My parents owned a farm in a little valley about 30 miles inland from the Monterey Peninsula. The area is called Cachagua. We were told it means “hidden water”, breaking down into cache and agua. It makes sense because the main (Carmel) river doesn’t flow through Cachagua, its source is in the eastern side of the Pacific Coast Range and it skirts along the edge of the mountains, through Carmel Valley and meets the Pacific Ocean in Carmel-by-the-Sea. A little creek, called the Cachagua Creek, streaks through Cachagua…sometimes you see it, and sometimes you don’t……and joins the larger Carmel River at an ancient Indian settlement now known as Prince’s Camp.
I was born in Carmel, California during WWII. Before my father passed away when I was 14, he secured me a scholarship at a Catholic boarding girl’s school, called Santa Catalina in Monterey. I was very attracted to the Catholic teachings and, much to my mother’s grief, I decided to convert to Catholicism. My mother practically disowned me.
I married very young and five children later, my relationship with my husband and my adopted faith had reached a deep crisis. Finishing a final chapter of my education and facing the fact that my marriage could not be saved, I decided to leave the USA with my young children and travel across the sea to work in Micronesia.
I was disillusioned by the American way of life: the method of education, the health system, the government’s involvement in a war in Vietnam, the prejudice against anyone who was not white Protestant male.
We went home to Cachagua to visit my parents before our departure. One of the highlights of our time with my mother and stepfather was my third son’s birthday. My mother gave Christopher a multi-functional wristwatch. He was only seven years old but had been reading and writing for a few years. He could tell the time and was delighted to have such a unique gift from his grandmother.
Just before we departed, we went down to the river for one last picnic and swim. It wasn’t until we were packing and loading the car that Chris realized he had left his watch on the rocks by the river. My mother told him not to worry; she would go and find it and post it to us later.
We arrived on Guam on 3 August, 1969. Guam is a territory belonging to the United States. At the time we lived there, the rest of Micronesia (which then included the other islands in the Marianna chain, the Marshalls, Palau, and the Caroline Islands) was under the auspices of the United Nations, administered through the US. The political scene has shifted several times since then.
We were warmly greeted by the hospital staff and many expatriates living in the same community where we were given housing. Catholic nuns ran the hospital at that time; they also had a nursery connected to the hospital for the infants and preschool children whose parents were employed at the hospital.
Cultural and climatic changes were paralyzing in many ways. There was a mixture of languages everywhere. Most of the doctors were from the Philippines and they spoke Tagalog and the workers were Guamanian who spoke Chamorro. There were geckos running across our ceilings, chasing flies and insects of many different types. Cockroaches crunched under our feet, some of them big enough to be a meal if we ever considered eating them as some villagers did. Outside it was hot and humid and inside the air conditioners hummed in an unhealthy melody. Anything made of leather quickly turned a slimy green, reminding us that bacteria and parasites were abundantly flourishing all around us.
On the ninth day of our stay, my three sons, Bud, John and Chris were invited to the beach by a neighbour who was also taking his son, about the same age as mine. They left for the seaside which was fairly near to our residence and I prepared to take my two daughters (Marie and Lisa), one almost six and one still a toddler, to join them. As we were leaving, a storm hit the area. Some men came running to meet me telling me Chris had been pulled out into the water and a fisherman had caught him at the reef; they were carrying him to shore and someone had gone for a truck to transport him to the hospital situated on the cliff less than a mile away. When we reached the hospital, the electricity was down. Rushing into emergency, with Chris on the examining table, one of the surgeons asked me if he should open my son’s cardiac cavity to massage his heart. It was estimated that at least twenty minutes had elapsed since my son had been pulled into the water. The expression on his face told me he was no longer there. “No”, I said quietly, “he’s gone, let’s leave him in peace.”
Another man had also drowned in this storm and members of his family and other native Chamorros came to us immediately. They assisted us with the funeral arrangements and the processing of all the legal documents. Someone stayed with us for about three weeks until we were through most of the initial shock.
My two older sons, Bud and John, had been very active as altar boys in the Catholic Church and continued to participate after I had stopped going to mass. John was always asking religious questions and I think the priest in the States was relieved when his inquisitive altar boy announced he was moving to Guam with his family.
