Blue Moped

[Listen to Asha read this story]

For many years, the only way to drive to Crystal Hermitage, Swamiji's home at Ananda Village, was over two miles of unpaved road, deeply rutted and littered with potholes.

For years also, Swamiji’s only car was a big blue Chevrolet, purchased for him from a government auction of used automobiles. Two cars, exactly alike, were bought at the same time—one for Swamiji to drive, and the other to provide spare parts to keep the first one running. Each cost $75. On the door of Swamiji's car could faintly be seen the words, "U.S. Air Force," put there by one of its previous owners. Naturally, the car became known as "Air Force One,” an amusing title for this ancient vehicle.

One summer, Swamiji decided it would save wear and tear on the car if he got a moped for the dirt road and used the Chevrolet only for trips outside of Ananda. Several friends warned Swamiji that dirt roads could be treacherous on a motorcycle, but Swamiji was unconcerned. When a blue moped came up for sale, Swamiji bought it.

In that season, his everyday outfit was sandals, Bermuda shorts, and a sport shirt (often a bright Hawaiian print). For some weeks he cut quite a colorful figure in his flowered shirts, sitting straight upright rather than hunched over in typical motorcyclist fashion, and waving cheerfully to passersby. He appeared always serene, driving at moderate speed and calmly smiling.

Then disaster struck.

The dirt road includes a long, steep hill, which, on a small motorcycle, must be taken at just the right speed. Too fast, and one may lose control; too slow, and one may lose traction. Swamiji had safely negotiated the hill before now, but this day something went wrong. His speed was inadequate and the moped lost traction and began to slip. Swamiji gunned the motor, but it was too late. The moped tipped over, pinning him beneath it.

The machine wasn't heavy, but the hot exhaust pipe fell right against the inside of his bare calf, burning into his skin. To get out from under it, Swamiji had to roll over on the ground, which caused the wound to become filled with dust and dirt.

Fortunately, someone was driving not far behind Swamiji and was able to pick him up and take him home. The closest medical care was twenty miles away in Nevada City, and Swamiji didn't think the injury warranted the journey. He had no telephone, but somehow the word spread. Soon people began showing up at Swamiji's door with ideas of how to treat the burn. Over the course of the next several hours he received three or four different treatments. Unfortunately, none of them helped much. The wound did not get cleaned properly, and none of the ointments and salves was appropriate. After a few days the wound became infected. Only then did Swamiji consent to go into town and have it treated medically.

It was a bad burn, and looked even worse: some six inches long and three inches across, inflamed and full of pus. The doctor assured Swamiji, however, that with a little care it would heal fine.

The following Sunday, Swamiji was holding an afternoon satsang in his home, as he often did. He sat in his usual chair in front of the big triangle window that looked out at the river valley and the forested hills beyond. He was wearing bermuda shorts and, in accordance with the doctor's orders, had his leg propped up on a footstool before him. The wound was unbandaged to let the air reach it freely, so we all got a good view of how awful it looked. About a dozen people were present.

Suddenly, a man named Ram Lila burst into the room. Ram Lila lived in San Francisco, but often visited Ananda. Before becoming a devotee he had belonged to a rough motorcycle gang called the Hell's Angels. By now he had given up most of the worst habits associated with that lifestyle, but he still looked like a "biker," and still drove a big Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Ram Lila was powerfully built—not tall but very thick, somewhat on the lines of a Sumo wrestler, though by no means obese. His biceps were bigger than the average man's thighs. The astrological bangle that is worn by many Ananda members, made to go around the arm above the elbow, was worn by Ram Lila dangling from a string around his neck. It would have taken at least two bangles to accommodate the circumference of his upper arm. He had a black beard and thick, curly hair, which hung to his shoulders. Heavy boots and a leather vest completed his "biker" outfit.

He looked fierce, but his nature was that of a child. Swamiji had given him the name, "Ram Lila," which means, "God’s divine play."

"I laughed when the name came to me," Swamiji said. "It was so appropriate!"

Ram Lila was devoted to Swamiji in an extravagant, adoring way, like a child. He wanted Swamiji to take him on as a bodyguard. Swamiji declined because, he said, "I don't need one." Ram Lila never quite accepted that this was true, and when he was in Swamiji's company he always kept alert, "just in case."

On this day, Ram Lila came straight in and threw himself at Swamiji's feet. "I should have been killed!" he said with deep feeling. "The truck came out of nowhere. BAM!" He slammed one fist into the other open hand to show the force of the impact.

"I wasn't wearing a helmet. I went flying over the handlebars and bounced on the road. BAM! BAM! BAM!" Again he illustrated with fist to hand. "My side, my head, my shoulders, my back: I thought, 'This is it! I'm dead!' Finally I stopped. I checked everything. Man, not even a broken bone! I walked away. I should have died, and I WALKED AWAY!"

What he was describing was serious, but he told the story with such enthusiasm and drama that we were laughing with delight. Ram Lila didn't seem to mind.

"I'm so glad you didn't die, Ram Lila!" said Swamiji, and patted him lovingly on the head.

Now that he'd told his story, Ram Lila noticed for the first time that Swamiji was injured.

"What happened to you?" he asked. Perhaps Swamiji did need a bodyguard after all!

Swamiji didn't answer. "You tell him," he said to me.

"He fell off his moped," I explained. "The exhaust pipe landed on his leg and burned him."

Ram Lila was so shocked he could barely speak. He stammered out a question: "W-w-when did it happen?" I told him the day and the time of the accident.

"O my God! O my God! O my God!" he cried. "That was just before that truck slammed into me. You did it! You saved my life! I couldn't figure out why I didn’t die. Now I know." He knelt before Swamiji and began to sob.

After the accident, Swamiji never touched his moped again. A few weeks later he gave it away.

No comments:

Post a Comment