, I recognize that what he did was a miracle. Therefore he was not an ordinary man.”
3:25 am: Since that conversation, many years, many groans, many pills, and a few nature cures have passed. Now I am faced with the most humiliating and burdensome challenge to my service – the inevitable results of age. I don’t yet understand what it is like to be seventy, but I know what it is like to be fifty-four. If I project my pains and aches forward fifteen years… well I prefer not to think about it.
3:27 am: A blazing fire is more beautiful at night than in the day. Similarly, the miracle of your achievements has been made all the more wonderful by having taken place in the last years of your life instead of, say, in your youth.
I now say that from experience.
I am getting to know it means to grow old. I don’t like the experience, the suffering. But with every passing day that experience focuses my attention on how wonderful, how empowered you were – how empowered you are.
3:28 am: Śrīla Prabhupāda, please give me a little of that empowerment, which enables old men to outpace youths, which gives them unlimited energy to travel the world, which makes them sleep less instead of more. Please give me a little of that empowerment, which makes the old wise, which make them remember what they learned instead of forgetting it. Above all, give me a little of your mercy, which, in the twilight of their years, makes foolish disciples into pure devotees.
3:29 am: With that prayer, my offering is finished. I rise to close the door. A newly discovered phenomenon – the draft – threatens me with a chill.
My obeisances at your lotus feet.