John who was about two years older than Chris was asked if he would like to go to the Memorial service for the other man. He was accompanied with boys his age who were the grandsons of the deceased man. When he came home from the service, he stood in the middle of the room and stated, “Mom, Christ has returned and His name is Baha’u’llah”. He had learned during the prayers that he was at a Baha’i funeral and all the people around him were Baha’is. He had asked some questions and after a short discussion had declared to the family that he believed what he had heard was the truth and they accepted him as well. From that day on, my son John, was a Baha’i.
It was obvious that John’s association with his new friends gave him great comfort; soon Bud and my older daughter, Marie, were also absorbed into the youth activities within the Baha’i community. For me, my days were one endless stream of sleeplessness and when I finally fell into slumber, I would find myself dreaming of how I could change the events that led to Chris’s death. I would try one way and then another and sometimes, I would see him very much alive and think that I’d found the solution, only to be startled into being awakened and jerked into facing the reality that nothing had changed.
Many times I would catch myself at the door, calling for the children to come in, calling Chris’s name before I could stop myself. One of the worst occurrences was when our personal effects arrived by ship. Unpacking his toys, his bicycle, and his train set, I sat there sobbing my eyes out. What to do with his things?
My mother flew to us. It was her first flight and her first time out of the United States. She had brought many articles for the children. One large suitcase was full of home grown food. At the airport on Guam, she told the customs people, “I’m come to be with my daughter because one of my grandsons died and I have packed that bag full of food from my farm to make my daughter and her family feel better. You can take it away from me, if you want, but I just want you to know why I’ve brought it.” The custom’s officer waved her through without opening anything and for over a week we consumed delicious fruits and vegetables that tasted of home.
She also brought Chris’s birthday watch which she had searched for and found on the river bank. My mother had a very strong electrical charge and had never been able to wear a watch for more than a few days before it would break down and not run for her again. The birthday watch was a fancy new non-wind watch and she told me she was surprised to find it hadn’t failed to keep time over the week she had been wearing it. We decided it should stay with her and she kept it until she left this earthly plain.
Christopher was one of the first babies delivered at the new Monterey Peninsula Community Hospital. He was three weeks overdue and I was exhausted waiting for him. It was a particularly hot summer and I felt like a water balloon about to burst. We visited Irene Pazzonni, an elderly Indian lady, and she fed me some rhubarb concoction meant to get the baby pushing. Within an hour, we were on our way to the hospital where my doctor examined me and said there was plenty of time for him to pop home for dinner before delivery. A new system was being implemented in the labor rooms so that the beds could be rolled into the delivery room without the use of a gurney. I was the first patient to try out this new arrangement. Before the doctor had even left the parking lot, the nurses had called him to inform him that my baby was already crowning and the bed was being rolled to the door way on its way to a sterile room. The bed was too wide to fit through the door frame, no gurney could be located, and my doctor dashed into the hall way just in time to catch one very large immerging infant. He weighed 9 pounds 12 ounces and was almost 25 inches long. We named him Lee Stuart after his two great grandfathers who were still alive at that time. It wasn’t until we were baptizing him a few weeks later that the priest told us, we needed to give him a saint’s name and neither Lee nor Stuart ever achieved sainthood, so his grandfather suggested Christopher and we proceeded with the holy water being poured over a little Christopher Robin.
He came with lots of dark black hair and deep blue eyes that almost appeared black as well. His complexion appeared tanned, the nurses told us it was due to being three weeks late, but he maintained his bronze coloring all his life. My first son was born bald and was fair, and my second son arrived with lots of curly black hair and piercing clear blue eyes and was also fair. Chris looked unique and had a completely different temperament than his older brothers. He slept through the night immediately after birth; he was never demanding, only needed to be fed, changed and settled somewhere so he could sleep. Bud and John were always in a race to learn how to walk, to talk, to run; Chris was never in a hurry. He would stay right where I put him down and never taxed my patience. He was only five months old when I became pregnant with his sister and he seemed to sense I didn’t have the energy to cater to him.
