I drove home from Boston yesterday on a beautiful autumn day, out Route 2 to Greenfield, and arrived just in time for a memorial gathering for Beth Hapgood, a close friend and mentor for the last fifteen years who died last week at the age of 92.
Beth is probably most famous as the mother hen of the Brotherhood of the Spirit, a commune in the 60s here in the Happy Valley that in its heyday numbered more than 500 members. Beth met Michael Metellica, then a lost and lonely 15-year-old, and befriended him, and he went on to become the charismatic leader of a spiritual community.
Metellica later crashed and burned largely, they say, because of cocaine. But Beth never had anything to do with the dark side of the Brotherhood. She was busy offering kindness and guidance to all the lost and lonely young people whose parents didn’t understand them, who were wandering around at the time not knowing exactly what they were looking for. A lot of them went to Woodstock, and a lot of them went to Beth’s house.
She always maintained that although the group’s leader had what you might call feet of clay, that the bonds of love and learning among the members of the Brotherhood gave them the inspiration and the wisdom to achieve a higher plane of consciousness. She had the gift of showing you how to follow your higher nature.
I met Beth long after the Brotherhood was history, although I did drive her to a reunion once, where I met Michael Metellica and learned a lot more about the group. I knew her mainly through her meditation group on Wednesday evenings, but my daugther Sarah and I often went to her for advice and companionship, or just to shoot the breeze, and we met countless people whom she continued to help throughout her life, often in times of terrible trouble or deep despair.
My own problems seemed trivial by comparison, but I remember once when I had planned a vacation with Sarah and it had to be cancelled, and I was upset, and I told Beth about it. I’ll never forget her reply. “Tell me again,” she said, “without the boo-hoo.” And of course I realized that I had an important job to do as a dad which did not involve feeling sorry for myself.
I remember too when she had her second hip replacement and she was having physical therapy, which is no picnic. Far from complaining, she was cheering up the other patients and she took this one mopey old guy and wheeled him over to the window to show him the world and the sunshine.
There were at least sixty people at the memorial, and it was great to hear their reminiscences of this wonderful woman. I learned that the day before she died she asked to be wheeled out into the backyard and she got out of her chair and rolled around in the grass like a happy child.
She left a letter for all of us which reads, in part, “Do not mourn my passing. I am free! My poor body has seen a lot of use and has been tired for years. My spirit has longed to be free. It is now time for me to go on. So rejoice with me at my new freedom…”
“None of us really made big waves or stood out in the human world in terms of fame or fortune. But, sitting here quietly as the dawn breaks, I know we have done something truly remarkable on the inner planes together while here on earth. It is this knowing that has given me great joy, a deep sense of companionship on a lonely life path, and the feeling that together we brought humanity just a wee bit further along the pathway of love and understanding…”
“Take good care of Earth and Earth’s beautiful children of all kingdoms. Never lose sight of the primary goal of true communion, oneness, and peace.”
I’d say, “Beth Hapgood, rest in peace,” but you know, I can’t picture her resting. She had her bags packed a long time ago and she was ready to move on. I think she’s already busy over there on the other side, and as I write this I get that tingly feeling up my spine that I get when I stumble onto a spiritual truth.
Goodbye, Beth. Be seeing you.