Sometime around November 1921 – or it may have been 1922 – and due to post-operation complications, I lay in the Christchurch Hospital, Ipswich, hovering twixt life and death for three days, and having a puzzling experience. I always knew one day that I would find out the meaning and would recognize it when I did. But that’s a story covering the time from when I was eight or nine years old until I reached 32 and the year was 1945….
In early March 1945 when living in Shepherds Bush, London W12, we had a surprise visitor from Ealing W5 – Teddy Hall – brother of my wife Donna, who had been estranged from the family for some years. We were delighted to know that we had a relative living nearby, having left the family home in Norwich in 1934 to settle in London. Teddy insisted I go with him the following Monday to attend a meeting of the International Friendship League in Ealing, assuring me that I would meet some very interesting people and one in particular, Vivian Isenthal, who was a Bahá’í. I went along just to be sociable and had a pleasant evening.
I met Vivian and went to her ‘fireside’ the following Thursday. Sitting quietly in the corner of her garden studio, after admiring the portraits adorning the walls which, incidentally, were of Bahá’ís – Hasan Balyuzi, John Ferraby, Margaret Wellby, etc. (Margaret at that time was joint L.S.A. secretary with Ursula Newman [Samandari]), my eyes centred upon a photograph of a majestic, venerable figure nearby. “Who is that?” I asked, when Vivian approached to welcome me. “Who is that?” Speaking softly, for my ears only, she told me … “That was `Abdu’l-Bahá, Son of Bahá’u’lláh, Messenger for the age in which we are living” – followed by a brief resumé of the history of the Faith, its main principles and its relation to the older Faiths. Although I cannot describe the moment – the impact of a simple new concept that did not fit in with my thought pattern – I did not feel inclined to either reject or challenge it in the political terms I was familiar with (as a Trade Union Branch Secretary). I did not really understand what I had been told but I was sure of one thing – no, I was certain of it – my new-found friend knew what she was talking about and really believed it.
Slowly it dawned on me there was a light in the eye, a radiance of countenance I had not ‘seen before’ – beheld perhaps, but not seen. Later I felt I knew the meaning of the Gospel verse: “Let your light shine before the eyes of men…” And so, a chance meeting with a young lady from a Jewish background, a few words in reply to a question – and life was not to be the same again. Soon the loan of a book, written by Stanwood Cobb Security for a Failing World opened new doors – then the Creative Word Selections from Bahá’í Scriptures …. I could not take my eyes from it once I had started to read for myself – it seemed an entirely new experience, something I had not done before. Soon I was drawing conclusions – mine. The truth was clear – I was 32 years old and was nought but a walking ‘parrot’. All old ideas were nothing but tatty second-hand clothes handed on by other pegs. By June of 1945 I felt moved to write a letter of ‘declaration’ to the London Spiritual Assembly, then at No.1 Victoria Street.
I recall about that time I was one of four members of the Bakers’ Union to be invited to attend a Selection Committee for the post of Organiser of the London District. In reply to the first question: “Why do you want this job?”… I thought for a moment, a brief one, and heard myself saying “I will not waste your time gentlemen, I do not want it.” I left hurriedly for No.1 Victoria Street where I knew there was a meeting, and where I knew who I belonged with – here and hopefully in the next world. All because of a chance meeting – did I say a chance meeting?
I think, if I recall rightly, at that time there was Mother George in Holland Park Way, Miss Golden Kilford in Earls Court, Vivian Isenthal in Ealing – but no Bahá’ís in Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Acton, Willesden, Harlesden, etc. etc. – no one for miles around. And Vivian heard of the Faith from David Hofman, who heard from May Maxwell, who heard from Lua Getsinger, Mother Teacher of the West, who was taught by the Master Himself, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. What was I doing in such a line – me from the shop floor of industry? How, Why did I become a Bahá’í? I really do not know and maybe in this life, never will.
In the final analysis, a verse from the Gospel sheds some light… “No man cometh to me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day”. Also the Koran says … “Knowledge is a light God casts into the heart of whomsoever He willeth” …. “God guides who He wills in the right way”.
Bob Cheek [Reg. No. 202]