by Joanne Kilgour
Clementine Rigby was with us for 102 years. Her final months were filled with the clear belief that it was time for her to finish her work on earth. She intimated that she prayed unceasingly for Mother Sarada to release her from her earthly coil. Already reticent about spending time on the phone talking about mundane matters such as the state of her health, or the people who were visiting her daily to take care of her, she withdrew even further into her spiritual persona and cut off conversations that did not address the state of the “master,” Swami Tathagatananda, and his health. She always made a request that the Swami be told to pray for her to be finished with her present incarnation as quickly as possible.
Mother Rigby, as I had come to call her when I made my phone calls to find out about her health and general well-being, was always thankful that she had seen so much of life. She was glad to make it to the age of 100 years, but felt that the time she was allotted beyond that was unnecessary. She was always ready to share a good joke about some of her efforts to be a good steward of the direction that the Swamis had tried to offer her. She always expressed her gratitude to the Swamis and their demands on her as she learned to live the life of a committed aspirant who was devoted to Mother Sarada and Thakur. Truly Mother’s child, she offered up every wrong turn and ignorant mistake on her spiritual path to Sarada Ma. She trusted that Sri Ma would accept her efforts in the spirit in which they were made.
She saw herself as Holy Mother’s child and only prayed that everything that she experienced was seen as a gift to her Maker. Whether it was pain or anger or bad health, Mother Rigby wanted to keep her mind completely focused on the divinity that inspired her every waking moment. She did not want her last moments to slip by without their being properly prepared as symbols of thanks to her Higher Power.
Clemmy, as she was known to many devotees, was herself an inspiration as a householder devotee of Mother Sarada. She prayed incessantly, bending her mind to think only of Holy Mother, and to be absorbed in her internalized mantra during all her waking hours. She depended on Mother to cure every physical ill that challenged her health. Even her doctor had to bow down to her ancient wisdom when she turned up in his office. He admitted that she knew herself better than he did and that he would follow her lead when she chose a path to remedy an ailment. Her doctor was a wise man who welcomed her direction regarding the best path to take when he had to make a decision to help her improve her daily physical functioning. It was a joke between us that Clementine knew more medicine than her doctor and that all she was really doing when she went to see him at his office was paying him a social call. She had every intention to follow her own mind about the way a physical complaint should be addressed to help her get back on her feet. During any health crisis, she would intensify the use of her mantra. At one time, she lay on the floor during the night rather than call her friend who lived next door to help her. She did not want to disturb him, and what’s more, she believed that Mother would help her make it through the long hours until it was a good time to call out for help. Such was her faith in the belief that Sri Ma’s divine hand held her steady and safe in this life.
At the close of her life Clemmy was still living alone in a studio apartment, with regular assistance from two close friends who were among her many spiritual “sons” and “daughters.” More than a decade earlier, after the death of her second husband, she had given away or sold off her earthly belongings, except for the bare furnishing and clothing that she thought were necessary to her life as one who is spiritually educated. She did not want any gifts or greeting cards, since they would be an accumulation that would later have to be discarded. These material things could not help her on her journey to spiritual liberation, nor could they enhance the life that she had chosen to live once she had committed her heart and soul to realizing Sarada Ma in her inmost being. This vigilance, however, did not dampen the spring of joy that emanated in her laugh, sweet disposition, and practical approach to life.
I have repeated many times to friends and colleagues the advice that Mother Rigby gave to me one day. She told me, as she laughed with her girlish response, that it was an old saying from the country where she was born (Belgium). The topic we were discussing was happiness, and she said with an impish smile in her voice: “If you want to be happy for an hour, have a drink. If you want to be happy for three years, you should get married. And if you want to be happy for a lifetime, you should plant a garden.” I have come to cherish this advice because it came from a woman who had lived a hundred years, survived two marriages, and found that the spiritual garden that she had planted was blossoming because of the daily repetition of her mantra and the close support of the Swamis who had come into her life.
It has been my great fortune to come into the life of Clementine Rigby. She has been a model of practical spirituality to lift my spirits as I make a daily effort to be a true child of Sarada Ma. I will always remember her laugh when she talked about her journey to the Vedanta path and the many pitfalls that she had to overcome in order to remain devoted to the ideal of achieving liberation in this very life. I have witnessed a very small part of the life of one woman who depended on Holy Mother entirely and made her best effort to let her every breath be a hymn to her spiritual ideal. Mother Rigby will not be forgotten by any of those whose lives were touched by her sweetness, practical approach to sprituality, and steadfast devotion to Mother Sarada. She lives in every pulse that sings a hymn to our divine heritage, and she will always stay in our hearts and remind us that we have a Holy Mother.
Joanne Kilgour Dowdy is a Professor of Literacy Studies at Kent State University in Ohio. She has been associated with the Vedanta Society of New York since 1984. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org