Editor's Note: For the first time in the history of the San Mateo County Fair, a 300-page anthology has been published that includes more than 100 stories, poems and essays from writers who submitted award-winning work for the fair's literary contest. The idea was the brainchild of Bardi Rosman Koodrin, a San Bruno resident who runs the fair's literary contest, and the anthology, titled "Carry the Light," features work from many Peninsula writers.
This story describes an incident that the writer had in the mid-1980s. The excerpt is from his first published memoir.
From p. 194, “And Ye Shall Find Rest”
At some point in my life—possibly when I was a college student—I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. In this book, Yogananda describes how he grew up in India, how he became a swami, and how he came to California. This was in 1920. The book also describes various miracles, or instances of divine grace, that Yogananda experienced in India.
The stories of faith justified appealed to the part of me that still loved Jesus and the notion that God would provide for someone in their need. I had already become a Unitarian Universalist, however, and viewed with a skepticism miracle stories that flatly contradicted the physically possible.
I, however, had left behind Virginia and come to northern California—much as Yogananda had left India to come to southern California. But whereas he had left his ancient motherland to spread his faith in a new land, I had renounced and abandoned my birth land to come to what for me seemed a spiritual Promised Land: a place that respected and even nurtured alternative cultures.
My work at Pacific Bell sometimes required travel around the state, and sometime around 1986 I flew to Los Angeles to participate in meetings about underground construction. I had visited Los Angeles before, but had never had the time to actually visit anything interesting. On this particular visit, I had some free time—and a rental car. For some reason, I ended up at a small shopping mall in Burbank.
It is possible that I had made a mental connection between swami Yogananda and the city of Burbank. The yogi had, after all, met Luther Burbank. But Burbank had lived in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco. Or had Autobiography of a Yogi perhaps been published in Burbank?
Whatever the case, I found myself in a small bookstore, frustrated by the realization that the foundation established by the swami lay only a few miles distant, somewhere in the LA hills—though I had no idea where.
My frustration was intensified by the fact that I was flying out of LA that afternoon. In fact, I only had about two hours before my flight was leaving Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
But that was time enough, surely, to find the yogi’s institute? I had a large map of Los Angeles. I just didn’t have the address.
This is the type of situation, I think, where the swami’s religious teachers might have told him, “God will provide.” Yogananda speaks of traveling as a boy to a distant town, without money, and trusting “the Lord” to provide the means of surviving for a week and then returning safely home. The Lord did provide.
It was similar stories that nearly led me, when I was sixteen, to wander off from my parents’ car as we drove across New York state and trust God to feed and shelter me in the forest. But I did not choose to wander off.
Standing in that bookstore in Burbank, I thought I heard a voice say to me:
“You are standing in the middle of a bookstore. Swami Yogananda lived near here and wrote books. He is known all over the world. Turn around.”
On the bookshelf behind me, I found a small book of sayings by the yogi; and, on the last page, the address of his fellowship. I found the street quite easily on my map.
The institute was not far distant. I was soon climbing the hills of north-east Los Angeles, a panoramic vista of the great city opening around me.
Lost and Found
But I couldn’t find the street. I knew I was on the right hill. I passed by all the adjoining streets that I saw on the map. But at the location shown on the map…the street with the institute simply wasn’t there!
The medieval legends of the Holy Grail tell us that the search for the Grail is begun by plunging into the forest where the bramble seems thickest, the way most hopeless. I had plunged into the maze of roads climbing above Los Angeles, and the lines on my map had led to an impasse. Apparently the street I sought was unmarked.
But the Grail legends also tell us that if you are meant to find the Grail, it will guide you to it. Most, however, are not chosen; no matter how they seek, they will never find it.
So I abandoned myself to God. I said: “Okay, after all this effort, after driving to Burbank, after hearing the voice and finding what must be the very hill on which You lived; being on almost the very street where You taught—I surrender myself to Your will. If You wish me not to find You, I accept your decision. I bow to you, Swami Yogananda—Bapu. Lead me to understand your wisdom.”
I turned to head down the mountain. Immediately, on one corner of the street, I noticed a sign for the institute. One hour remained before my flight.
And there, on a hill with a beautiful view of the city, I found peace and tranquility. I could imagine Him walking there, teaching. His picture looked down from a gazebo in the garden. I brought my palms together in a blessing, bowed, and thanked Him for leading me into His gardens.
Then it was time to return. I had forty minutes to get across Los Angeles and onto my plane. It was past mid-afternoon. I hit a small traffic jam on the freeway. I had to wait briefly to return my rental car.
I walked into LAX ten minutes before my flight was to leave. Fortunately I had no baggage to check; I was carrying it all.
I made my way across the gigantic terminal, down the ramp, and onto the plane. As I stepped into the cabin, the airplane door closed behind me. Soon I was heading for home.
Sometimes the gods do provide.
Excerpted from "Carry the Light" with the permission of Sand Hill Review Press, the publisher. The book is available for purchase for $12 on Amazon.com.
William Albert Baldwin was born in Virginia, grew up with the military, and has travelled widely. He began writing in his teens. He has published essays, stories, and poems, winning several awards. He is currently at work on several novels. He lives in Sunnyvale and is heavily involved in the South Bay Branch of the California Writers Club.