|Day 8||Visit to the Bahjí Mansion, the House of 'Abdu'lláh Pashá and the Ridván Garden|
Today, I finally broke down and just wept.
Our programme for the day had started, as usual, at 8.30 as we set out for Bahjí, to see round the mansion where Bahá'u'lláh spend the last years of His life. The journey passed quickly this time and it was not long before were, once again, entering the West Gate into the grounds at Bahjí. Once more we decanted ourselves from the bus and, once more, we are permitted to enter the small building that contains the most blessed spot in the entire earth. But only for a few minutes – time just to say a few prayers, for forgiveness, for healing and for spiritual qualities before prostrating oneself before the threshold of the room in which are buried the mortal remains of Him Who God made Manifest.
And then, through the light rain we pass into the mansion of 'Údí Khammár, the mansion of Bahjí. Here is the place where the Blessed Beauty spent the last 13 years of His life on this earth. As with the other buildings, we remove our, by now wet, shoes and leave them in the small kitchen in the corner of the building and pass quietly into the small corner room once occupied by Bahá'u'lláh. The quiet peace is shattered several times by the sound of military aircraft overhead, but it does not matter: nothing disturbs the spiritual stillness of this place. It is in this room that Edward Granville-Browne met Bahá'u'lláh, as described in his book.
Then, we pass through the other rooms which had been occupied by the various members of the Holy Family. There are many items to see (and very little time to see them) but I do not recall them – my mind is just totally overwhelmed. In one room are the original coffin of Navváb and the two gravestones of Navváb and Mírzá Mihdí. In other rooms are various possessions of the beloved Guardian. And everywhere are the most wonderful examples of the calligrapher's art. After a short time on the balcony surrounding the upper story, there is time only for a final visit to the Pilgrim house and for an unhurried walk back to the bus.
It was on the journey to the House of 'Abdu'lláh Páshá that I came to the sudden realisation that I had just had my last visit to the Shrine at Bahjí and that I may never be there again. As we entered the house, and surrounded by the chatter of the other pilgrims, I can no longer hide my anguish and just weep quietly. It is not possible to describe what emotion I felt (and still feel at I type this) Even the memory brings tears to my eyes. At lunch, I sat next to a little Persian/Malay girl and I wonder what she makes of this outburst of emotion. She is so serene and smiling as we talk and eat.
With lunch over, we are ready to climb the stairs to that part of this mansion (with over 100 rooms) where 'Abdu'l-Bahá lived with His family and many of the Bahá'ís and early pilgrims. Once again, it is all a blur. Once again, we pass through rooms full of the archives of our Faith. Personal belongings, pictures of the family, brushes, etc. It comes to mind that it is as if the Christians still had the cross on which Christ was crucified, or the crib in which He was born. Or the bottle which Mary had used to carry the oil with which she anointed His blessed feet, or the dice which the roman soldiers had used to gamble for Jesus' clothes. These objects are the material reminder to the pilgrims of the sufferings of the Holy Family and the happiness of later days. They are so real – 'Abdu'l-Bahá's scissors, a portrait of Shoghi Effendi as a small child, the room of the Greatest Holy Leaf (in which the remains of the Báb were lodged until the Master could build the embryonic shrine on the north face of Mount Carmel. It does not matter that this is not the original furniture: it was all set up by Shoghi Effendi so well that it exudes the atmosphere of the house at the time of its occupation.
Opposite the living apartments of the family is the reception hall for visiting dignitaries, and Shoghi Effendi's small room, used when he was a child (with a copy of the letter 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote to him in answer to his entities to have a tablet for himself). There is the schoolroom where the children of the household were taught and the birani where the Master would first receive His guests. In the birani we pray together (in Ethiopian, Italian and English) and then we are back to earth and back on the bus. As we leave the courtyard, small Arab children throw stones at the bus and I wonder if it is just naughtiness, or dislike of westerners or that we are Bahá'ís. It is, sadly, a poor quarter around this beautiful house.
Once again we pass through the urban sprawl of 'Akká to our final visit of the day – to the Ridván Garden, the garden where Bahá'u'lláh used to go to retreat.
There is a little house at one end of the garden which we enter. There in this quiet spot we seem to be, once again, in the presence of the Blessed Beauty. The room is exactly as it was when He visited there. There is the chair on which He sat and the bed on which He rested. This time it is for real for this small house has never been out of the hands of the followers of the Blessed Beauty. On the chair and the bed are the most fragrant of roses, permeating the whole room with their divine perfume.
And then there are oranges – hundred's of oranges, given freely to the pilgrims, to eat there and then, or to take away. They are piled up on bowls on the seats by the fountain in the centre of the Garden and we sit and talk to each other and take the obligatory photographs.
At last we return to our bus and are carried back to Haifa, to falafels, and to shwarmi.... and cakes – freshly baked. Then it is slowly up that hill to the Pilgrim House, to friends, to prayers, to bed.