I was born in Trieste, Italy. The hour I was born, according to my older brother Lewis, a US warship, the USS Renegade, shot off its cannons in my honor due to the fact that my father was the US Consul General. (King Farouk’s royal yacht was accidentally hit and sank.) I, myself, have no memory of this. But the assertion is not improbable on the basis that, not too long before, my father had entertained the first female Secretary of State, Claire Booth Luce, and my mother had impressed her with her southern (Mississippian) cooking: my mother was an outstanding chef.
I was a happy baby. My mother relates that I would wake in wee hours and silently smile in my crib. My nanny, Nantalia, who would later complain that the TV was watching her, would admonish my mother to not fret about my meditative habits, and let me be. I grew up to love cannelloni.
The family then moved to the imperial city of Washington, DC, where my shoplifting days began. I was not more than five years old, when one day, I went to the supermarket with my mother. I was wearing baby galoshes, as it was raining, and in the check out counter I discovered the candy franchise; stack and stack of candy and chocolate! I slyly slipped delectables into my galoshes, and proceeded home. And when we arrived, oblivious of my stealth, I pulled off my galoshes to spill contraband all over the floor before my outraged mother. O my God, this was horrible. My very first and brutal interrogation began. We then went straightaway back to Chevy Chase Lakes where I had to apologize to the manager for my thievery. I was crying and crying. This was a cataclysmic humiliation. I had to swear to never ever do this again.
We then moved back to Italy, to Rome. We lived on Niccolo Piccolo Minni St., which had a commanding view of St. Peter’s Basilica. We lived in the shade of the Vatican. I would often wave at the pope. I remember the Pieta; what happened I wondered that it came to this. The piazzas at Christmas were a miracle; so many colored lights. I was at a Catholic school, Marymount, when I came home one day with the conviction that God would give me whatever I really wanted. The nuns had told me this. That night, I prayed for a White Horse to be stabled in our villa. I woke up, opened the french doors on my balcony, surveyed the garden, and there was no White Horse. I was crushed. This memory was buried.
We moved back to Washington, the imperial and decadent city of jingoistic stammer, and at age nine or ten I vowed to never take a job for which I had to wear a suit and tie. I have never broken this, my most enduring vow. In fact, I became a tradesman, a tile and stone setter. (But my vow to curtail shoplifting suffered setbacks.)
I was thirteen when in 1969 we moved to Bad Godesberg, Germany. I discovered fussball and bicycles- a white Peugeot 10 speed bicycle. I was liberated. Germany has no minimum drinking age limit, and Chuck and I would cycle to the bars and order Steinhagers, three at a time, and then take the ferry across the Rhein to explore ruined castles. Thus began my German Romantic Period.
Back to decadent Washington and the eternal fog of the State Department where my father was sent to pasture for having annoyed Tricky Dick, now the President, years before when he was Vice President under Eisenhower on an airplane when a stewardess, with a stage whisper, said, “guess who’s on the plane”, and her colleague replied- “the Vice-President!”; whereupon my father jumped out of his seat and exclaimed, “I want to get off, I want to get off!” This was my father’s greatest act of political courage in his distinguished career as a diplomat, and it sank him utterly.
I was shipped off to Quaker boarding school where I was to learn about silence. As it happened, I heard of Meher Baba at this time, on a weekend trip to Cambridge where I had an interview for admission to Harvard, where my brother was a senior- a 6th generation family Harvard attendee, when a Baba card was put into my hands by one of his friends, and which with great blessing ruined my life. Very quickly, nothing else really mattered.
I went on to attend Vassar College on the basis of the rumor that Jane Fonda had said that if the women of Vassar were to stretch out on the lawn head to toe, they would be laid all over. I was dismissed for poor grades and went on to Meherabad, India for the first time in January, 1976.
It was on Mehera’s porch that I heard that Baba is the “White Horse Avatar”, and a cascade of memories overwhelmed me. My most fervent childhood prayer was realized. I was nineteen years old. I had found my spiritual home.