George lay awake in bed for a long time. He was thinking about the story Gran'ma had told him and his elder sister Ann. The evening had been exciting. Gran'ma had told them about the days when 'Abdu'l-Baha had visited England. He had felt proud when Gran'ma told them that Gran'pa had met 'Abdu'l-Baha. But his mouth was left gaping wide open with wonder when they were told that at that time Gran'pa was a tramp.
'Gran'pa a tramp?!' He still couldn't believe it.
He turned and whispered, "Ann . . . do you think Gran'pa was really a tramp!'
Half asleep, she mumbled, "Oh, go to sleep George and Gran'ma doesn't tell tall tales like you do."
Gran'pa would call him 'little tramp' whenever he returned home from school shuffling along the dirt path bent under the weight of his school bag and covered from head to toe in dust.
George tried to picture Gran'pa as a tramp. An old hat much too small resting on a clump of overgrown hair. An unwashed face lost in a dense growth of beard. An over- sized coat multi-coloured by the numerous patches on it. Discoloured trousers held-up by a piece of string, baggy at the knees and short at the ankles. Oversized boots stiff with age, which had lost their identity beneath successive layers of mud. The picture was complete and the tramp began to walk with a shuffling gait, the shoulders bent under an unseen weight.
But George couldn't somehow place his Gran'pa in it. He would wait for morning to ask Gran'pa. Gran'pa was already out in the fields, hard at work, when they left for school. When they returned home he was dozing in his armchair on the porch. The newspaper he had been reading had fallen across his face. Ann and George smiled at each other mischievously. They crept up to him and as George shouted in his ear, Ann began to tickle him. Poor Gran'pa was jolted right out of his chair.
"Why you little tramp!" He cried out after George.
As soon as he could stop laughing, George said, "Gran'ma says you were a tramp Gran'pa."
"Who dares to call me tramp!" he thundered in mock anger.
Ann began to explain: "Gran'ma said that when you met 'Abdu'l-Baha. . ."
"Oh!" laughed Gran'pa, "So she's let out our little secret has she? Come here, climb onto my lap and I will tell you the story of my life."
Gran'pa remained silent, lost in his thoughts for a while. A peaceful smile stretching across his rugged face formed two plump red mounds at each end.
He began. "It was a long, long time ago. I had a respectable family. My father was a country preacher and I had the advantage of going to a good school when most other kids on the farms didn't receive any education. I had a good life and I grew up into a young man. Then I drifted away. I became a tramp.
"Why Gran'pa?" inquired George.
"Oh, that's not important," replied Gran'pa. "I became homeless. Without a purpose, I wandered here and there aimlessly. At nights I slept on the banks of the Thames River. My life was without meaning because I did no work. I lazed my days away in sloth and idleness, and lived on the charity of others. Even though I had received a good education I made my life worthless. Sometimes I remembered my dear father. He walked from village to village and farm to farm telling people and reminding them about God and his laws. He wished to improve the lives of his fellowmen. This was his service to them and his way of worshipping God. I also thought of the farmers. They toiled and laboured in the fields come what may and they were rewarded by rich harvests which benefitted others as well. This was their service to humanity. Then I looked at myself. My life was useless both to God and to man. One night I decided to put an end to my useless life.
I was walking beside the river, taking, what I thought was going to be my last walk, when I passed by a newspaper shop and saw 'a Face' in the window.
A newspaper displayed in the window carried the photograph of 'Abdu'l-Baha. I didn't know who He was. But He seemed to speak to me and call me to Him! I bought the newspaper with the few pennies remaining in my pocket and read it to find out about Him. The newspaper said He was staying in London and gave His address. Then and there I made up my mind to seek His presence, come what may.
London was far and I had no money for the fare, so the next day I began to walk. It was as though 'the Face' had set my whole being on fire. I was filled with an excitement that quickened my pace. 'In Him lies the purpose ofmy life,' I thought to myself. But I had my doubts as well. I wondered if He would see me. A worthless being such as me. Yet I walked as though drawn towards that city by an unseen force.
I went straight to the house where 'Abdu'l-Baha was staying and knocked on the door. I asked the servant, "Is the lady of the house inside?" The lady heard me and came to the doer. "Are you the hostess of ' Abdu'l-Baha?" I asked.
"Yes. Do you wish to see him? ", she said.
I replied, "I have walked thirty miles for that purpose."
The kind lady asked me to come in and rest. She offered me food and I told her all about myself and my intention to end my useless life. "But when I saw His face in the window, I said to myself, 'If such a person really lives on this earth, I shall change my mind and begin to live my life again.'
"I told her, "I have come here to find Him. Is He here? Will He see me? Even me?"
"Of course He will see you," she said. "Come to Him." When the lady knocked on 'Abdu'l-Baha's door, He Himself opened the door and held out His hands as though to a dear friend whom He was expecting!
"Welcome! Most welcome!" He said to me. "I am very much pleased that thou has come. Be seated."
No body had ever before treated me with such love and respect. I sank into a low chair by my Master's feet. I was trembling so hard that I was not able to say even one word.
"Be happy. Be happy!" said 'Abdu'l-Baha, holding one of my hands and tenderly stroking my bowed head.
'Abdu'l-Baha smiled that wonderful smile of love and understanding and continued, "Do not be filled with grief when humiliation overtakes you. The bounty and power of God is without limit for each and every soul in the world. Seek for spiritual joy and knowledge. Then, although you walk upon this earth, you will be living in the spiritual world. Even if you are poor you will be rich in the Kingdom of God."
'Abdu'l-Baha continued speaking to me such words of kindness and, little by little, my cloud of misery seemed to melt away in the warmth of the Master's loving presence.
My life now had a definite purpose. I knew now that I could stand straight and step out firmly into a new world. I had to tear myself away from the beloved Master whose presence had given me a new life. I turned to the lady and said, "Please write down His words for me. I have received all I expected and even more."
"And now what are you going to do?" the lady asked me.
I replied, "I am going to work in the fields. I can earn what I need for my simple wants. When I have saved enough I shall take a little bit of land, build a tiny hut on it in which to live, then I shall grow violets for the flower market. As He says, 'Poverty is unimportant, work is worship!"
I was determined to work hard from then onwards. I decided to work hard so that I could help myself and serve others and not be a burden to anyone. This would be my way of worshipping God."
Ann and George looked proudly at their Gran'pa. "You see all this land," he said sweeping his hand across the farm. "I bought and developed it with my own hard work and the blessing of 'Abdu'l-Baha,"
(by A, Baram, based on a story from 'Stories About 'Abdu'l-Baha; Varqa magazine, January 1982, vol.1, no.2)