Updated: Jun 23, 2022
It was a simply perfect summer evening. Whilst my husband and son were happily playing cricket out on the front lawn I seized the moment to grab a recently written letter and jump into the car, heading towards the town's nearest post office. A few people were dotted at various points along the high-level bridge that led into town. Carefully I entered onto its high narrow roadway, concentrating in case another car should begin to make the opposite journey towards me. As I drove past these people, an idea - a thought - came to me. The thought simply said "One of these people is planning to jump off the bridge". It was as if someone had said that. I didn't hear a 'voice'; just the 'thought'. And yet I heard it as clearly as if it had been spoken right next to me. I felt torn. My first response was that this was a pretty strange - not to say irrational - thing to be considering, apparently to myself. I was most strongly inclined to dismiss it. But then I thought "if it is true, then that is of real concern and something should be done about it". Surely it was better to be safe than sorry? But do what...? I began to drive really slowly as the end of the bridge drew closer, whilst a barrage of sceptical questions raced through my head. I was thinking how unreal this was. Who gets thoughts like this randomly entering their heads, when they're merely driving on a beautiful evening, without a care in the world? By this time I was driving extremely slowly. Just where the bridge ended, I pulled over to the side of the road for a few moments to frantically seek some guidance. As all this played out in a kind of slow motion, I kept silently repeating the Greatest Name prayer in my head. My next thought was that if it was all imaginary (as I naturally assumed it must be) then there would be no harm done if I quickly reversed and drove back past the group, watching closely for any sign at all that this could possibly be real. All the while I was really thinking to myself how unlikely the whole scenario was. To be frank, I was feeling a bit ridiculous and embarrassed inside my own self as I drove toward the group again. What crazy thing was I doing? What on earth did I expect to happen? And how would I even recognise if such a troubled person did exist? By now I had slowed so much that the engine was barely running. At this very point I noted that a young man had stepped out of his flip-flops to stand barefoot against the bridge railing for no apparent purpose at all. Acting on sheer impulse, I slowly drew up alongside him and leaned across to open the passenger door, calling out to ask if he was ok. To my HUGE surprise, at that moment he swung around, saw me and just jumped straight into the car!!! Frozen, I quickly decided to act as if this happened every day. But inwardly my mind was racing. What was I to do with this strange man - well, now I could see he was a youth really - in this bizarre situation? For lack of any better idea, I began driving back towards my home. On arrival he meekly followed me inside. As I offered him coffee, we exchanged names. I'm going to call him Dennis which is not his real name. By now I had time to observe him more closely. I noted that he was Maori and covered in poorly executed tattoos on every visible part of his body. Encouraged by my listening ear, he began to explain that he had definitely intended to jump off the bridge, being well aware that below was a very deep and fast-moving river which would have spelled his certain death. Dennis explained that the first time he had spoken to another - his brother-in-law - of a desire to take his own life, he'd been taunted that he was really too afraid to actually do so. So today's action was both to end his life and, at the same time, prove to the brother-in-law his true courage. (Despite this bravado, I was aware that he had seemed only too keen to seize the slight opportunity to escape offered by my open car door.) As he talked about having very recently left prison, I tried to move the conversation around to more spiritual matters. However, I could see that he was under the influence of a different type of spirit (!) and lacked any capacity for such conversation. Instead, I listened as he rambled, often incoherently, but I managed to establish that his large Maori family was from an area where I had recently lived. Now I was beginning to imagine the growing consternation of my own family still out at the 'cricket pitch' who were occasionally popping a head around the door to ensure all was well with this stranger now monopolising my attention. Eventually, realising that very little was being achieved in Dennis's confused state, I told him I would deliver him to where ever he was staying. Imagine my surprise when he directed my car to the very house where I had delivered a new friend only a day or so earlier! To give some context; as a member of the local Baha'i community, I had given a lift home from a meeting to a recently-arrived Baha'i from another area. The house that I delivered him to was this same one! The person I had delivered that night was the supposedly 'taunting' brother-in-law Harry (again, not his real name). Harry turned up again on the following week, to bring his energetic brood of children to one of the 3 mid-week Baha'i children's classes which I regularly held in my home. I never saw nor heard of Dennis again, but over the years Harry and I worked together frequently on different projects. Shortly I had the pleasure of meeting his wife - the sister of Dennis. In fact she joined the Baha'i community not long after, as did her sister, and we were together often through several years to come. My last contact with Harry was when we online-chatted last year; by then he had left the country and had a full face moko (tatoo). Meantime, l sometimes wondered what happened to Dennis, and to the children I had enjoyed teaching and singing with so much. I feel sure we will all be together again one day. Obviously this is just the account of one person's experience. However, it had a powerful effect on me. Much reflection and meditation followed, as I sought over time for some understanding of these events which I simply could not deny.
The Baha'i Writings contain many references to the reality of dreams, coincidences, and other experiences which are very real to the recipient whilst having limited value to others. Abdu'l-Baha offers this helpful guidance; "Every subject presented to a thoughtful audience must be supported by rational proofs and logical arguments. Proofs are of four kinds: first, through sense perception; second, through the reasoning faculty; third, from traditional or scriptural authority; fourth, through the medium of inspiration. That is to say, there are four criteria or standards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions". --- 89 – 16 Notes by Edna McKinney of a talk by Abdu'l-Baha, August 1912, at Green Acre, Eliot, Maine. The Holy Books of all religions contain accounts of dreams and inspirations which are considered to carry traditional or scriptural authority. When making our own determination we need to apply sense perception, reasoning, the guidance of authoritative texts and our inner sense of inspiration. The Guardian offered the following advice;
"Development of Psychic Faculties Weakens Spiritual Capacities:
“...The Guardian would suggest that you study very carefully the statement of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in connection with the question of visions, dreams, etc., as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has very fully explained this delicate subject. You will find references to this in ‘Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era,’ ‘Some Answered Questions’ and the Books of Tablets. The Guardian likewise has commented on this matter.
“Briefly, there is no question that visions occasionally do come to individuals, which are true and have significance. On the other hand, this comes to an individual through the grace of God, and not through the exercise of any of the human faculties. It is not a thing which a person should try to develop. When a person endeavors to develop faculties so that they might enjoy visions, dreams etc., actually what they are doing is weakening certain of their spiritual capacities; and thus under such circumstances, dreams and visions have no reality, and ultimately lead to the destruction of the character of the person.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated May 6, 1952, to an individual believer)