Chapters 6 & 8, He Loved and Served
By Nathan Rutstein, scanned and proofed, 2007 June 30
Meticulous about his work, Curtis didn't want to do anything that would flaw the lighting project in any way. Even aesthetic matters concerned him. The thought of having to lay the thick black wire, that
'Abdu'l-Baha gave Curtis $600 and asked that he take Fujita along because 'he would enjoy
Fujita, who came from a prominent Japanese family, heard of the Faith in
In 1912 Fujita met the Master, who urged him to complete his schooling. Upon graduation, 'Abdu'l-Baha promised, He would have him come to the
'You told me to study certain things, and I'm not doing them here.'
'Fujita,' the Master said, 'if I wanted a mechanic or engineer I could have gotten one easily. The work you are doing for me is what 'Abdu'l-Baha wishes you to do.'
The Master's love dispelled every trace of self-pity and Fujita replied, 'If I must shine the Master's shoes that would be fine for me.' Fujita had gained understanding: he was a servant of the Servant of Glory. What greater honor could there be? For there was no greater station in this life than servitude.
Curtis and Fujita together must have generated stares from passers-by. Fujita in his shoes was less than five foot tall, possessing what Curtis called a 'wispy, moth-eaten beard.' Curtis on the other hand was about six foot, rangy, and took long strides when he walked. Half the time Fujita had to trot to keep up with Curtis. Though superficially different, they grew to like each other, often swimming together in the sea on hot days and sharing some of their deepest thoughts and feelings.
Excited that he was going to
It was dark when they arrived in
When they explained, she insisted that they stay where she was staying - the Continental Hotel, one of the most expensive hotels in northern
As they stepped into the lobby, they were dazzled by the elegance of the place. Every person seemed so self-assured, so important. And because Curtis and Fujita were there, the hotel-workers assumed that they were people of high social rank. The bell-hop who escorted them to their room treated them with deference. But that illusion was soon shattered when they reached the room. When the bell-hop opened the door, both Curtis and Fujita gaped at the opulence before them. What a contrast to their room in
For a few minutes both men acted as if they had been dispatched to some dream world, because they had difficulty believing that their new surroundings were real. They had just come from a place where the mattresses were only three-quarters of an inch thick, and you shook out your shoes before putting them on lest your toes be greeted by a scorpion.
The beds were so soft, so appealing that the first thing they decided to do was sleep and sleep for as long as they wanted. But that plan was quickly altered, because soon after making their decision, they heard someone knocking on the door. It was a bell-hop, dressed in a colorful uniform, with a message from the lady who had invited them to stay at the Continental Hotel. 'Would you please join me for dinner?' she asked. Fujita wasn't yawning anymore; the message had infused new energy into him. Curtis watched what he thought would never materialize actually happen. Fujita tore into his suitcase, pulled out his tuxedo and put it on. Somehow, Curtis felt, 'Abdu'l-Baha had made it possible for Fujjta to carry out his wish.
When they reached the lobby, Fujita seemed to take charge, walking ahead of Curtis and the lady who had invited them to dinner, his tuxedo tails almost touching the rich oriental rugs. As he approached the dining room, one of the hotel's elegantly dressed butlers, standing erect, opened the thick oak doors. It was a majestic entry. The only thing missing was a series of trumpet fanfares and the roll of the drum. Terribly self-conscious, Curtis walked down the aisle after Fujita, who was bowing to the left and then to the right. The men on both sides stood and bowed back, sensing that Fujita was some sort of royal figure from the orient.
No sooner had they been seated, than a butler approached Fujita and whispered something in his ear. Fujita arose and proceeded to the door, again bowing to the left and then the right, the gentlemen on both sides responding in kind.
As Fujita entered the lobby, he was greeted by a large Persian who swept him into his arms and kissed his beard. The Persian had heard from pilgrims that the Master enjoyed stroking Fujita's beard.
The trip to
The Master must have known that Curtis' intentions were pure and that he was gaining something by attending the meetings. One evening, about midway through His talk, 'Abdu'l-Baha looked over at Curtis and asked in English, 'Do you understand what is being said here?'
'No, Master,' Curtis responded. 'I do not speak the languages. '
'Well, your heart understands, and the language of the heart is much stronger than the language of words.'
