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What’s on your mind these days? I have been thinking about Nettie Tobin.
Nettie Tobin will forever be remembered as the woman who donated the corner stone for the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette.
Can you imagine the atmosphere of joy and excitement as the Baha’is in North America prepared to build the unique, exquisite temple that would be a testament of their love for God? Can you image the flurry of anticipation knowing that Abdu’l-Baha was going to visit the temple site Himself? I’m sure it filled many a conversation and I can just hear the sounds of coins and bank notes collected in a box as the friends gave sacrificially and lovingly to its construction. Nettie Tobin, however, anguished. She had no money to give.
When she learned about Abdu’l-Baha’s plans to inaugurate the temple site, she knew a corner stone was needed. Finding such a stone was surely something she could do to contribute to this momentous and historic effort. She visited a construction site near her home and was shown a pile of discarded and rejected pieces of limestone. I can just see them: cracked, jagged and imperfect, next to stones that were whole, intact and ideal for building. How Nettie must have poured over her choices but once she picked one, she was faced with a new challenge: how to move such a heavy rock? An old baby carriage would do just the trick!
This part makes me laugh. Having pushed children in carriages, I know how passerby love to take a peek at the little one inside. Can’t you just imagine people looking into Nettie’s carriage and their total confusion at finding a large stone there?!
The next day, Nettie had a long journey to make to the temple site and knowing she couldn’t do it alone she enlisted a friend to help. The trip required taking three trams. That means loading and unloading that unwieldy carriage 6 times! And if you’ve taken public transportation, you know that drivers are particular about what their riders do and what they bring on board. Of course they challenged Nettie. You can’t bring that on here! They must have protested. And moving heavy things is never easy: nerves are frayed and tempers flare. Can’t you just imagine how cumbersome moving that carriage would have been? On and off, on and off, on and off all those trams. All the while the clock was ticking. Would Nettie and her friend make it to the temple site in time for Abdu’l-Baha’s visit?
Finally, they arrived as close as the tram would take them and pushed their ungainly load over broken pavement. They had come so far and with their destination within reach, calamity struck: the carriage broke! It could not be moved. This could have been the end of the story but no, Nettie enlisted the help of two boys who were fortuitously playing nearby with a wagon. I can just see it: Off goes Nettie! Off goes Nettie’s friend! Off go the boys! All with their load of a rock in a wagon, destined for the temple site. What a parade that must have been. They make it just in time.
Baha’is from all over the world, including Abdu’l-Baha, sent stones to be used for the corner stone of the House of Worship but that cold and windy day when Abdu’l-Baha broke the ground with His own hands, only Nettie’s rock was available.
I can’t help but think of that rejected stone and the struggle and bumbling journey to transport it as a metaphor for my ordinary and everyday attempts at making herculean efforts in the name of peace and wellbeing for all humanity.
Nettie may not have had any material means, but she certainly sacrificed her time and her strength to move that stone. We recently shared a few words of Baha’u’llah on a life of giving generously:
Nettie’s story also reminds me of the inner challenges we must face when striving to serve humanity. These words of Shoghi Effendi are unforgettable:
While there can be no doubt of the special role youth play in contributing to the advancement of our efforts, there is a role for everyone (even a 49 year old widow and mother such as Nettie) and every contribution is meaningful (even a rejected stone). I particularly loved our most recent “Deck of Questions” where we learned some of life’s wisdom from Sally and Aaron:
In thinking about how I can contribute, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of continually learning and striving to better understand the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, so I can better put them into action. Maia wrote about how the Revelation of Baha’u’llah protects her from ignorance and her reflections are ones I’ve been mulling over.
All told, that’s what’s been on my mind as we head into the month of Dominion. What have you been thinking about?
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she’s driving at night.