I enter used bookstores with the same enthusiasm and excitement that most people take with them to amusement parks. I revere each towering shelf as gatekeeper of weathered portals into story, alternate realities and sometimes, someone else's reality within someone else's story.
This summer has brought with it three wedding invitations, at two of which I'm expected to give a toast, so I was immediately drawn to a book on how to do so. I scanned its pages for a gem of a saying to take with me to the reception dinner. I found no gem, but did find another book, resting horizontal and bridging a gap over the space that the "toasts" book had previously occupied. This book was called Avatar.
Ignorantly thinking that this may have been the inspiration to James Cameron's latest box office blowout, I quickly grabbed it, only to find it had nothing to do with space travel, alternate universes or extraterrestrial beings. Or, did it? It was subtitled "The Life Story of the Perfect Master, MEHER BABA." After doing some research (Google) on this Baba character, I've learned that he is considered to be a spiritual master of sorts, hailed from India, and was the self-proclaimed "Avatar of the Age," meaning that he saw himself as the "periodic incarnation of God in human form." What period are we talking about? Well, he was born in 1894 and died in 1969, so I guess that period of time. Overall, Baba seemed like a really nice guy. Though quiet, evident in spending the last 44 years of his life in silence, Baba somehow managed to write a book called Discourses, which to me seems odd, kind of like a mime teaching a public speaking course.
It wasn't only the printed content in this peculiar book that interested me. I was even more intrigued by the handwritten message inside the front cover. See image below:
It reads, "for Eric............New York City, from Govinda, in Baba's (ewlsiB') Love! I know Meher Baba meant this book for you personally. For He gave you that gift in music. 'In the presence of the Lord.' J'ai PaBA! Don't worry! Be Happy! BABA is LOVE."
I began reading the preface and was halfway through the first chapter before realizing that I hadn't left that particular nook of the bookstore for almost an hour. There were many more books to scan and alternate realities to enter, so I began to set the book down when, suddenly, a stack of notes fell out of its back pages. It was as if the book was trying to keep my attention by throwing stuff at me. The first note I picked up read:
"We are so wrapped up in our small worlds that we cannot serve the greater worlds. Love, Robert"
I found myself captured by this quote because it was only moments earlier that I'd been writing about that very idea in my journal while drinking coffee in the bookstore's cafe. This book seemed full of surprises. I wondered who Eric was and if he'd ever gotten around to reading it. Who was Govinda? Was its author, Jean Adriel, still alive?
I continued reading about Adriel's own spiritual awakening, which came upon her during a dental appointment, and at a time when she was breathing deeply the transcendental gases of nitrous oxide. She recalled the experience as being like this,
"My individuality was not lost; merely raised to the infinite proportions of God, endowed with his infinite capacities. Out, out into an eternal future, back into an ageless past--both blended in a dimensionless present--I saw worlds being formed, worlds destroyed; an infinite game being played by an infinite God, who, even in pain, perpetually enjoyed the imperishable bliss of his creation. For an eternal moment the dental chair had become my stratoplane into Infinity."
Laughing gas has never sounded so amazing!
Though I found all of this to be incredibly amusing it still didn't justify my paying $20 for the book. I'm a penny pincher, and, for me, it's more about the exploring than the owning. Guru that! But then the book had one last surprise for me. This was the surprise that changed my nonchalant skim-reading to a mad dash for the checkout with book in hand:
It reads: "MidveLe. Please give this "Avatar" to Eric Clapton. Read it first if you want to. they are impossible to obtain + I'm sending this last copy (flown in from India) because BABA sends this book for Eric. Love mama."
A sudden rush of excitement pulsed through my body as I quickly closed the book and took it to the cash register. I paid the $20 for it and then dashed out of the store, feeling as if I was getting away with stealing some kind of treasure. To me, this find is worth much more than $20 because this book tells more than one story.
Eric Clapton, if you're reading this, I have your book. Come and claim it.