He wasn’t much of a chatterbox but learned to read very early. He loved books and would read aloud to his little sister whilst his older brothers rushed outside to play. Winnie the Pooh was one of his favorite characters and he was soon nicknamed Christopher Robin. Very few people ever called him Lee Stuart; as the years went by, few people knew he had a different name on his birth certificate. He also liked the story of the gingerbread man and would often mimic the lines.
Marie adored her older brother and they were inseparable. Chris never complained as he complied with his sister’s every whim. She was often frustrated because her two older brothers never wanted to include her in ‘boys’ play. She refused to wear frilly pink dresses or ribbons in her hair and insisted on being dressed in whatever Chris had out grown.
Chris was athletic and could swim very well. John wasn’t allowed in water because he had had several operations on his ears because of a congenital condition. Bud was good in the water but Chris really loved it most of all. He could also run fast if he wanted to. He had long lanky legs and he reminded me of Ethiopians in flight.
On Guam, 11 August, we were all playing by the lagoon, on the beach in the late afternoon. It was finally cool, a lovely sea breeze was refreshing us and my three bare foot boys were playing tag. Chris was laughing and gliding across the sand calling back to his chasing brothers, “run, run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.” So true, little man, we still don’t know who amongst us will be the first to touch you where you have gone.
Some weeks after 12 August, I wrote this poem:
I saw a rose bud bent before
it had a chance to bloom.
I wonder where rose buds go
if they wilt too soon.
White caps never last
They either grow into enormous
swells and waves
or else they simply go away.
I wonder where white caps go
when the sea is calm.
I wonder where my son has gone.
He was so young.
Every day from August 1969 until August 1970 was a personal anniversary in my heart. My most inconspicuous child became the one I saw the most often and the most clearly. When finally a more normal sleep pattern was once more established, I would wake each morning saying to myself, “What was Chris doing this time last year?”
For some reason when I saw new born babies, tears filled my eyes and a lump blocked my throat. My mother’s stay helped distract me and I tried to focus on spending quality time with her and my four beautiful children. We had some good laughs; I remember my mother preparing the children for an outing, putting hats and coats on them in our cool air conditioned house, only to open the front door to be hit by a blast of heat that felt as if a furnace was doing overtime. She got to know some of the Baha’i families and enjoyed going with the children to several activities. When it was time for my mother to return to California, I faced another crisis. For the first time in my life, I could not let go. I hid my deep grief and tried to be brave but in the weeks following her departure, it was only my love and responsibility for my children that kept me from walking into the sea. The sensation of being pulled into the water, being covered and carried away to some form of peace hypnotized me and drew me close to this action; only the calling of “Mama, we love you, Mama what’s for dinner?” held me on land.
For me there was no God. I wanted to believe in something, to have my faith return, but nothing was there. I couldn’t abide in a church, the inside fixtures were without meaning; it had become an empty, hollow place where I only felt sorrow. I accepted all the principles that the Baha’is subscribed to but when I tried to read any of the Writings, I choked on the references to an Almighty.
A couple of years passed and the Baha’i Community was preparing to travel to Japan for a big conference; I had agreed to let them go with the others. They were sailing to Hokkaido, the northern island and it sounded such an exciting journey.
I expressed at one meeting how I longed to join them and my children on this excursion. I knew I had to be a Baha’i to be eligible to register at the Conference.
“So what do I have to do to become a Baha’i?”, I asked one dear friend in their home one evening.
“It is very easy, dear Joy, all you have to do is sign this card.”, he replied, handing me a small index card with a place for a signature.
“Oh, yes, that is easy”, I mumbled, as I quickly signed it, without reading the contents.
As I handed the card to my host, he raised it up in the air like a trophy and exclaimed, “Welcome to the family of Baha!”, hugging me with his other arm. In less than seconds, I was surrounded by all the others present, hugging me and wishing me all the best, better than a birthday celebration.
And so I sailed with my new family to Japan.
Directly after we settled in the hostel, several of us decided to take the ski lift to the top of the mountain. Once on the peak, one of the friends stated that it had just turned noon and it was a perfect place to recite the Noon Day Obligatory prayer. How was I to explain to this kind person that I didn’t believe in God and wasn’t aware that we had to pray every day? Finally, I spurted out, “Sorry, I don’t know that prayer.”
