A teacher of the Gita Yoga had as a disciple an Englishman brought up to restrain expression of feeling. The teacher approved of this as a basis, but got him to take part in amateur theatricals and public speaking so that there should be some creative expression. The Englishman’s mother was sceptical (though she had been baptized) and often sarcastic about religion. They lived far apart, and when they did meet he never talked about his beliefs and practise. She had a vague idea that he was inclined to some strange Oriental cult, but she would dismiss the subject of religion in a few sharp words if ever it appeared on the conversational horizon. She recognized that he was a good son to her. When finally she fell very ill, he took her into his home to look after in the final stages.
Now the teacher had told this disciple, as he told all of them, not to feel he was giving up the religion into which he had been born. He recommended him to read from the New Testament every day, which he did with slowly increasing interest. Later he took to having a crucifix by his bed during the night.
One day the teacher asked about the mother, and hearing that she was very weak, said, “The Gita declares that the last thought of the dying person may be very important. If when you are there you become aware that your mother is about to die, say into her ear, ‘Jesus loves you.’”
The disciple gulped. Suppose, he thought to himself, Mother didn’t die but recovered for a bit; he could imagine her reaction. Only the week before, a well-meaning friend had sent her a postcard with angels pictured on it, and the inscription below, “When we pass over, they are waiting to greet us on the other side.” His mother had snorted contemptuously, and remarking, “How do they know, I wonder?” told him to throw it in the wastepaper basket.
Then he pondered that after all he had only been told to do it if he knew definitely that she was dying, and he could never be completely certain of that. On the other hand, this had been an instruction from the teacher, so there must be circumstances in which it would apply. His mind wavered to and fro for a long while but in the end he made up his mind to do it.
When the time came, however, and his mother lay dying before him, he found himself so embarrassed that he could not bring the words out. He stood silently and prayed. Afterwards, telling the whole story to another pupil, a close friend, he ended, “I just couldn’t do it. I often worry about it now; I feel it was a big failure, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let Mother go over with her last thought not ‘Jesus loves you,’ but ‘Jimmy’s gone barmy!’ Because that’s what she would have thought.”
Some years later, the Englishman himself died, alone and in the night. He was lying peacefully and there had been no struggle, but it seemed that he had woken before it happened, as he was found holding the crucifix. His friend one day discussed with a senior the story as he knew it, and remarked, “I think our teacher must have made a little miscalculation there, when he told him to say those words ‘Jesus loves you’ to his mother. After all, he must have known Jimmy wouldn’t be able to say them: it was absolutely impossible for someone brought up like him. And it worried him a lot; he often thought how he had failed.”
The senior, a woman, laughed at the story, but added, “Not absolutely impossible, you know. If it had been absolutely impossible, he wouldn’t have worried about it. The Gita says that the Lord is in the heart of every being, so nothing’s absolutely impossible, is it? I agree that our teacher knew it was highly unlikely that he would get over the obstacles and say these words. But the point is, he thought about it often. No doubt there was a feeling of worry, of having failed, but still, he was thinking about it.
“And when he himself woke up in the night and realized that he was dying, and just had the strength to reach for that crucifix, what do you suppose came to his mind? It was those words. He’d failed to say them before, but they didn’t fail him then.”