Stories about 'Abdu'l-Bahá

Without an Interpreter

Portals to Freedom
April 13, 1912
Hotel Ansonia
2109 Broadway
New York, NY

One day I was walking with Mountfort near his home on West End Ave. It was in February and the winter winds were chill. We walked briskly talking of the ever enthralling subject, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s approaching visit; what He looked like; what effect His meeting had on souls; stories of contacts with Him in ‘Akka and Paris. Impulsively I said:

When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrives I would like very much to have a talk with Him alone, without even an interpreter.”

He smiled sympathetically but remarked:

I fear you couldn’t get very far without an interpreter, for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaks little English and you, I imagine, less Persian.”

I would not be dissuaded. “If He at all approaches in spiritual discernment what I hear and read of Him,” I said, “we would get closer together, and I might have a better chance of understanding, even if no words were spoken. I am very tired of words,” I concluded rather lamely.

This was about six weeks before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came, two months perhaps. We never referred to the subject again nor did Mountfort speak of my wish to anyone, as he afterwards assured me.

He beckoned me. Startled gives no hint of my sensations. Something incredible had happened. Why to me, a stranger unknown, unheard of, should He raise that friendly hand?

Finally the day arrived. I did not go to the steamship wharf to meet Him but I did make an effort to get at least a glimpse of Him at a gathering specially arranged for Him at the home of Bahá’í friends … within my soul was an urge, a longing, that would not be stilled nor thwarted. What was it that these people around me had which gave to their eyes such illumination, to their hearts such gladness? What connotation did the word “wonderful” have to them that so often it was upon their lips? I did not know, but I wanted to know as I think I had never known the want of anything before.

The measure of that desire and the determination to discover may be indicated in that the very next morning, early, I was at the Hotel Ansonia where the friends had reserved rooms for Him—a beautiful suite which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá used only a few days, removing to a simple apartment, and refusing with kindly dignity the urgent offer of the friends to meet any expense. He said that it was not the part of wisdom.

So before nine o’clock in the morning I was there, which meant, since I lived some distance from New York, an early start indeed. Already the large reception room was well filled. Evidently others also were conscious of a similar urge. I wondered if they too felt, as I, a burning in the breast.

I remember as if it were yesterday the scene and my impressions. I did not want to talk to anyone. In fact I would not. I withdrew to the window overlooking Broadway and turned my back upon them all. Below me stretched the great city but I saw it not. What was it all about? Why was I here? What did I expect from the coming interview: indeed how did I know there was to be any interview at all? I had no appointment. Plainly all these other folk had come expecting to see and talk with Him. Why should I expect any attention from such an evident personage?

He took me under the elbows and lifted me to my feet and swept me into his arms. Such a hug! No mere embrace! My very ribs cracked.

So I was somewhat withdrawn from the others when my attention was attracted by a rustling throughout the room. A door was opening far across from me and a group was emerging and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá appeared saying farewell. None had any eyes save for Him. Again I had the impression of a unique dignity and courtesy and love. The morning sunlight flooded the room to center on His robe. His fez was slightly tilted and as I gazed. His hand, with a gesture evidently characteristic, raised and, touching, restored it to its proper place. His eyes met mine as my fascinated glance was on Him. He smiled and, with a gesture which no word but “lordly” can describe. He beckoned me. Startled gives no hint of my sensations. Something incredible had happened. Why to me, a stranger unknown, unheard of, should He raise that friendly hand? I glanced around. Surely it was to someone else that gesture was addressed, those eyes were smiling! But there was no one near and again I looked and again He beckoned and such understanding love enveloped me that even at that distance and with a heart still cold a thrill ran through me as if a breeze from a divine morning had touched my brow!

Slowly I obeyed that imperative command and, as I approached the door where still He stood, He motioned others away and stretched His hand to me as if He had always known me. And, as our right hands met, with His left He indicated that all should leave the room, and He drew me in and closed the door. I remember how surprised the interpreter looked when he too was included in this general dismissal. But I had little thought then for anything but this incredible happening. I was absolutely alone with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The halting desire expressed weeks ago was fulfilled the very moment that our eyes first met.

Still holding my hand ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked across the room towards where, in the window, two chairs were waiting. Even then the majesty of His tread impressed me and I felt like a child led by His father, a more than earthly father, to a comforting conference. His hand still held mine and frequently His grasp tightened and held more closely. And then, for the first time. He spoke, and in my own tongue: Softly came the assurance that I was His very dear son.

What there was in these simple words that carried such conviction to my heart I cannot say. Or was it the tone of voice and the atmosphere pervading the room, filled with spiritual vibrations beyond anything I had ever known, that melted my heart almost to tears? I only know that a sense of verity invaded me. Here at last was my Father. What earthly paternal relationship could equal this? A new and exquisite emotion all but mastered me. My throat swelled. My eyes filled. I could not have spoken had life depended on a word. I followed those masterly feet like a little child.

Then we sat in the two chairs by the window: knee to knee, eye to eye. At last He looked right into me. It was the first time since our eyes had met with His first beckoning gesture that this had happened. And now nothing intervened between us and He looked at me. He looked at me! It seemed as though never before had anyone really seen me. I felt a sense of gladness that I at last was at home, and that one who knew me utterly, my Father, in truth, was alone with me.

As He looked such play of thought found reflection in His face, that if He had talked an hour not nearly so much could have been said. A little surprise, perhaps, followed swiftly by such sympathy, such understanding, such overwhelming love—it was as if His very being opened to receive me. With that the heart within me melted and the tears flowed. I did not weep, in any ordinary sense. There was no breaking up of feature. It was as if a long-pent stream was at last undammed. Unheeded, as I looked at Him, they flowed.

He put His two thumbs to my eyes while He wiped the tears from my face; admonishing me not to cry, that one must always be happy. And He laughed. Such a ringing, boyish laugh. It was as though He had discovered the most delightful joke imaginable: a divine joke which only He could appreciate.

I could not speak. We both sat perfectly silent for what seemed a long while, and gradually a great peace came to me. Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá placed His hand upon my breast saying that it was the heart that speaks. Again silence: a long, heart-enthralling silence. No word further was spoken, and all the time I was with Him not one single sound came from me. But no word was necessary from me to Him. I knew that, even then, and how I thanked God it was so.

Suddenly He leaped from His chair with another laugh as though consumed with a heavenly joy. Turning, He took me under the elbows and lifted me to my feet and swept me into his arms. Such a hug! No mere embrace! My very ribs cracked. He kissed me on both cheeks, laid His arm across my shoulders and led me to the door.

That is all. But life has never been quite the same since.