Love Guru on 34th Street: One Devotee Remembers Her First DarshanLast night, inside the Manhattan Center on W. 34th Street, several thousand people received hugs from the 54 year old Mata Amritanandamayi, better known as Amma.
She began hugging strangers in her teens, first on the streets of her village in Kerala, India, then later in living rooms in Madison, Wis., and Dallas. Word spread about her message of unconditional love and, as many of her followers believe, the healing power of her embrace [see full story in the NYT]
I was there watching. She sat on a stage, the hugging mother guru running a marathon of embraces. Countless hours, countless whispers, countless smiles doled out to young and old, black and white and brown and yellow. Never tiring. As long as 12 hours, into the wee hours of the night.
At about 9:30, I, on the other hand, was tired and decided to go home. I still carry with me the hug that I recieved six years ago at Amritapuri, Amma’s ashram in the backwaters of Kerala. My mom and sister and I had traveled to India a year after my father’s death, carrying an urn full of his ashes with us. While on a relaxing backwater cruise in Kerala’s waterways, the boatmen had told us that we were just outside Amma’s ashram. How could we not go?
When we got off our houseboat, Mom somehow figured out a way for us to finagle our way into the front of a very long line. Oh no, we weren’t cutting. “We’re only passing through for an hour. It’s very important that we meet Amma,” she said to everyone who stood in her way, until one of the very kind volunteers came forward and led us to the stage.
Standing in a mad rush of people, my mom pushed my sister and me forward and pressed us into Amma’s chest. Leaning forward, she whispered conspiratorially to Amma, “Bless my girls. Find husbands for my two daughters. “
Amma smiled and grabbed both of us, two sisters, two years apart, both of us still grieving for our lost father, barely thinking of marriage. She whispered “Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry” fast and breathlessly in our ears and handed each of us a few flower petals and a piece of chocolate. It may have been a coincidence but within four months, both my sister and I had met the men who were to become our husbands.
When good things fall into my lap, I become extremely prayerful. One of the first people I thanked in my heart was Amma, the love guru whose mantra of “don’t worry” I had carried with me in the months following our visit. It was a simple message, I know, but sometimes, don’t we forget the simplest things?
Yesterday, I stepped out of the air conditioned Manhattan Center into the muggy Manhattan night, holding my husband’s hand and remembering that hug of six years ago and wondering whether it, in some small way, had actually jump started my destiny.
Sometimes the universe speaks to us when we least expect it. Want to know what the first thing I saw when I got outside was? A flashing neon marquee outside the multiplex AMC Loews across the street flashing the showtimes for Mike Myers’s “The Love Guru.”
There were two young men standing on the pavement just outside the Manhattan Center, about to cross the street over toward the cinemas.
"Don’t go to the movies,” I wanted to whisper to them. “The live action love guru is right over here, just for today.”
It was an ironic juxtaposition, one of those split seconds in life that makes you look up at the sky and wink.