I first met Francis Brabazon in India in 1980 on a Meherazad visit. When I heard he was there, I felt great excitement and anticipation – like I would have felt going for dinner and drinks with Jack Kerouac when I was a hippie! … or to Elvis’ home for go-cart racing when I was a kid! I had read all of Francis’ books and actually carried Stay With God everywhere for about eighteen months.
Since moving to Australia in 1982, I’ve come to appreciate his profound impact on Baba lovers here. Whereas, Americans tended to admire and know him through his poetry; there is a core group of perhaps fifteen–twenty people in Australia who were profoundly influenced directly by Francis – his wit, humour, ‘toughness’ and deep grounding in Baba. I’ve heard many wonderful stories from these people who spent so much time with him. In return, here’s my favourite ‘Francis story’.
So. It’s 1980 in Meherazad and I’m going to meet Francis. Wow. I approached the room directly across from the veranda, where we eat our lunch and there he was – alone. He greeted me warmly, brewed a cup of tea and we drank and smoked and talked. Fantastic.
As the contact warmed up and we seemed to really be hitting it off, here comes Mani. Eyes wide in exaggerated horror, “What’s this, Jim? You can’t be hogging Francis all to yourself. C’mon now, come over to the veranda so the others get a chance.”
I thought Francis would be mobbed and it would be my last opportunity to ‘hang out’ with him. Instead, somehow Paul Lieberon from Canada was the only person who joined us. We then proceeded to have a wonderful spiritual talkfest. Lots of laughter, with meaty and juicy bits of Baba’s cosmology. As things proceeded it became clear that both Paul and Francis were exceedingly witty; and that their knowledge of Sufism and poetry was way beyond me. So I sat on the sidelines witnessing this amazing, intellectual sparring session, interjecting a few tidbits but mainly acting as a sort of referee. Gradually Paul was leading Francis deeper and deeper into more purely intellectual and esoteric territory. Not so much laughter now!
Just as I thought I could sense Francis becoming ill at ease, he suddenly blurted out very forcefully, “I don’t give a damn about nothin’ … ’cept Meher Baba.” The conversation came back down to earth!
Several years later, Melbourne c. 1983 or 84 – Tricia and I picked up Francis and Patricia Saunders at the airport. He had come to visit his brother who was very ill. I’d heard vague rumours through the Baba grapevine about a strange disease called Alzheimer’s that Francis might have. He did act differently from the first meeting in India, and subsequent contacts at Avatar’s Abode and he didn’t seem to remember me.
Francis and I sat in the back seat of the car pretty much in silence. My mind was working away, searching for a conversation starter. Finally, I said, “Francis, remember in India when you and I and Paul Lieberon were talking and you said, ‘I don’t give a damn about nothin’ – ’cept Meher Baba’?” Silence. More silence. What to do? Is he going to ignore that? After about thirty seconds, which seemed an eternity, with gut-wrenching sadness and poignancy in his voice he said, “What a pity.”
My mind really started whirling then! What pity? Life itself? That we’re incarnate in Maya? Where’s the connection to what he said in India? Has he lost it to such an extent that he can only talk in non-sequiturs? What to say now? After another infinitely-long thirty seconds, I asked, “Francis, when you said ‘what a pity’ a moment ago, what did you mean?”
He replied, “That it isn’t true.”
Jim Migdoll, Meher Baba and me, p.29 /30
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