After that experience, Curtis began to understand that words weren't required to reach true communication with someone. As his understanding of that experience grew, he was able to be with someone and feel comfortable without uttering a word. He also learned from 'Abdu'l-Baha that a pure expression of love can settle a troubled heart, even answer questions that one is afraid to ask openly. Curtis experienced this one Sunday while in the Shrine of the Bab, attending a talk by the Master. He found his mind drifting and questioning various aspects of the Teachings, which he didn't understand. It was troubling him. While his eyes were focused on the floor, Curtis felt a strong impulse to look up. When he did, he noticed the Master in the far comer looking at him and smiling ... Though nothing was said, all of Curtis' questions and doubts vanished.
In a way Curtis' experience in the
Elderly Abu'l-Hasan, who belonged to the family of the Bab, committed suicide at dawn one day. He didn't take his life because he felt he was a drain on his family and 'Abdu'l-Baha: he was an able workman at the
Curtis learned from 'Abdu'l-Baha that there was no valid reason for committing suicide. That point was made in addressing the friends in His nightly talk at His home, the day after Abu'l-Hasan's funeral.
“No one should injure himself on purpose or take his own life,” He said; “God never places a burden on us greater than we can carry. Each burden we endure is for our own good and development. Should anyone at any time encounter hard and perplexing times, he must say to himself, `This too will pass;’ then he will grow calm.”
“When experiencing difficulties,” He added, “I would say to myself `this too will pass away,’ and I would become calm again.”
“Now if someone cannot be patient and endure then it is better for him to arise in the service of the Cause of God. It would be better for him to pursue the path of martyrdom than to commit suicide.”
A few days after making those statements, 'Abdu'l-Baha passed away, ending a lifetime of martyrdom. The friends then realized that Mirza Abu'l-Hasan had sensed that the One he loved more than anyone else would soon be gone and that he couldn't bear to live without Him.
He Loved and Served, The Story of Curtis Kelsey, by Nathan Rutstein, George Ronald,
'Get up! Get up! The Master! The Master!' someone cried, while pounding on the door of Curtis' room. Alarmed, the three young men inside awoke, jumped out of bed and groped in the dark for their clothes. It was about , November 28, and cool. But the weather didn't bother them, as they dashed to 'Abdu'l-Baha's house, Curtis still tucking his shirt into his trousers.
As Curtis entered the house, people were weeping, some hysterically. He had to practically push his way through the crowd of people, mostly Persians, groaning and moaning, some wailing uncontrollably. When he reached the Master's room, Dr Florian Krug was standing beside the bed where 'Abdu’l-Baha lay. The physician, who had arrived in
Dr Krug, a prominent
Curtis had never witnessed such deeply felt despair. For some reason, he couldn't show any emotion. That wasn't like him for he wasn't hard-hearted. Perhaps he wasn't faithful, he thought, and forced himself to cry; but he stopped when an inner voice commanded, 'No, not that; now is the time to observe.’
Curtis stood silently for a few moments, gazing at that mighty figure, on the bed, that had cast light into his life and helped him to understand and experience joy. It always felt good to be with Him, so good. He would have done anything for 'Abdu'l-Baha. Curtis was too close to his
There was pandemonium in the main central room. Ruhi Afnan, the Master's grandson, was sobbing, beating his head with his fists, and blaming the death of the Master on the American believers' disobedience. Of course, Curtis knew that wasn't true. Some people were crying out, as if asking God, 'Why does this have to happen? What will become of the Cause now that the Master is gone?'
The one who could answer those questions was across the room. The Greatest Holy Leaf calmly went about comforting the grief-stricken, absorbing their pain. As Curtis watched her move from person to person, stroking a shoulder, clasping a stretched-out hand, he noticed that she exhibited the kind of strength that 'Abdu'l-Baha radiated. Some sensed that and clung to her. Her control, her poise, her unrestrained flow of compassion assured him that the Faith would not falter. She was, at that moment, the head of the Faith that her dear brother had led so successfully for twenty-nine years, giving His all. She was a tower of strength that all would rally around for support.
As he watched the Greatest Holy Leaf, her eyes caught his and she walked over to him. Since he was not crying, he wondered why she was coming toward him.
'Kelsey,' she said, 'will you take Fujita and Khusraw to 'Akka to tell the friends there of the Master's passing and then come right back?'
