I was born in June 1933 and adopted as a child by a couple who wanted different things. The husband wanted a separation, something which had a legal status in the 1930s, and the wife wanted a child. We lived near Orpington in Kent, and during my early years we lived in different places around the Hythe and Dymchurch area on the Kent coast. My childhood was a reasonably happy one until I reached my teens when my mother was unable to cope with a somewhat stroppy teenager and had me committed to a mental hospital. This was possible in the 1940s – but I was fortunate in that the National Health Service was formed in 1948, and the hospital I was in also had me taken out of my mother’s care through the courts. I thus commenced a rather solitary life of working in jobs with accommodation, until I joined the WRAF as a driver.
After three years, in 1955 I married James Albert Francis, a chef in the Army Catering Corps, who was posted frequently (except for Hong Kong, which was a three year stint from 1957-60). My first daughter, Sandi, was born in Evesham in 1955, rapidly followed by three more daughters, Stephanie, Anita (born in Hong Kong) and Jacqui who was born upon our return from Hong Kong. I had them all christened and went to church regularly although I was not always fully satisfied with the way in which each church separated itself whilst still claiming to be Christian.
In 1963 we were posted to Malta for two years. Upon our return to the UK my marriage came to an end and I commenced living with my daughters, trying to make sense of the different aspects of my life including the spiritual side. I explored different themes including meditation and other religious viewpoints, all of which shared good ideas but none of which I found totally fulfilling. My relationship with James William Lorkins (Bill) started in 1965, although we were unable to marry until 1972. I was extremely happy with Bill but, sadly, he died when our son Ralph was only three years old.
Despite this, after five years I married again but this was a disastrous mistake and I ended up on my own in Northumberland with my son, relying on my somewhat shaky faith as a Christian and looking out to other explanations of the purpose of life and my own life in particular. It was a time of search although I barely knew it to be such, being in a position of great uncertainty and what would now probably be called by some fancy name or maybe depression. I hadn’t been brought up to think in that way so my attitude was more based on understanding what had happened and getting through each day in a practical way while seeking out more spiritually-based answers. We lived a long way from my other adult children, and my son in particular suffered from their inability to support us fully, in that I now had to be in work.
On top of this, after 19 months I lost my job, which came with accommodation, a lovely tied cottage. The council re-housed us but I could not afford to move closer to family. During the time I was working I lived on Military Road, five miles from Corbridge, and used to shop both there and in Hexham where there was a regular market and various different displays. One had a stall with a banner saying Baha’i Faith. I picked up a flyer which had a very simple black and white message, something about unity in diversity. Hmm. Sounds Ok I thought, and then moved quickly away when someone tried to speak to me, but I kept the leaflet. This was in 1980. It took me several weeks before ringing the Bahá’í number and I was invited to a ’fireside’, apparently what a meeting about the faith was called.
I arrived at a private house and when the lady answered the door I thought (with a grin!) she looks normal.
What was I expecting? Well, based on some previous experiences it could have been any number of things so I felt reassured that I wasn’t in any danger of being coerced into something. Little did I know I was looking at someone who would become a wonderful friend. There weren’t many people there, a young woman and a middle-aged couple who welcomed me and the husband spoke about the faith. It all sounded very sensible and I found myself feeling in tune with the various ideas put forth but was not about to fall over myself by saying much. I was asked if I would like some books to read and left it up to them to choose, not knowing what was available. One book called Some Answered Questions looked interesting and I glanced at it and when at home proceeded to read it from cover to cover. It seemed strange not to have heard about the Faith before and during the following years I was to hear this voiced by others many times. Some Answered Questions did indeed give me many answers and the things I didn’t fully understand I just passed over until a later stage. Mary Jameson was the hospitable lady and I went to many meetings about the faith with her and felt at home with the Bahá’ís to a remarkable degree, yet held back from fully committing myself. Mary was a widow with two adult sons and I found her amazing, a quietly unassuming woman yet always helpful and never too busy to see me. At any meetings held in her home she was always the perfect hostess. We were not alike; I’ve always been quite happy to give an opinion on any and everything but Mary was far more diplomatic and kept in the background when potentially controversial subjects came up.