“It is very simple,” he reaffirmed me; “I’ll say a line and you repeat it after me.”
“I bear witness”, he started…..
I thought, I can say that, “I bear witness”…..
His next line caught me in the throat, “Oh my God,”
But as I somehow expressed those three short words, overlooking the world on top of that Japanese mountain, something quickened in me.
I inhaled and as I exhaled the words, “Oh my God!”, I felt an energy, a power charge through me and set me on fire.
The rest of the prayer, “that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.”, was like a confirmation that I had a purpose and that my search had brought me to a path leading to a new life. A nd then it was as if the dam had burst and the force of the water was shooting me into the world in many directions.
Returning to the islands, I was offered a special International course at the University of Chicago. My main reason for accepting the invitation was my desire to visit the Mother Temple for North America on Lake Michigan near Chicago.
I had hardly arrived home and I was asked to travel to Vienna, Austria in three months time to finish the course and take my International exams in Cytology and Histology.
When I discussed this offer with the Baha’is, they insisted that I apply for a nine day pilgrimage and also include India and Iran on my itinerary. One family had recently visited Iran and they contacted the friends there and I was formally invited to stay with them. My children were lovingly cared for by a family with a newly declared Baha’i who was one of my students. She had accompanied me on the trip to Chicago and had become a Baha’i just before we went.
In India, at the Baha’i Centre at 6 Canning Road, I met Shabahram Mobedzadeh. He had served as an Auxiliary Board Member for forty years and continued to travel across India in the years I knew him. He treated me as a long lost granddaughter. He said, “Joy, you have three very important things in your life: your children, your profession and your new Faith. One of them has to go!”
I was shocked as he went on to give me his proposal. He asked me to consider bringing my children to India and teaching in New Era High School in Panchgani; the school is under the direction of the NSA of India.
After travelling around the world with significant stops as a pilgrim in Iran, Israel and then in London, I consulted with my children and we packed up our belongings and took a ship to Malaysia and then another one to India.
Oh India! How to capture India! Someday I need to write a book about my experiences there.
Deep spiritual consolidation was the main course on our menu as a family. It was incredible to be taken into the Behi household and then to marry Ruhi and become a member of this illustrious family.
We were invited to pioneer to the United Kingdom by Mary Kouchezdeh where we stayed when we arrived in England in deep December, 1973. The Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the UK at that time, Charles Macdonald, consulted with us about where we should pioneer. He showed us a map with nine stars marking those communities still to win the goal of a Local Spiritual Assembly by the following Ridvan. We took down the names, said a lot of prayers and shared the list with our host. Mary’s brother was visiting from Chester and he told us if we wanted to go to Bangor, N. Wales, he could transport us most of the way in his van. He planned to return home the following day. And so Bangor it was! Dear Mary penned a letter of introduction to the friends in Bangor, asking them to assist us and we were off.
North Wales was to be my home for almost twenty years. Teaching projects in Bangor brought new believers and we were able to elect our Local Assembly and fill the goal. Our family also grew, little Krista Behi joined us in March, 1974 and we made plans to pioneer across the bridge to Anglesey (Ynys Mon), the new goal of the new plan. By the time our son, Habib Behi, arrived in September, 1975, we had a flourishing community on Anglesey.
Again, our many adventures in Wales would fill another book.
From Llanddona we moved to Penmaenmawr and filled a new goal to keep the Assembly in Aberconway in 1982. Then my mother came to live with us in her last years; she is buried in Rhos-on-Sea next to John Turner Jr. It brings up so many memories. One story I must share….. it was obvious my mother needed me to be with her as she was uncertain of her new environment and got lost if she wandered outside, forgot to turn off things like the gas, etcetera. So I stopped my research work and my mother and I started a business together baking healthy cakes, cakes made from fruits and vegetables, gluten free sweets and many similar treats, such as banana bread. We had a large Aga in our amazing home in Penmaenmawr and our large kitchen was the central gathering point for all. It was a great business and financially we flourished.
