REMINISCENCES OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
MRS. S. K. BLODGETT
(From a letter dated September 2, 1902, to Josephine MacLeod)
I AM ever recalling those swift, bright days in that never-to-be forgotten winter, lived in simple freedom and kindliness. We could not choose but to be happy and good. And now while I share with all who knew and loved him a deep sense of loss, it would be an impertinence to measure your sorrow and loss by my own, so closely have you been associated with him in his intimate friendship with your family. I knew him personally but a short time, yet in that time I could but see in a hundred ways the child side of Swamiji’s character, which was a constant appeal to the Mother quality in all good women. He depended upon those near him in a way which brought him very nearly one’s heart. I think the Mead sisters must have remarked this side of Swamiji.
Possessing as he did an almost inexhaustible knowledge of things old as the world — a sage and philosopher — he yet appeared to me to lack utterly the commercial knowledge which so distinguish[es] men of the Western world. You were constantly rendering him some apparently trifling service in the everyday homely happenings of our daily life, he in some small way requiring to be set right. That which we mother and care for in little, seemingly inconsequent ways must through the very nature of our care weave a world of tenderness around the object of our love — until in some sad day we are robbed of the divine privilege of loving service and are left like “Rachel mourning for her children because they are not”, Thus I know, aside from the loss of a delightful and rare companion, the fact alone of your generous service brought him very near to you. One day busy with my work, Swamiji absorbed with his curries and chapattis, I spoke to him of you, when he said: “Ah, yes! Jo is the sweetest spirit of us all” — He would come home from a lecture where he was compelled to break away from his audience, so eagerly would they gather around him — come rushing into the kitchen like a boy released from school, with, “Now we will cook”. The prophet and sage would disappear, to reveal the child side or simplicity of character. Presently ‘Jo’ would appear and discover the culprit among pots and pans in his fine dress, who was by thrifty, watchful Jo admonished to change to his home garments.
Ah, those pleasant ‘Tea Party’ days, as you termed them. How we used to laugh. Do you remember the lime he was showing me how he wound his turban about his head and you were begging him to hasten as he was already due at the lecture room. I said, “Swami, don’t hurry. You are like a man on his way to be hung. The crowd was jostling each other to reach the place of execution, when he called out. ‘Don’t hurry. There will be nothing interesting until I get there’. I assure you, Swami, there will be nothing interesting until you get there.” This so pleased him that often afterwards he would say, “There will be nothing interesting ’til I gel there”, and laugh like a boy. Just now I recall a morning quite an audience had gathered at our house to listen to the learned Hindu, who sat with downcast eyes and impenetrable face while his audience waited. His meditations over, he raised his eyes to Mrs. Leggett’s face and asked, like a simple child. “What shall I say?” This gifted man, possessing the subtle power of delighting an intellectual audience, to ask for a theme! There appeared to me in this question an exquisite touch of confidence in her judgement in suggesting a subject suitable to the occasion. A most interesting portion of the day you lost.
In the early morning when you and your sister would be sleeping, he would come in for his morning plunge in the bath. Soon his deep, rich voice would be heard in the something resembling a solemn chant. Though Sanskrit [was] an unknown tongue to me, I yet caught the spirit of it all, and these early morning devotions are among my sweetest recollections of the great Hindu. In the homely old-fashioned kitchen you and I have seen Swamiji at his best. He could let his thoughts have untrammelled (s)way.
Do you remember how interesting and instructive one morning he was in one of his inspirational moods? Something in the paper, an abused wife or maltreated child, had aroused my ire, when I vehemently protested against the utter abomination of a system of laws which permitted the indiscriminate production of a mongrel race of children who through heredity and environment were prenatally doomed to be paupers, lunatics, and criminals to prey upon the better born. My plea was for the enactment of a law to save the wretched from themselves by preventing worthless characters — boozy fathers and fool mothers — from forcing upon the world a blasphemy against God and a shameful profanation of His “image and likeness” in [the] shape of half-born children. Swamiji replied by taking us back to the time when a man’s choice of a wife was emphasized with a club, step by step down through the ages showing the gradual amelioration of the condition of women. The evolution of thought had been broadening and developing for them greater freedom and happiness. The central idea in this morning’s talk was that all great reforms had been developed slowly; otherwise, the order and equilibrium of the universe would be disturbed and result in chaos. Of course, I cannot follow him in detail or give his words. I can only give his idea. A curious thing to me, while I lost not a word [n]or failed to grasp the point he would make, [I] have yet found it impossible to repeat but fragmentary utterances of his. I question if one could repeat him in his inspirations. At such moments, one gave oneself up to the joy of listening.
I heard very few ofSwamiji’s public lectures. My age and household duties gave me no choice but like Martha to sit in the house. To follow in detail our pleasant hours at that time would be like one[‘s] repeating a dream from which one awoke too soon. Were you present at a lecture when one of those ladies who love to make themselves conspicuous by some ill-timed remark asked: “Swami, who is it who support the monks in your country? There are so many of them, you know.” Like a flash Swami replied; “The same who support the clergy in your country, madam. The women!” The audience laughed. Madam was for the time effaced and Swamiji proceeded with his lecture.
Another time I was at a lecture of his in the Masonic Temple in Chicago. A noted clergyman present said: “You believe in creeds, do you not, monk?” “Oh, yes,” said Swami, “while you need them. You plant an acorn for a tree and build around it a little fence to keep away the pigs and goats. But when your acorn has grown to a tall, spreading tree, you do not need your little fence.” He was never at a loss — always equal to the occasion. And now “after life’s fitful fever he sleeps well”, never to be awakened to the discords and tumults of this life, or to be reclothed with an earthly body (in my belief), since this is true that we shall see him no more. Let us hope that in some distant star, above a world of separation and pain, his gentle spirit may again lead and influence the spirits of men. India has sustained a great loss in her Americanized son, who while he sacrificed no essential feature of their faith, yet saw things undreamed of by them, to their betterment and happiness. Nivedita, what will she do without the inspiration of his presence?…’
(Prabuddha Bharata, July 1963)