The following took place in May of 1986, the last two in Potsdam, Norwood, and Madrid where I spent summers as a kid in the early 50’s on a small dairy (Jersey) farm in the Fisher family.

Bob Schaef showed up at the Olema Retreat in the mid-80’s. He was about 60, had been a New Age psychologist for many years using primal scream therapy. Married four times, one wife committed suicide as did one of his sons. He himself told me he was appalled at some of the advice he gave to his patients.

His one redeeming virtue was that he drove an old beat up VW Bug.
He hung around the retreat for a while and then went to India. He got very sick there with viral hepatitis, came back here and was then diagnosed with terminal cancer. He rented a cabin nearby and came to the retreat every day. We became friends.
We hear that one must do spiritual practice regularly and that one cannot wait for the “last minute”, and  here is a man who by his own admission had lived a very dissipated life. As he declined in health, our family took him in. He ate dinner with us most every evening and even though deteriorating rapidly, he was in great spirits. It was a fantastic lesson for our kids. He would ask me, and I would recommend to him books to read. They all hit the mark. He  told me one day I should be a “guru”. I told him what nonsense, I was his friend. Besides how can you go wrong recommending The Eternal Companion, or Turiyananda’s Spiritual Talks, or The Way of a Pilgrim?
Bob was worried about his last days and who would take care of him. I told him what to expect, my mother having died of the same cancer seven years earlier. When I told him I would take care of him when he became bed ridden, he burst into tears. What a blessing that was.
The monks from Olema who visited him those last days were amazed. One said his cabin was like a shrine. Another, full of bliss, joy, great peace. Another would sing “My Play is Done.” He was often having visions of Mother. Occasionally he would burst into tears and when I asked why he said, “Mother was just here and left without taking me.” He had photos of Holy Mother and the Virgin Mary by his bed. When I asked him, “Which Mother?” He replied, “The Mother.”
Having been bedridden for two weeks he was suffering some pain and was anxious to go. That last morning when I tried to give him his morphine by mouth, he took the dropper in his teeth and said, “No more.” The day was a little difficult for him at times, hard breathing, seemed to be some anxiety, but he never slipped into a coma, never.
The whole day was very intense, and at 4 PM I felt I needed a break and called Sonja to come and spell me. Just as she arrived at the door, I could clearly see that he was ready to die. I held up my hand to Sonja to wait so the sound of the door opening would not disturb him. I then watched him very carefully. His bare chest was exposed above the covers.

First his breathing stopped, but I could clearly see his heart beating.

Then his heart stopped.

Then there was a slight grimace and tears came from the outer corners of each eye.

He had gone to Mother.

He broke all the rules.

George was my father’s older brother, born in 1900. He was brilliant in (math?) and after trying to live in the “world” went back to Potsdam to live in the family home, eventually to take care of his spinster aunt and then his father & uncle till they died. George had a very serious & pronounced cleft palate. He was very taciturn, almost “silent”. He gardened, raked leaves, mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and when he walked on his “rounds” was followed by his dog.
He ate very simply, oatmeal, corn bread, Campbell’s soup, coffee and a small cup of maple syrup for dessert, setting his table with newspapers.

We, Sonja & kids were all very fond of him and kept in touch by phone weekly. On our last visit to Potsdam (1978?) we went out for dinner and Niclas (8yo) said I want to stay and eat with Uncle George. While we were in the “kitchen”, Sonja and I would watch him do the dishes with intense 100% concentration.

So when the old folks all died, George took in college students for boarders. He would not take American students but only Indians… he knew nothing about vedanta, or India for that matter.
And, not being ‘social”, he would sit with those Indian boys while they cooked and ate upstairs.
The boys had a photo of George hanging on the hall wall upstairs (their domain), and when i mentioned to him that the boys were fond of him, his laconic reply was, “Perhaps”!