It was about two-thirty in the morning when they piled into the Master's Ford, with Curtis in the driver's seat, Fujita beside him and Khusraw in the back. There was no longer any chill in the air; in fact it was a balmy night; the same kind of night as when Curtis walked with the Master to Bahji. The only sounds were the rhythmic beat of the surf washing over the beach and pulling back to the sea - and the near quiet crying of Fujita and Khusraw. Tears welled up in Curtis' eyes as he thought of 'Abdu'l-Baha, and his experiences with Him during the past two months and he began to cry openly when he thought of what a shock the Master's passing would be to the friends across the world. It was more than losing a close friend, or a member of your family. So many would feel that their link with God had been severed.
Though Curtis was weeping, he kept driving. He couldn't stop, for the Greatest Holy Leaf wanted the believers in 'Akka to know about the passing of the Master. Curtis began to pray for strength.
Soon all three stopped crying, because they were approaching a stream that they had to cross in order to reach their destination. The car stopped, and Khusraw waded into t he water, searching for a sand bar. Without one it would be impossible to drive across the stream, which fed into the
Sharing the sad news with the friends, especially after waking them, was difficult. All of them expressed disbelief; some stared at the three young men as if what they had heard was part of a dream. Curtis' immediate instinct was to stay with the friends, to try to comfort them, but they had to be back as soon as possible. After urging the 'Akka friends to come to Haifa to attend the funeral, Curtis, Fujita and Khusraw rushed back to Haifa to see what they could do next for the Greatest Holy Leaf.
They were cruising at about thirty miles per hour. At that pace they would be back in plenty of time to help with early morning chores at 'Abdu'l-Baha's house. Getting over the first stream proved no problem, because they followed the tracks they had made going to 'Akka. Negotiating the second one appeared as easy - the tracks were still visible. But the sand bar wasn't where it was before; it had shifted and the car began to sink. All three scrambled out of the Ford, with Curtis yelling, 'Do what I do!'
Curtis, with water up to his hips, was lifting one of the front wheels, trying to keep it from touching the mucky stream floor. Fujita and Khusraw were beside him, having difficulty with their footing. The water was up to Fujita's neck and Khusraw's shoulders; and when they tried to lift the wheel, their legs gave way and they ended up floating and clinging to the running board. That wasn't going to be much help, Curtis thought. He couldn't allow the car to settle into the mud, yet he couldn't continue to bear most of the weight of the vehicle.
Remembering that before approaching the stream, about two miles away, he had noticed several husky Arab fishermen casting nets into the sea, Curtis asked Khusraw to fetch them. While Khusraw was gone, Curtis and Fujita moved from wheel to wheel ... trying to keep them from becoming captives of the mud. But keeping the car afloat wasn't their only worry. They felt they were needed back in
In about thirty minutes Curtis noticed the fishermen coming, with Khusraw leading the way; all of them talking loudly in Arabic and gesturing freely. They ran into the water, joining the weary Curtis and Fujita. With great ease, they lifted the car from the water-and onto the shore pointing toward
Even in death the Master was the cause of unity, advancing the principle of the oneness of humankind. People from all quarters of
Everyone knew that 'Abdu'l-Baha had helped to keep the people of
The people marched slowly up
For Curtis it was a time to observe, as that inner voice had commanded the night the Master passed away. And he was recording the historic event with the camera his mother had given him the day he left home for
When the procession finally reached the garden at the Shrine of the Bab, the casket, draped with a simple paisley shawl, was tenderly placed upon a plain table covered with a white linen cloth.
People pressed closer to the coffin, in a last expression of love for their dear, departed friend. There were nine speakers, leaders of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. So glowing were their eulogies that there was no need for a Baha'i speaker. With fervor and passion, they hailed Him as the true friend of the poor and downtrodden, praised Him for His work in developing understanding between different religions and different races and called Him the leader of mankind. The crowd heard a saint being described and they knew it was an accurate description, for many had been the recipients of His love and care.
Curtis heard the speeches in Arabic and French, and though he couldn't understand what was being said, he could feel the love and reverence in the voices of the orators, and the grief and sense of loss in the crowd. But despite all of the acclaim showered on the Master, Curtis knew that few people on that sunny day on
The casket was lifted carefully from the table and placed on the broad shoulders of the Shrine's caretaker, who stepped slowly into the vault in the room next to the one sheltering the remains of the Bab. Only one man could take the casket down, for there was no room for anyone else. After the funeral, this same caretaker, a powerful man, realized why the Master had asked him a puzzling question the day before He passed away: 'You are a strong man. Could you not carry me away to a place where I could rest? I'm tired of this world. '
He Loved and Served, The Story of Curtis Kelsey, by Nathan Rutstein, George Ronald,