Twice Blessed

from Connor Burke

My uncle did not have a happy life. He was highly intelligent and sincerely interested in spiritual development. But he’d had a brutal upbringing, which he tried to compensate for with drugs and alcohol.

I didn’t know him well, so I can’t speak of whether the good and harm he did in this world balanced out in the end. But I do know of one good deed for which I am eternally indebted to him.

One morning in meditation, he said, he felt a “nudge from Spirit” to send me Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda.

I started reading it as I was hiking up a mountainside. By the time I came down, my whole worldview had changed. Before, nothing in life had made sense. Now I knew my purpose was to seek God, and that God was seeking me. I vowed to practice meditation daily.

About six months later, on a Saturday morning, the phone rang in the middle of my meditation. It was my father.

“Your uncle committed suicide,” he announced solemnly.

I tried to continue meditating, but the shock was too painful. Overwhelmed by tears and emotion, I decided to journal my experience.

Just after I finished writing, and was wondering how to proceed next through the grieving process, I remembered that I had volunteered to help with a community service project. I decided that keeping the commitment would be an uplifting way to honor my uncle.

The project entailed moving thousands of books from one storage area to another, loading and unloading them from the backs of trucks. I no longer remember whose books they were or why we were moving them.

A couple of hours into it, as I hoisted yet another box up into the back of a truck, one volume slipped off the pile and fell into my arms. It was Cities of Light by Swami Kriyananda. I knew that Kriyananda was a disciple of Yogananda, and I felt it was the grace of God that put that book into my hands on that day. When I asked to buy the book, the man in charge gave it to me for free.

Cities of Light is about the ideal of spiritual communities, and Ananda as a living example of that ideal. In the middle of my copy was a card advertising a summer program at Ananda. I mailed it in and a few weeks later received a call.

“Did you know that that card and the book it was in were printed thirty years ago?” the woman from Ananda asked me.

It had never crossed my mind. Of course the program advertised was long over, but another that suited me perfectly was starting in a few weeks.

“Would you like to come?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said enthusiastically. My faith was on fire.

As soon as I arrived I felt at home. I don’t know if my uncle ever imagined the impact Autobiography of a Yogi would have on my life. But perhaps he was helping me all along. I’ve always thought it significant that, on the day he died, news of Ananda literally fell into my lap from above.