By Ken Ceder
I came to Avatar Meher Baba in November of 1975 while living in Boston, MA. I migrated West in 1982.
In July of 1986 or 1987, I drove to the Silence Day Sahavas program in Pilgrim Pines given by the Avatar Meher Baba Center of Southern California. I drove my family and a few other Baba Lovers in a motor home I had borrowed from my boss, dropped them off, and didn’t stay for the program.
My then wife mentioned that there was a dhuni at the Sahavas. I asked, “What’s that?” She said, “You take a stick, throw it in the fire, and ask Meher Baba to work on something.” Casually without really thinking of the consequences, I said, “Tell Baba to burn me up.”
I AVOIDED GOING TO MEHER MOUNT
Within that year, I met Agnes Baron (1907-1994), a co-founder and lifetime caretaker of Meher Mount. Her nickname was Agni which means fire in Sanskrit.
I was living in Santa Barbara at the time and had avoided going to Meher Mount in Ojai because I had heard that Agnes was an “an old bitch” from some other Baba lovers.
In my experience, Agnes was tough and even fought the oil companies that were abusing land rights, but she had a softer side. When certain people visited, under circumstances that I didn’t realize, she would be gentle and treat them with kid gloves. Agnes could tune into what that person needed.
Somehow, around my second wedding anniversary in 1988, I decided I wanted to finally visit Meher Mount. The night before our anniversary – which was on Meher Baba’s birthday, February 25th – I called Agnes to ask if we could come up. She said, “Yes.”
We drove to Ojai the next day bringing two bottles of Korbel champagne to celebrate. We opened a bottle, and Agnes toasted our anniversary with us. At some point, my wife took the other bottle and wandered off.
“YOU WEREN’T READY”
I was sitting next to Agnes who had difficulty speaking because of her broken back. Agnes broke her back after the New Life Fire that turned Meher Mount to ashes on October 14, 1985 and severely burned the Baba’s Tree.
Being so hard to hear and understand her, I was sitting very close to her, actually knee-to-knee. She asked, “How long have you lived in Santa Barbara?” I hesitated trying to think of an appropriate answer because I had delayed coming to Meher Mount for so long. Realizing where she was going, I stalled and finally said a couple of years or so.
Then she said, “How come you never came to Meher Mount?” She was so savvy. She leaned forward with a pixyish look on her face. We were nose-to-nose and she said, “You weren’t ready!” That was the truth of it. I was simply not ready.
CURIOUS HOW I ENDED UP CARING FOR AGNES BARON
Being quite self-centered at the time and not into care giving, I found it curious how I ended up caring for her. With hindsight, obviously karma dictated that my brothers and I cared for her for the five-plus years before she died. We weren’t being paid and had other obligations.
One day when I was at Meher Mount caring for Agnes, we went down the road to the New Life Foundation (different than the early Meher Baba New Life group in the late 1940s in La Crescenta, CA) to a garage sale. She bought two ski poles and instead of a cane, she hobbled around Meher Mount using those poles.
HER HIGH SCHOOL PICTURE
On another day, she came walking out of the trailer on those poles with something in her hand and said, “Here, do you want this?” I looked at what she was holding, and it was her original high school graduation picture when she was 16 years old.
I thought this was such an honor. It reminded me that in my high school days, someone would give a picture to a sweetheart or someone who was special. I wondered if this was some way of letting me know that she and I knew each other from a previous life.
It reminded me of a movie “Somewhere in Time” where two people come together – one who is at the end of his/her life, and the other at the beginning. It always left me with a feeling that Agnes and I could have known each other in a different time.
At our first meeting or shortly thereafter, Agnes asked me, “Did He send you?” meaning did Meher Baba send me. I didn’t take the question very seriously. After the first visit, I began visiting more and more.
Agnes was quite physically challenged at the time. I noticed that a homeless man that she allowed to live at Meher Mount was not being responsible and consistent to her needs, especially bringing her fresh water.
CARING FOR AGNES CONTINUOUSLY
Early on, I told my brother Len Ceder about Agnes, and we started to visit her together. We got her a cordless phone because the phone would ring in her trailer and she usually missed the caller. Realizing her lack of mobility, we progressively started doing some chores to help her.
Eventually my brother Len and I began caring for her 24 hours a day seven days a week. Kind of crazy, because we had a start-up business together, and I had new family responsibilities. We would alternate three days on and four days off and then three days off and four days on. Eventually our brother-in-spirit, Tom Entwistle, took Wednesdays to give us a break.
We used to shop and prepare her food. On off weekends, I worked in a farmer’s market handling organic produce and would make applesauce for her which she enjoyed.
SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO TELL ME
I also did her laundry. One day she said, I have something important to tell you. I thought, “Oh, she’s going to tell me how special I am for taking care of her,” and I awaited her praise. She said, “Now, don’t let this go to your head, but you do good laundry.”
My ego went to my knees. She not only had a great sense of humor, but she also knew exactly how to chip away at my big ego or as she used to say, “Chop me down!”
You see I don’t iron clothes. But when I take them out of the laundry and while the clothes are still warm, I hand press them and very carefully fold them. So I meticulously pressed and folded her laundry. That’s why she liked the way I did the laundry.
A CHERISHED PHOTOGRAPH
One day, which never ever happened, Len, Tom and I were at Meher Mount together. Lo and behold a visitor, Peter Carni, came who was a professional photographer. Agnes asked him to take a picture of the four of us together. That picture held a special meaning.
It reminded me of a story Agnes had told us. She recalled when Meher Baba visited Meher Mount in 1956, He asked Charmian Duce to take a picture of Him with Agnes so Agnes could have a personal keepsake. It impressed her so much that Meher Baba had gone out of His way to have that picture taken.
For me, the picture of the three brothers with Agnes at Meher Mount was Meher Baba going out of His way to have a picture taken for us. Meher Baba doesn’t miss a thing. He has His finger on every pulse and aspect of our life.
“YOU’RE A GOOD BOY”
Near the end of her life, she called to me, “Come here, I want to tell you something and don’t let this go to your head.” I thought, “Finally, she’s going to tell me how wonderful I am, how special I am.” What she said was, “You’re a good boy.”
With the help of former Board member Bing Heckman, who provided a residential trailer, Ken and Len Ceder started caring for Agnes Baron full time beginning in early 1988 and remained as her caregivers until her death on July 3, 1994. Meher Baba called Agnes His “Watchdog.” Mani S. Irani, Meher Baba’s sister, told Agnes that Ken and Len were Agnes’ watch puppies.