Mrs. Clementine Rigby, 98
By Joanne Kilgour DowdyAt 98, Mrs. Clementine Rigby (Clemmie) is energetic, sociable, wise, and faithful. She inspires a strong sense of confidence in a person like me who is looking for companionship with those who wish to follow a spiritual path. Though it would seem unlikely that an elderly woman who lives across the country from me would become a treasured friend and inspiration, Ananda (as her first guru named her) has become just that to me. We have created a special bond, as if we were grandmother and granddaughter, across the many miles. And this is so in spite of the fact that we have never met.
On the suggestion and encouragement of my spiritual mentor, Swami Tathagatananda, minister of the Vedanta Society of New York, I decided to call this elderly lady long distance and introduce myself as a student of Swami Tathagatananda. My task, as I understood it, was to greet Mrs. Rigby and find out how she was doing. I was to give her the Swami’s warm regards and assure her that her friends from the Vedanta Society sent their warm regards.
I quickly developed the habit of calling her at her home every week to check on her and hear an update on her visits to her own Vedanta center where she has been a student for many years. She is always cheerful, shares her wisdom from many years of living in the light of Holy Mother’s inspiration, and routinely cuts off a conversation so that she can go back to contemplating the Holy Mother’s life rather than continue idle conversation. At first, it was difficult to accept this quick dismissal when I had taken the trouble to call her. But it quickly became a familiar and deeply appreciated ritual as I realized that Clemmie is a role model for those who want to keep the focus on spiritual contemplation, rather than the “drivel” of secular life.
It is this last practice that has made Clemmie feel like a dear family member to me. She trusts me enough as a fellow spiritual aspirant to do what she feels necessary for her own upliftment at this time in her journey to the eternal. I am still impressed and inspired by her one-pointedness. She adores Holy Mother and makes sure to punctuate every conversation with references to Sri Ma’s trials while she was on earth and the message that she passed on to her children in the faith. Hardships endured by Holy Mother are the divine gems that we have inherited and must keep safely in our care.
When Clemmie speaks of her life and the changes that the study of Holy Mother’s message has guided her to make in her own spiritual evolution, it is clear that Mrs. Rigby’s path along the spiritual journey of aspiration has reached a pinnacle. She is continually reminded of Holy Mother and her divine message to all of us on earth.
She often shares nuggets of wisdom with me. One of these gems that I cherish is her belief that we should offer everything, good and bad, to Sri Ma. When Clemmie is in pain, she doesn’t complain. She offers it to Holy Mother. She believes that Holy Mother has made all things. So if we thank her for what we have, good or bad, the offering will be appreciated and we will be blessed for remembering from whom all things are given. Sri Ma, according to my elderly friend, will accept anything that we offer with sincerity and a true sense of self-surrender.
It is this attitude to the daily sadhana that is living and thanking our Maker for what we have and who we are in relation to our chosen deity that keeps me calling on Mrs. Rigby after all these months. It is irrelevant if we meet in this life or another. Sri Ma already knows that we both belong to Her.
JOANNE KILGOUR DOWDY is a Professor of Adolescent/Adult Literacy
at Kent State University. A disciple of Swami Tathagatananda, she lives in Kent, Ohio.