I Saw Your Face, Now I'm a Believer!
Dear Srila Prabhupada,
You are still performing miracles.
Sometimes, I wonder: what am I really doing for your movement? You would empower personalities much younger than me to go out and build revolutions. You would inspire masses with the sound of your voice and the immense love in your heart. And I feel as though I do so little for you. But each year, without fail, there is at least one experience that makes me close my eyes and realize that you are still performing your work through each and every one of us in order to please your spiritual master and Sri Sri Radha Govinda.
I remember the first time I went to the Polish Woodstock festival. Even though I am from a wild city like New York, I still wasn't sure what to make of the thousands of people congregating in this one place until it became like the Kumbha Mela of European Summer Festivals. Dust clouds rose up against the clear blue sky, lifted by hundreds of people roaming from village to village. Some villages sold things. Some villages played music. Some villages had more questionable activity than I had ever seen in one area. I tried to take it all in, while maintaining my cool composure. After all, I thought I had to keep up the New York persona.
In the evening, we sat in our mantra yoga tent to do Kirtan. I remember wondering how on Earth we would battle with the bass from the bigger stages that vibrated throughout my chest despite being hundreds of feet away. How could we compete with the music blaring from what seemed like every other direction? Who was going to accept the refined sounds of the mrdanga and our simple tunes?
And then I witnessed the magic. With bright smiles on their faces, devotees, your compassionate servants, sang their hearts out. The tunes were no different than those we had all heard before. But every person on the stage came together to present their offering with joint intention, until each Kirtan became a divinely orchestrated musical masterpiece. Violins, mrdanga drums, Kartals, singers, trumpets, even saxophones. All of the instruments seemed to sing the holy names along with the devotees whose voices stirred my soul.
When I looked out again from the stage, our tent was full. People swarmed in as far as the eye could see, spilling out into the open area of the field. And sitting majestically behind them all, like a wonderful monument to your mercy, was the huge cart of Lord Jagannath with the Lord of the Universe presiding over it all. Srila Prabhupada, this was your mercy. You came to spiritually impoverished places and brought a light with you that drew all of these people until they could go off on their own like tiny fireflies, spreading your light all around them.
Ever since I went to Woodstock that first time, I've brought stories back each year of the incredible way that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is transforming the lives of thousands over the course of one solitary weekend. My nephews looked on with wide eyes, eager to hear more of the adventure. This year, my nephew Keshava, taller than me now, and sounding more and more like a full fledged adult than ever, eyed me quietly as I made speedy preparations to attend the Woodstock festival once again. When my tickets were booked, I sat back relieved that everything had worked out. I would be witnessing Mahaprabhu's Magic yet another year. It was an incredible blessing.
"It hurts." His now deep voice was quiet and filled with emotion. His head bent, he could no longer meet my eyes. My heart broke. He had been watching quietly for the past five years, but it was as though this year he couldn't take it anymore. Each year I came back with tales of how wonderful it was. He watched videos until he memorized his favorite parts, and he would cheer on all of the Kirtaniyas from home. But this year it was too much for him. I remember sitting with him on my lap when he was a baby. I remembered his smile, with his dimpled cheek, and his spirited personality that would make me laugh. He is a near constant companion to me, more like a younger brother than a nephew. I've fed him, taken care of him, watched his eyes light up and seen the bright spark of his personality develop as he's grown. My older sister has done all of these things for me, and I've been so blessed to feel as though I had two mothers my entire life who have given me double the amount of love. I wanted my nephews to feel the same way. But I couldn't do this for him. I couldn't give him this festival. I didn't have the funds to take him to this marketplace of the holy name where I feel so deeply that if you look closely enough, you can see Lord Nitai himself dancing through the fields, arms outstretched, dispensing mercy in every direction.
"I can't see that face anymore. There has to be something." I confided in my sister the next day, the thought of Keshava's disappointment keeping me up that night. Together, we arrived at the idea that perhaps crowdfunding might be a viable option to help him raise enough money to go to the festival. I was afraid. There were so many "what ifs". What if we were unable to raise enough? The tickets were quite expensive, after all. What if once we raised the funds, we were unable to get him on the same flight that I was on. This would be his first trip to Europe, I couldn't have him travel alone. My sister soothed my fears reminding me that we always walk in the grace of Govinda, and that Govinda would make all things possible. No matter the outcome, Keshava would be allright.
I raced to set up the fundraising campaign, and in the middle of the night, my finger shook as I said a quick prayer to Govinda and clicked enter. Now, we were at the mercy of our community, the large house that you built Srila Prabhupada. Now we would wait and see if anyone could help us. When I told Keshava what we planned, he looked like the little boy that sat on my lap and depended on me for hugs. His wide, hopeful eyes spurred me on past my own hesitations and gave me hope.
Then we were inundated with a monsoon cloud of compassion and care. Beautiful souls from all over the world began to donate to this cause, and when I showed Keshava the many names and people who had come together to help him, his eyes teared up and for a few, long moments, he couldn't speak. Finally, all he could say was "Thank you."
"Do you see what happens when you love the holy name?!" I shook him by the shoulders amazed myself at the mercy of Sri Nama Prabhu.
Sixty-nine hours after the campaign began, we had surpassed our goal, and my hands shook again as I closed the account from taking donations, but now my hands shook because I was witnessing your mercy firsthand. Srila Prabhupada, you are still empowering us everyday. Anytime we have a desire to serve our Krishna and to make the devotees happy, this grace, and even the impetus to serve comes from you.
I was reminded of something that my own Gurudev says often. "Vraja was such a powerful place because everyone in the village was simply centered on making Krishna happy. Wherever communities come together, centered on pleasing Krishna and the devotees, that is Vrindavan." Well, I had the great fortune to catch a glimpse of cyber Vrindavan. Our entire village, with its small tribes all over the world, connected by the World Wide Web, had come together to give Keshava the experience of a lifetime, filled with the holy name.
Without the house that you built Srila Prabhupada, none of this would have been possible. We would not have been here, and the ideals and integrity that drive the magnanimous souls of your movement might have been lost to us. You constantly encouraged your disciples not to give up hope and not to become discouraged, to simply continue their service with faith. And I felt as I chanted, prayed, and begged for a chance to show Keshava this festival, that you were with me, encouraging me to have faith.
My dear grandfather, I can't show enough gratitude to those amazing souls who supported this endeavor. Those who told their friends, those who shared the news, those who helped to expand our network. Those who prayed for us and sent us messages of encouragement and hope, those who donated their time, energy and funds to making this happen so quickly. This is only a testament to you. Srila Pabhupada, we are made of nothing but your mercy, and everyone who came together like soldiers in Lord Rama's army to build this bridge of blessings, are complete manifestations of your mercy.
Oh Govinda, our dearest Srila Prabhupada, please bless me with the abundant ability to somehow repay the kindness of all of these wonderful personalities who are walking miracles. Thank you for showing me that your mercy takes innumerable forms. I will give my life toward celebrating you and your infinite grace.
Your servant and granddaughter