Tribute To Hazel Littman

At Hazel Littman’s funeral, on a Saturday, the thirteenth of November, 19991 this tribute was offered, one among many, many others:

Hazel Littman is my spiritual mother. What gratitude could be offered to fully thank her for this greatest gift, the knowledge of the Source of Divine Guidance? The Littman house2 was the first Baha'i home I entered. A lost youth was welcomed into an outpost, an embassy of a world embracing Order marvelous beyond scope of his imagination. How could he leave? He was coming from a dreary world, confused, without purpose or hope. He wiped his feet on their welcome mat and stepped over their threshold. He was one among many to step over that threshold, to be embraced and bathed in Baha'i hospitality and love. Shoghi Effendi tells us to receive receptive souls in our own home, with the intent of showing Baha'i hospitality and love. Hazel Littman was the embodiment of hospitality and love. She was the consummate hostess, learned in the science of sociability. Fred would engage the mind. Hazel would attract the heart. What a team.

Should anyone wish to learn more of Baha'i hospitality and love, let them remember Hazel. Recall her easy laugh, her self-effacing creation of a Baha'i home, her methodical maintenance of a true haven for the soul, and not to be forgotten, her chocolate chip cookies.

The first Baha'i I had a chance to hear was Hazel’s husband, Fred Littman. He was giving a course on the Bahá’í Faith at a college3, in 1971. This was part of the free university, or non-credit courses. There were eight students for the first session. A professorial gentleman, with a thick East European accent, delivered a lecture in precise, measured tones. The textbook was ‘Baha’u’llah and the New Era’; the assigned reading for next week was chapter two. While the lecture and the book were enough to maintain my interest, I also saw a halo of light all around Fred. I haven’t seen this before or since, around Fred or anyone else4.

The following week there were seven students. After the lecture, one of my fellow students engaged me in conversation. What did I think of the course? Did I plan to continue attending? After receiving clearly affirmative replies this fellow student, Don Berkman, said the following: Except for you, all of us have heard this before. We’re here as bodies to fill up some chairs so the class doesn’t look so empty. This entire class is for your benefit. That being the case, if you like, we can meet next week at Fred’s house. We’ll be more comfortable there; he can show you his wonderful library. And besides, his wife Hazel makes great chocolate chip cookies.

Who can say that the added inducement of home-baked cookies didn’t make the difference between accepting the invitation or listening to the voice of fear, saying don’t get trapped by some weird cult? The promise of free food, is strong one to a young man of twenty. Not for the pennies’ worth of flour and baking chocolate, but for the implicit promise of a spiritual home waiting, ready to receive a prodigal son. A promise that my spiritual parents, Fred and Hazel Littman kept in full measure.

Having accepted the invitation, the college class disbanded, and I was included in a group of youth that congregated at the Littman home. Fred would explain some aspect of the teachings, in an intellectually precise and stimulating way. Discussion would ensue, the books containing the Words of Baha’u’llah would be opened, and the thirst for knowledge and insight would be slaked. Presiding over it all, seeing to everyone’s comfort was Hazel.

Had anyone asked me at the time what went on in the Littman’s home, I would have described Fred’s talks, the discussions, the books, etc. Had I mentioned Hazel, it would have been in passing, as reflected in the preceding paragraph.

Fred’s melody was supported by Hazel’s harmony. The melody is fast, precise, engaging. The harmony is slow, majestic, sustaining. And easy to take for granted, if you’re intellectually developed, emotionally stunted, disputatious and proud.

Who’s to say that Hazel’s harmony, the hospitality and love, didn’t made the difference between idle disputation and productive search for truth? Between dancing around the edges of Baha’u’llah’s ocean and diving right in?

One summer I was developing a training course on firesides.5 I called Fred and asked him to organize it a group to try it out. He agreed. To outward seeming, nothing went right. I was invited to dinner, with Fred, Hazel and her son Jon. I found Hazel’s physical frame beginning to fail her. She was able to finish dinner, then retired to rest. Jon went with her. Fred and I went to the patio. Who was he expecting to come for my class? Well, no one. Hazel would be operated on tomorrow. No one had been invited. Jon joined us. One of them said, you’ve come all this way, show us what you would have done. So we went through some of the Guardian’s statements on the fireside principle.6 There is only one mention of transmitting information: ‘some phase of the Faith should be mentioned and discussed’. There are a multitude of references to hospitality, love, the spirit, friendship, fellowship, etc.7 And so to outward seeming, the class didn’t happen, nothing much was accomplished.

And yet, in hindsight, it seems that this was for Hazel. Not that she didn’t already know some of the value of her hospitality and felt the abundant confirmations of Baha’u’llah. No, it was to cheer her heart, that this spiritual child of hers, belatedly and in a roundabout way, had come to thank her. At the last possible moment, literally the last day I could have seen her, and in a ludicrously indirect way, I was allowed the chance to thank her. She saw though all the non-essentials and received my thanks. Oh, that I would have thanked her sooner. Oh, that I would have thanked her more often. Oh, that I would have thanked her more openly. Thank you, Hazel, thank you.

And call upon divine assistance, for surely, if the Supreme Concourse has Hospitality Training Institutes or assistants to the Auxiliary Board Members for Hospitality8, then, responding to your call will be their new member, Hazel Littman.9

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