In 1986 it was possible to travel to New Delhi and participate in the opening of the Lotus Temple. A dear friend from the Liverpool area stayed with my mother; it was an incredible occasion. The House of Worship had been completed only days before and the friends in India were wondering how the marble petals could be washed clean for the thousands of visitors. And it rained which never happens in December in Delhi.
As we were approaching the site of the temple in a coach that carried the friends from the UK , we were speaking about who would attend. We had heard that members of the Universal House of Justice couldn’t be there because of some political problems between Israel and India, I think, but we also knew that Hand of the Cause Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum was representing the Universal House of Justice and we speculated that the beloved Guardian would be watching from on high. How extraordinary that as we approached the site, we all spotted an eagle circling the dome in the glistening early morning sun.
I had visited India previously to introduce my two youngest children to their grandparents and aunts and uncles and the journey to New Delhi also included a trip to Panchgani where we feasted on the love of all the family and friends there.
Returning to Wales, we continued with teaching and consolidation and serving on Local Spiritual Assembles, the Welsh Teaching Committee, Children’s Class Committee. Looking through the retrospectroscope, it is easy to discern two areas that needed development: we didn’t have consistent, sustainable tools for consolidation and growth and we struggled every year to get children classes on the national agenda. Locally, parents met and organized classes for children which often did not follow any set pattern. We had so many children coming and going and finally our children got fed up with learning about progressive revelation. When we consulted with them, they told us they wanted to hold their own weekend schools and also develop some music and dance projects. I must say, their weekend schools were terrific and my younger children seemed to thrive in their participation with Dance Workshops. We really needed the Institute Process. Thank God we have it now!!
In 1990, I was invited to assist with a teaching project in Warsaw by Shirin Fozdar and Susie Howard. My first two weeks teaching English and being a part of a new plan in Central Europe changed my direction of life again.
Poland became my point of focus and after many short and longer visits from 1991 until 1994, I pioneered there. My first few months were spent in Warsaw where I taught English to upper management clients at Kraft-Suchard-Jacob. Kraft had purchased a famous Polish chocolate company (Olza, Prince Polo) and in 1995 I was asked to move to Cieszyn in the south of Poland and assist teaching English at the main chocolate factory. The top staff needed to use English in their meetings with the controlling management from abroad.
Twelve years in Cieszyn can fill another book. Cieszyn lies in two countries, Poland and the Czech Republic. I eventually worked more in the Czech Republic than in Poland. From Cieszyn, I served on the National Spiritual Assembly of Poland for nine years. Ostrava in the Czech Republic was my closest Local Spiritual Assembly and in Poland, Krakow had a thriving community. Krakow holds the honour of having formed the first Local Spiritual Assembly in Poland, twenty years ago.
The first National Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1992, graced by the presence of Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum and Violette Nakhjavani and many other visitors from abroad. Dear Ola Pawlowska had returned to live in the Warsaw Old Town after spending most of her life outside her beloved homeland. She became a Knight of Baha’u’llah by pioneering to the Island of St. Pierre, Canada and then moved to Zaire where she served the Faith for over thirty years. When Ruhiyyih Khanum was asked by the Universal House of Justice to represent them at newly formed National Assemblies (there were many formed in 1992), she chose Poland because of her close friend, Ola Pawlowska. Violette shared stories of adventures of the three ladies when they were on safari in Africa… travelling in Ola’s famous jeep.
What a privilege to be witness to so many developments in the outstretching plans of God here in wonderful Poland!!!
Towards the end of 2006, I was appointed an Auxiliary Board member and asked to move to Warsaw. Although it was a traumatic time for me to leave my way of living in dear Cieszyn, now, again using the retrospectroscope I can see how fortuitous it was to take up residence in our capital city.
Four years ago in August, 2007, I faced new challenges in Warsaw at the same time my daughter, Lisa, and her husband and my two grandchildren bought their home in Krakow. Again, who would have known how important it was to have close family only three hours from me when it all came together?
Working with cluster circles of growth and the Institute Process, we are striving to learn how ‘the betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, commendable and seemly conduct.’ (Baha’u’llah, cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp.24-25.)