My favorite joke, and the only one I ever remember is:
Question: Do you know how to make God laugh?
Answer: Tell him your plans for your life
Being with Amma is always a chance to work on learning to not be attached to plans and instead letting your life unfold. That lesson was definitely the theme of my day on December 19.
I woke up with great expectations. I was going to spend the entire day sewing the five gigantic play backdrops I was responsible for making. With that effort, I would go so far in finishing the project.
The first indication that my plan was not going to happen was when Chaitanya at breakfast and asked me to calculate exactly how much material we would need for each of the backdrops, measure all the fabric we already had, and then go to the village to see if I could find the remainder of the fabric we needed. She gave me small samples of what she wanted.
I had done rough calculations before, but those figures were all in inches/feet. Every figure needed to be rechecked and then converted to the metric system which is not something I have experience in doing. The backdrops are so big it was hard enough for me to determine the correct figures in inches/feet. Adding in the heat of the day, and you may understand why my brain felt scrambled by the task.
These are to be the dimensions of the finished backdrops:
- Black – two pieces which are each 7 ½ feet by 17 feet with 6 inch overlaps every 35 inches and 4 inch casing at the top
- White- two pieces which are each 7 ½ feet by 17 feet with 6 inch overlap every 35 inches and 4 inch casing at the top
- Black- two pieces each 8 feet 9 inches by 17 feet with 4 inch casing at the top feet
- White- 8 feet 9 inches by 20 feet with 4 inch casing at the top
- White- 32 inches by 8 feet 9 inches with 4 inch casing at the top
After I measured the fabric we already had and determined what we still needed, I went to Vallikavu, the village across the backwaters. They have two fabric stores there but they are very small. We knew finding the quantity of material we needed was going to be an issue.
When I went to the first fabric store, I discovered they had fabric similar to what Chaitanya wanted but not the quantity we needed. There was no one at the store that spoke much English so it was very difficult to communicate with the staff. The main person I was dealing with said that he could order the fabric and I could pick it up at 5 p.m. the next day. It is so close to Christmas, I was concerned about losing two days of sewing time, plus I wondered if he could really get it. Since neither of us was understanding the other very well, my doubt was even bigger than it would normally be.
I bought one piece of black fabric at that store and then went to the other fabric store to see what they had. There was a salesperson in that store who spoke English well, so I felt much more confident in our interactions.
This store didn’t have the exact material we needed either, but they did have 60 meters of a white material that I thought would do, so I bought it. A male devotee I knew happened to walk into the store as I was finishing the purchase, so I asked him if he would be willing to take the fabric back to the ashram for me; three bolts of white as well as the black fabric was too much for me to carry. I considered it a synchronistic “gift” that he walked in at that time; our original plan was to have the store hold it and Chaitanya would send someone to pick it up later. I was excited that I had found the fabric, and also that the fabric had cost exactly the amount which had been donated by a devotee for that purpose.
Before I go on, I should mention that walking to Vallikavu is tiring. We climb up and down the stairs of a very steep bridge that joins the peninsula where the ashram is located and the mainland. Then it is at least a ten minute walk, maybe fifteen, in very hot weather. I was dragging by the time I made it back to the ashram.
When I showed Chaitanya the fabric I had purchased, she said it wouldn’t work. The one inch sample I had been given was a bit shiny and slinky and the new material wasn’t. She needed it to be a material that was more flowing than what I had bought. I felt sad that I hadn’t called and talked to her about it, and as a result had made an expensive mistake. I had been too focused on the fact I had been successful in finding the shade of white we wanted as well as the correct quantity.
Chaitanya said she and I would go back to the store in the afternoon and see if they would let us return it. Jani, who is heading the sewing, didn’t think they would give a refund in India, but thought we might be able to at least get a credit voucher.
Earlier in the day, I had received some good news from Jani. Her group of seamstresses had completed most of the costumes and she had more people available to sew than she needed. She suggested I let them work on some of the backdrops.
I spent the afternoon cutting fabric. When I finished cutting the panels needed for one backdrop, I decided to take it to the sewing room. Along the way, I saw a friend who had just arrived from Seattle. She had borrowed my sewing machine several times in the past, so I knew she could also do this kind of stitching. She was interested in helping and in fact ended up being the person who sewed the backdrop I had in my hands. This whole interaction was another example of the frequent synchronistic experiences that happen so often in Amritapuri. It was another gift.
In the late afternoon, Chaitanya and I went back to Vallikavu. Much to our delight, the store personnel immediately refunded the money, but they didn’t have the fabric we needed. It was obvious it was time to go to a bigger city. We hired a rickshaw and headed for Karunagappally. That was a 30 minute ride on a street that had a big backup of cars. The rickshaw driver darted in and out of the cars, practically driving on the sidewalk at times.
The driver took us to a fabric store once we reached Karunagappally. That store had the type of material we needed but only about 20 meters of it. Chaitanya told them we would look elsewhere, and if needed we would buy quantities from many different stores. Imagine our surprise when we entered the next fabric store and on the counter in front of us was a 100 meter bolt of the fabric we were looking for, far more than what we needed! Another incredible gift.
We drove back to the ashram having accomplished our task. What a day it had been. When I checked my Fitbit, a device that, among other things, counts steps, I discovered I had walked 17,740 steps that day! In Seattle, I usually walk about 3,000 and here I usually walk 9,000. Never before had I ever reached a number even remotely that high.
After I returned to the ashram, I received even more good news. Jani said that her seamstresses could sew all of the backdrops. I would need to cut all of the material and pin the overlaps, but they could do the rest. So many gifts in one day!
In my last post I wrote:
When I was at the stage in the morning, I discovered I didn’t have only two more backdrops to make, I had five more and they are gigantic. By the end of the day, I had finished one half of a 7 1/2 foot by 34 foot backdrop. I don’t see how I can possibly make so many before Monday evening, which is when they are due, but all things are possible, especially here. I will work one minute, one hour, and one day, at a time. If I need help I will ask for it.
I realized that my whole day had been a good example of doing that. Instead of focusing on losing the sewing time, I focused on what was in front of me and by taking one minute, one hour and one day at a time. I had been given many lessons and many gifts and the backdrops would be finished far sooner than if I had followed my original plan. I had been given all that I needed and more.
This experience reminded me of a poem written by an unknown author that has long been important to me.
I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.