Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Cornelia Conger : 1

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by Cornelia Conger

BEFORE the Congress (or Parliament) of Religions met in Chicago at the time of the Columbian Exposition in 1893. members of various Churches volunteered to ask into their homes as guests delegates to it. My grandmother, Mrs. John B. Lyon, was one of these, requesting, if possible, that a delegate who was broad-minded be sent to us, as my grandfather was much interested in philosophy but heartily disliked bigots. Our home was 262 Michigan Avenue, a pleasant somewhat old-fashioned frame-house, painted olive green with boxes of red geraniums across the front. It was full of guests all that summer as my grandparents were naturally hospitable and this World's Fair was a very exciting and fascinating affair. So all our out-of-town relatives and friends were eager to come to Chicago to see it. When word came that our delegate was to arrive on a certain evening, the house was so crowded that my grandmother had to send her elder son to a friend's house to have his room for our guest. We had been given no idea who he would be, nor even what religion he was representing. A message came that a member of our Church — the First Presbyterian — would bring him after midnight. Everyone went to bed except my grandmother who waited up to receive them. When she answered the door-bell, there stood Swami Vivekananda in a long yellow robe, a red sash, and a red turban — a very startling sight to her, because she had probably never seen an East Indian before. She welcomed him warmly and showed him to his room. When she went to bed, she was somewhat troubled. Some of our guests were Southerners, as we had many friends in the South, because we owned a sugar plantation on the Bayou Teche in Louisiana. Southerners have a strong dislike for associating with anyone but whites, because they stupidly think of all people who are darker as on a mental and social plane of their former negro slaves. My grandmother herself had no colour prejudice, and she was sufficiently intelligent any way to know that Indians are of the same Caucasian inheritance as we are.

When my grandfather woke up, she told him of the problem and said he must decide whether it would be uncomfortable for Swami and for our Southern friends to be together. If so, she said he could put Swami up as our guest at the new Auditorium Hotel near us. My grandfather was dressed about half an hour before breakfast and went into the library to read his morning paper. There he found Swami and, before breakfast was served, he came to my grandmother and said, "I don't care a bit, Emily, if all our guests leave! This Indian is the most brilliant and interesting man who has ever been in our home. and he shall stay as long as he wishes." That began a warm friendship between them which was later summed up — much to my grandfather's embarrassment — by having Swami calmly remark to a group of my grandfather's friends one day at the Chicago Club "I believe Mr. Lyon is the most Christlike man I ever met!".