So, a few days after Bob Schaef died, I got a call from Bob Fisher, a  dairy farmer on whose farm I went to for 4 summers when I was 8-12 that George had arranged thru 4-H.
Bob said George (86) had taken to his bed. I asked Bob to put him on the phone. George spoke a few words & dropped the phone. I asked bob to put on one of the Indian boys. “What’s your name?…. Ram… Ram, do you have a guru?….Yes!…. I said, George is a hidden yogi.”..

dead silence

Ram then realized why they were so attracted to him. I asked Ram to look after George until I got there and he said that they would. It took me 2 or 3 days to get the ticket and car & arrive in Potsdam. George was in a makeshift bed in the kitchen in his usual overalls and his boots on. He would not let me take them off. I set up my small photos of RK & Mother…

The boys were flabbergasted!

George died in his sleep in a week or so. I read from the second chapter of the Gita at his funeral. All the boys came.

George was the only truly humble man I met in this life.

It was at this time that I met our Amish friends Joe & Marie Delagrange to whom I dedicated The Spiritual Athlete (that’s another story)

So now, I promised you I would tell you about my meeting Joe & Marie Delagrange our Amish “friends” to whom TSA was dedicated, while I was taking care of my Uncle George when he was dying. After a week or so, towards his last days, i found I needed a break, so i called a neighbor of his, an elderly, retired nurse and she came over to sit with George. I drove out of town and went by a lumber yard where 2 young Amish men were carrying a stack of lumber across the road in front of me. They had on their traditional Amish “work’ clothing” and both were wearing very handsome, wide brimmed, practical Amish straw hats.

I stopped to chat and asked them where I could get a hat like theirs. They directed me to a farm a few miles down the road, to which i promptly drove. I drove into the farm yard & got out of the car, and heard the whine of machinery in one of the smaller barns. I went in and there was an elderly Amish man working in his wood shop. The Amish do not have electricity or telephone nor drive cars or trucks. This shop’s machinery was powered by an elaborate system of belts and pulleys powered by a small Deutz Diesel  engine.

I introduced my self, told him I was caring for my uncle in Potsdam who was dying, and asked him about a hat. He invited me into their home, but before going in I asked him if i could ask him some personal questions about his “spiritual practice”. he said “yes”. So the conversation continued along those lines. I told him about some wonderful books he might like and asked his permission to bring them one day. He agreed. I asked Sonja to bring them when she came after George died. Brother Lawrence, The Way of a Pilgrim, and The Gita which was for Victor one of their sons who asked me about war!

I bought a hat and he said i could come and visit again. When Sonja arrived in Potsdam we returned to Joe & Marie’s & presented them with the books. So a close bond was slowly developing.

Then another friend Jeff, who was in the monastery here but left and got married, who lived a few hours away, drove up with his wife for a visit to Potsdam. We went out for dinner that evening, a Sunday, & then we all drove to Joe &Marie’s. I was a little apprehensive, it being a Sunday, and as we drove into the barnyard, J&M were talking to Victor & his family who were sitting in their horse drawn buggy saying goodbye as they headed back to their farm down the road. I went up to them and apologized for showing up on a Sunday, and Joe immediately replied, “Ray, I was secretly hoping you would come today!” That was almost 35 years ago, but the memory is still alive & fresh in my heart.

I introduced Jeff & Rosemary, told J&M that Jeff had been a monk and that he sang beautifully and perhaps we could sing for them. They invited us in. We sat around their kitchen table, sang a few songs and I read a bit from Holy Mother, “God exists everywhere & at all times. Are people not realizing God in other countries? etc….. “

While we were singing, John, J&M’s youngest son came in, and Joe asked him to sit down & listen, “They are singing spiritual songs, John.”

So this was 1986. I kept in touch with J&M by post each year. Marie would write the letters, I have a feeling that Joe might not be able to read & write. I wanted to take a photo of them, but Joe asked me not to take any photo of them. That was their custom.

I started TSA about 5 years later and asked Niclas to visit them so he could draw their portraits for the dedication page.

When TSA came out I sent a copy to them. It was answered by Marie’s letter that Joe had recently died. I think that was the only time I cried spontaneously over someone’s death!

So now to the subject of “a real friend”… Some time much later after Nic’s visit, he told me that Joe had said to him that he considered me one of his closest friends…….


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