|Day 1||Introductions and initial visits to the Shrines of the Báb and 'Abdu'l-Bahá|
So, here I am! Being 'a bear of little brain', I decided to walk down from the hotel, and immediately got lost. However, that meant that I ended up walking along Panorama Road from whence I had my first glimpse of the Shrine of the Báb and the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, and past the top of the terraces amidst the dust of the construction work. At first I did not realize what this work was, and it was only when I came across a large hoarding that I realised where I was. The view down the mountain was spectacular, to say the least, and gave one just an insight into how incredibly ambitious these works are.
After yet more walking (all of it downhill but seemingly interminable), there I was by the extensive earthworks below the Archives Building, where the road is being lowered by some six metres to allow the terraces to pass over it. And then, at last, I arrive at the gate into the Shrine Gardens, almost missing it in all the noise and bustle. It may be November, but it is hot, though with a strong wind blowing off the sea – very unseasonable, I am told, and worrying as water is getting short. Entering the gardens I am quite suddenly away from it all (or at least, so it seems) and enter into the peaceful atmosphere of the Pilgrim House and go and register, and then to just sit and recover from that walk, watching the people come and go.
In the afternoon we were split up into our four groups of 25 and had a talk on what would be happening during our time at the World Centre. My group was made up of people from Unalaska, Canada, Chile, Italy, Norway and, of course, Skye.
At half past three, after a short talk from a member of the ITC, we proceed slowly through those beautiful gardens to the Shrine of the Báb. I have to admit that I had dreaded this moment, expecting to end up in tears, but actually managing to stay dry-eyed – probably because of the large numbers of people present. The first visit (it can never happen again) was brief: just time for the chanting of the Tablet of Visitation and a brief meditation. Each person reacts differently – some prostrating themselves, others kneeling, or sitting, and yet others standing. All too soon we are backing out of the door (and falling down the step – unnoticed on entry) and passing to the Shrine of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Once more there is just time for the reading of the Prayer of Visitation before we make our way back to the Pilgrim House. As I write I am sitting opposite a life-size portrait of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. It is as if He is looking at me – and into me. Very disconcerting.
Well, that's it. Day 1 ended – or, so I thought. I don't know really what I expected – certainly not what I saw, or felt. The shrines, so beautiful and complex in their external appearance, yet so simple and unadorned inside. It is just how it should be – nothing to distract the eye, to turn it into a museum – to be visited and ticked off in the list of "things we did on holiday."
Well! Having said all that, I was just packing up when everyone stood up as Hand of the Cause, Mr Furútan joined us! Mainly he talked about the Pilgrim House – except that it had been a lot of other things: this room Abu'l Fadl lived in, this one John Esslemont, etc. Here 'Abdu'l-Bahá and there Shoghi Effendi, etc. So I have walked where the Master walked – for the second time; but this time I knew about it. (This is a allusion to the fact that I used to live in Clifton only a short distance from where 'Abdu'l-Bahá had stayed when He visited Bristol.) And then Dr Varqá joined Mr Furútan and spoke about the Four Year Plan. How it was a Plan for nations, communities, families and individuals – and how the world is ready to receive the message of Bahá'u'lláh. We ended the evening with prayers in Chinese, Italian, Hindi, Turkish, Swedish, English and Persian.