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Recollections of Pilgrimage:
Nine Days with the Guardian in 1957

by Bill Washington

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Chapter 6

To be one of the ‘family'

I mentioned before Rúhíyyih Khánum's reference to the evening dinner serving as unofficial ‘meetings' of the International Bahá'í Council, and this was truly a remarkable thing. Not only were the pilgrims treated more as one of the family than guest, but they were embraced, as part of that family, in the business affairs of an institution that was to evolve into the Supreme House of Justice. While I was there two of those members were absent – Milly Collins and Mason Remey were not in Haifa – and Ugo Giachery, whom I had met in Rome, came to Haifa only when personal consultation with the Guardian was needed. But other members were there, and I soon realized that we pilgrims were also included in that – a truly rare experience. One evening the Guardian was speaking with Leroy Ioas about the new Mashriqu'l-Adhkár that was to be built in Sydney, and he must have noticed the surprise in my eyes, as this was the first I had ever heard of it. He looked directly at me, and said very kindly that this was a confidential matter which the friends generally in Australia knew nothing of, and I must not say anything about it when I returned to Australia. Rúhíyyih Khánum immediately broke in to say: "But, Shoghi Effendi, that is a very heavy thing to lay on a young person's shoulders." He nodded, smiled and said, simply: "He will learn. He will learn", and went on with his conversation with Leroy Ioas. I learned that this was a supplementary goal of the Ten Year Crusade to replace the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár planned for Tehran, which might not be feasible because of the political situation there; I learned that plans were well under way and that the design of Mason Remey's for the House of Worship in Australia was being modified and redrafted by a local architect who would supervise the construction, and that the National Spiritual Assembly had been working on this for some time, but the community had not yet been told.

I also learned to keep my mouth shut. Returning to Australia by air, my route went through Adelaide and I again spent a few days with the Featherstone family there. On the first night, just before I climbed into bed on the back porch, which served as a ‘guest room', Collis came out in his pyjamas and asked me if the Guardian had said anything and then told me not to speak about it. I said: "Yes, he did." Collis instantly stopped me with a raised hand, and said: "Then, don't tell me." I didn't. Mr Featherstone was then a member of the National Spiritual Assembly, as the Hands were still permitted to be, and was well aware of what I may have heard from the Guardian. I knew too that the Guardian was right; I did learn.

There were many other things they spoke about, some plans for developments in the Faith that I was vaguely aware of, and much that I did not know. As pilgrims we seemed to be included in all this, and trusted. It was in a way bewildering, and yet made me feel happy and proud: this was an ‘open' Faith; people trusted you, relied on you; there was no unnecessary secrecy. I learned many things, and after dinner each evening, the Guardian would leave – he obviously had a night's work before him – and we pilgrims, together with the others of the household, would move to a lounge room, upstairs from the dining room, and the conversation would go well into the night, exchanges of news between the pilgrims, between pilgrims and members of the household, clarification on something the Guardian may have said that night. And from these exchanges I also learned a great deal. Then when we retired to sleep, I made notes of all I could remember, because it was not permitted at that time – and reasonably enough – for the pilgrims to take notes at the dinner table. That was not the main purpose. But at the end of each day, I was able to make notes of all I could recall. And these notes got me into some trouble later on.

Some years later a story filtered back – I heard it first from Howard Harwood, who was one of the three Counsellors initially appointed for Australasia in 1968, and your grandmother [Bill's wife Hiroko; see About these notes] also heard it from Rúhíyyih Khánum in Tokyo, when they were both visiting Japan in 1979. The story was that a young Australian pilgrim was there and the Guardian had expressed some concern to Rúhíyyih Khánum one evening that perhaps this young pilgrim was not really "taking in anything". He had asked Rúhíyyih Khánum: "He seems so quiet. Do you think he understands anything at all." She assured him – "It's just that he is young and I'm sure he is listening to what you are saying." Then some weeks later the Guardian came to Rúhíyyih Khánum, waving a copy of the Australian Bahá'í Bulletin that had just been received. "He was listening" he said, "and listening well; he has ‘stolen' my Ridván message, he has told them all the news I am planning to put in my Ridván message this year".

And I'm sorry to say it was true. The notes I had taken were fairly full; I had been trained and worked as a journalist in earlier days, and one essential need of that work was the ability to make notes, and transcribe accurately what people had said. Each evening I had recalled much of what the Guardian had said and made notes which were later used to make a report on my pilgrimage. When I returned to Australia – and pilgrimage in those days was not so common as it is today – Eric Bowes had asked me to make some report for the Herald of the South, which he was editing at that time. I did as he asked, and this report found its way also into the Bulletin, where it was read by the Guardian. Many of the facts and statistics that he intended to use for that beautiful Ridván message in 1957, the last one he ever wrote for us, were already shared with the friends in that report. I felt so terrible about it, and even now I wish I could retract what had been done.

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