NEW YORK: A GALA EVENING
The celebration began, simply enough, with an idea not for a Gala Evening, but for a simple gathering where people who had received Knowledge could hear Maharaji speak. The date had been set, a hall selected, tickets printed, and an invitation designed. But to New York-based instructor Ira Woods, it seemed as if there might be a more special way to acknowledge the end of the tour.
Less than two weeks later, Ira and a handful of others found themselves meeting with Maharaji in Atlanta to discuss the possibilities. Maharaji was interested, but he was also cautious. Happy to have been invited as the guest of honor, he wanted to be sure that the people organizing the event knew what they were doing. After all, the proposed dinner dance would be a departure from the format of previous get-togethers. Did the organizers understand the purpose? Would they be able to make everyone feel included, even though the size of the proposed facility made it impossible to invite everyone who would want to attend? And what about the music? What about the food?
There was a multitude of details to be attended to, the first of which was determining the guest list. Due to the limited seating capacity of the Hyatt Regency's Grand Ballroom, it was decided that only people from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut would be invited - along with a cross-section of others who had helped organize the tour in other U.S. cities.
Officially, the Gala Evening - which Maharaji had now renamed 'An Appreciation of Love" - began at 6:00 p.m. A sumptuous reception hour gave everyone a chance to sip champagne or fruit punch, snack on hors d'oeuvres, and mingle with friends.
At 7:00 p.m., the doors to the Grand Ballroom opened wide. When all were finally seated, Booth Dyess, the evening's MC, approached the microphone and warmly welcomed everyone. Introduction done, 1,146 dinner guests waited …
Maharaji didn't keep them waiting long. Walking in with his wife, Marolyn, and their four children, he made, it clear that he wanted to see everyone as much as they wanted to see him. Spontaneously, everyone stood and cheered. They continued to cheer as Maharaji, in black tie and tuxedo, took his place at the head table. His opening remarks reminded everyone of the real reason for the evening's celebration an "appreciation of love."
An elegant five-course meal followed. Throughout the evening, Maharaji's casual comings and goings from the room encouraged people to relax, let go, and have fun.
While the last of the dessert plates were being cleared away, Stan Cohen of New York offered a toast to Maharaji. Maharaji responded with his own: "I'd like to propose my most favorite toast: here's to the grace in all our lives that makes it all possible. Cheers." He was also presented with a plaque which commemorated the end of the tour, and a beautiful, decorated cake inscribed with "Maharaji, Bridge Across the World."
The roasting, which came as a big surprise to everyone, began harmlessly enough. First, Maharaji thanked Bill Wishard, Susan Johnson, Alan Raufman, and Joan Apter for their efforts in helping to organize his tour. And then, one by one, with poignant charm and wit, he let them have it. Maharaji's delivery was exceedingly well done - though perhaps not quite as well done as Bill, Susan, Alan, and Joan were after the roasting was over. "I didn't think he had that much on me," Alan Raufman laughed a few weeks later.
After toasting and roasting, Maharaji and Marolyn led the way to the dance floor, where everyone danced to a mixture of live and recorded music. He and Marolyn danced for a short while, then quietly left. But even with the guest of honor gone, the spirit he had brought to the evening remained.
And the dancing went on.