Soquel, California — Thursday, October 7th

Vigilant service

Almost every afternoon, Srila Gurudeva goes for a ride into Santa Cruz — sometimes to one of the many parks, sometimes to the beach, and sometimes to some other place of interest — to take an afternoon constitutional or often just to take in the local sights and colors.

This is generally considered to be Srila Gurudeva's "quiet time," so he is usually accompanied only by his assistant, Ranajit Prabhu, and his chauffeur, Srutasrava Prabhu, although sometimes Sripad Janardan Maharaj and Jamuna Priya Devi Dasi also go along for the ride.

On this particular afternoon, after I help Srila Gurudeva into the front seat, I am invited to go along. I try to demurely decline, but when Srila Gurudeva repeats the invitation, I get into the back seat with Ranajit Prabhu. As we drive down the driveway, Srila Gurudeva asks:

"Where will we go?"

Srutasrava Prabhu suggests a few places, and Srila Gurudeva opts for a scenic drive to Natural Bridges State Park, near the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the wharf.

On the way there, just before we enter Santa Cruz, Srila Gurudeva (who suffers from the milder Type II form of diabetes) feels that his blood/sugar ratio is too low, so we take a slight detour to Srutasrava Prabhu's house so that Srila Gurudeva can have a few cookies to restore the balance.

When Srila Gurudeva feels better, we leave the house and walk over to the car, and I hold the passenger door open.

As Srila Gurudeva lowers himself into the front seat, I put my hand, palm facing downwards, just under the roof of the open door to protect Srila Gurudeva from inadvertently bumping his head on the rail as he gets into his seat.

I have done this every time that I have ever helped Srila Gurudeva get into a car — here, in Russia, and in India — and I always pay attention to what I am doing.

Now the space between Srila Gurudeva's head and the top of the doorway is not much more than an inch, so my judgment and timing has to be impeccable: I never want to unnecessarily touch Srila Gurudeva's head, or worse! seem to pat his head, so at the last second, when it seems that Srila Gurudeva's head will clear the doorway, I pull my hand away.

This time, however, to my utter dismay, just as I pull my hand away, Srila Gurudeva suddenly slumps backward and bangs the back of his head as he collapses into the seat. I am horrified! It is not a particularly hard knock, but because Srila Gurudeva suffers from spondylitis, any kind of bump or jerk is exponentially aggravated.

I am appalled by my miscalculation, and apologize. Srila Gurudeva is good-natured about it, but I castigate myself for removing my hand prematurely just because I did not want to appear to be irreverent or impertinent.

We are told that for the sake of service, a pujari may have to put his foot on the altar (to adjust Krishna's crown, etc.). If my deference results in Srila Gurudeva being hurt, then what is the value of such deference? Is it not better to seem impertinent rather than to cause Srila Gurudeva the slightest pain or discomfort?

This is an awful reminder for me to always be careful and vigilant in my service, and to pay attention to what I am doing: just because Srila Gurudeva did not bump his head one thousand times before does not mean that he will not bump his head now.

One thing I do know: I won't make this mistake again.

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Layout by iMonk — October 7th, 2004.