One day I was in her car and we were going to a meeting. I was never quite sure what they were celebrating though I now knew about Bahá’í holy days and events to do with the faith. The welcome I received from any Bahá’í always astounded me; they were so patient and loving and the warmth of such welcomes made me feel accepted in a way which was almost alien to me. The diversity of people within the Faith also fed my deepest needs. I asked Mary what I had to do to become a Bahá’í and she said just say I wanted to and the Local Spiritual Assembly would talk to me to make sure I understood what I was letting myself in for, and if I understood properly what I needed to be doing. I felt as if everything in my life now had purpose and meaning and I was happy to say “Yes, I’m now a Bahá’í”. This was in May 1981.
Living in the north-east gave me pleasure too. I felt at home despite being so far from my daughters who visited as often as they were able, and my son sometimes stayed with them during the holidays.
I started up a business with a trucker’s tea-break mobile cafe van in a local lay-by and enjoyed meeting so many different drivers from around the area and from abroad. I had many conversations about the Faith and some drivers even took away leaflets. As a result, one local man became a Bahá’í when his cousin took a leaflet and passed it on to him.
What was it about the faith which not only grabbed my attention but made me want to be a part of it? As with Christianity and other faiths, the common theme of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” made me appreciate other religions with their basic ideas of love and fellowship. I had long been curious about other religions and did not understand the instances of rigidity and fanaticism even within Christianity itself. Having always attended a church in different areas, my first husband being in the army, I could not understand why each aspect of Christianity was seen as a separate one; Methodism, ‘low’ church, ‘high’ church, Congregational, Roman Catholic, and many others. Each one seemed to create division, whereas I found ‘unity’ a watchword in the faith.
When asked which church I belonged to I found it an impossible question as I felt a sense of belonging in any church. When I was exploring the Bahá’í faith I also went to other religious gatherings in their own settings, a mosque, a synagogue, and others. This was so enriching and I joined interfaith meetings sometimes even reading a prayer or something from the Bahá’í Writings, which cover every aspect of society from the family to the wider world. Such meetings were always joyful and full of warmth and mutual understanding. The equality of men and women was another aspect which had strong appeal, and I find the current focus on child abuse in society is helping to make education vital in completely eradicating all such behaviour.
When men no longer tolerate any abuse, whether of themselves or against women, then we will begin to see real steps towards world peace – unimaginable only a few years ago. Even now, many people do not see the connections between education and community. Building from the base of a good home life where respect is integral and behaviour reflects it, will end abuses and create a loving environment. The wider community benefits as a result, and like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples spread ever outward. Attitudes will change, no longer will ‘institutionalism’ be a part of what happens in society, but unity in diversity will prevail instead, with consultation based on prayer and understanding being seen as essential.
In 2006 I went on pilgrimage and was the only person from the UK in our group, so felt a little lonely at first but also found the experience very enriching, and I made new friends. Saying many prayers and visiting the Baha’i holy places gave me an insight into the early struggles of the Faith and made me feel much happier in myself.
Over the years my understanding has grown and I now feel truly happy in life despite illness, so will finish this with a Bahá’í prayer for healing.
Thy Name is my healing, O my God, and remembrance of Thee is my remedy. Nearness to Thee is my hope and love for Thee is my companion. Thy mercy to me is my healing and my succour in both this world and the world to come. Thou, verily, art the All-Bountiful, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
Essex, July 2017
Doris passed away on 31 July 2017. She had been making last-minute revisions to her Bahá’í history, and with the kind assistance of family members, the story she was working on at the time of her passing was recovered, thus enabling us to publish it online here, as she wished.