239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

August 29, 1912
Malden, MA
Storify Feature

William Henry Randall and a Glass of Grape Juice

WILLIAM HENRY RANDALL, or “Harry” for short, was never late. He attributed his success, in part, to this habit. Randall had climbed the ranks of a shipping company – starting out by sweeping floors and running errands – and was now its president. In May, 1912, however, he found himself climbing up to the sixth floor of the Victoria Hotel in Boston to deliver a glass of grape juice to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Henry had investigated all the world’s religions, or so he thought. Despite his professional responsibilities, he found the time to study under the tutelage of a Harvard professor. Yet Henry did not care to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “What do I want to meet another oriental for?” he said. “I’ve met Vivekananda and all the great orientals that have come to this country, and I don’t want to meet any more.”

Finally, out of politeness, Randall accepted an invitation to hear ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speak. He later wrote: “I was very much impressed with his beautiful appearance, his words and the love which seemed to radiate from the very words he spoke.” Henry discovered that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was different from any man he had ever met. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá was what he talked about,” Randall said. So when someone asked if he would deliver grape juice to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the Victoria Hotel, he was happy to comply. He purchased six bottles and rushed right over.

Henry didn’t expect to deliver it personally. Outside of the room he handed the bottles to one of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Persian attendants, but was told he should deliver it to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in person. Randall was hesitant to enter, until someone gave him a gentle push.

Moments later, Randall found himself alone in a large room with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who was sitting in a large chair, and appeared to be sleeping. “Here is the glass of grape juice,” Henry said, placing it on a table by the door. He was about to slip out when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá looked up and commanded him to sit down. Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá closed his eyes again.

“I sat. I waited. And I waited,” Randall later recalled. “I was not used to be kept waiting and I was getting angry clear through.” Soon, he began to feel a prickling all over his body. Within a few minutes, his arms and legs, and then the rest of him, had all gone to sleep.

Henry berated himself for his lack of patience. “Here I am in the presence of a tired old man and I cannot remain reposeful for ten minutes. What good has my study of all the religions of the world done for me?” With this thought, the prickling in his body immediately stopped.

Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke. “Great is the power of the intellect,” he said, “but until it becomes the servant of the heart it is of little avail.” It was the first of many meetings between the two; often humorous, and always poignant.


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Maxwell/1140616716 William Maxwell

    This story is too fragmented. It needs more details.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elham-Rabbani-Sockett/753094034 Elham Rabbani-Sockett

      William, I’m not sure I agree with your comment. After some background on Harry Randal, the article tells the story of a simple yet poignant moment in a single room at the hotel. It also has quite a bit of detail on how Randal felt as he waited. This story really moved me… and made me laugh a little 🙂

  • Shirley

    moves me to the roots of my heart…

  • Karen

    It allows me to be quiet and listen and learn.

  • Anita

    By this lovely story, I am reminded of many virtues, among them, detachment, patience, and obedience. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/estherbill Esther Bradley-deTally

    I adored the book William Henry Randall – right up there with the other bios; after I read it, wanted to float towards the Abha Kingdom, but the escalator to same was down for repair; whaddya know; actually i rave about this book to anyone who will listen; thanks for all your posts everyone-great

    • Dean Hedges

      Hi. Yes. the book William Henry Randall has inspired many a thought. Often I wonder how i will be if i lost everything materially, oneness dh

  • http://www.facebook.com/estherbill Esther Bradley-deTally

    Humility pushes the ego away and allows the true spirit of love and teaching to show forth

  • http://www.facebook.com/janmcgrth Jan Mc Grath

    I love this, thank you so much!

  • Joanne

    I believe, affects our motive for doing things.
    If we are not humble, then our intent is often self serving; whether it’s
    financial, or to get the accolades of others.
    If we are humble, then we are detached from how we will benefit. Our
    intent is to perform a service that will contribute towards the betterment of
    the world. One of my favourite quotes by
    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is as follows:

    “If thou seekest
    eternal glory, let thyself be humble and meek in the presence of the beloved of
    God; make thyself the servant of all, and serve all alike. The service of the friends belongs to God,
    not to them.”

  • Sandi Bean

    As we consciously try to arrest the incessant chatter in our heads, set aside our lists and tasks, cease dwelling on slights from others and our own past mistakes, maybe then we can reach that detached state of humility. We can make that effort.

  • Jill

    Patience and humility.
    These are precious gifts a person has to keep. Today practically everyone is in a mad panic hurry, more road rage, more. impolite behaviour. Please, take time out to smell the roses

  • Alice

    I don’t really understand the quotation. could someone maybe explain? thanks 🙂

    • 239Days

      Hi Alice,
      My own, limited understanding of the quotation is that the mind and heart must work together to find truth and apply it to life. Harry was an extremely intelligent man, but his heart had no focus. When he met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gradually his desire was shaped by the vision of a prosperous civilization ‘Abdu’l-Bahá talked about, and this made his life bear fruit.

      • Alice

        thanks! that makes sense 🙂 so i guess one could also say there has to be a balance between material success or well-being and spirituality

  • Dean Hedges

    Humility allows us to be close to One …

    “None must contend with those who wield authority over the people; leave unto them that which is theirs, and direct your attention to men’s hearts.”

  • the mystici9

    Humility comes when one is asked to do a simple task without shame or pride…we often have grand ideas and schemes and aspirations…but there are so many, many simple tasks that need to be done and often no one willing to take up its task. It doesn’t involve deep intellect, great faith, or even much will…but a willingness of the heart filled with humility. This complete surrender is complete unaware of it’s self as the self has passed,before the death of the body, and re-created as the servant of the vineyard where all are seen as the creations of God to be loved and tended to. There is so much beauty that the Most Beautious has given life to and in this Garden of Delights one finds each task a new source of joy and eventually one realizes that this is how life is given to each being…the sharing of the breath of life itself, and in complete surrender we receive this gift of life in service of His creation.

  • Ernie B

    The quotation is related to another quote “The attainment of any object is conditioned upon knowledge, volition and action. Unless these three conditions are forthcoming, there is no execution or accomplishment.
    (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 157)
    Knowledge is of the intellect, volition is from the heart and if strong enough moves one to action. So the heart and mind must work together to accomplish things.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeanine.hensley Jeanine Goodson Hensley

    I enjoyed the story, but one portion confused me: “Harry discovered that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was different from any man he had
    ever met. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá was what he talked about,” Randall said.”
    What does this mean, “Abdu’l-Baha was what he talked about.” Harry & Randall are the same person, yes? And did you mean to say that ‘Abdu’l-Baha talked about Himself? Or is the quote attributed to a different person and Randall talked about ‘Abdu’l-Baha?
    Thanks for any clarification.

    • 239Days

      Dear Jeanine,
      I think this means that Harry Randall (yes Harry and Randall are the same person) saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as a person who actually acted on his beliefs. In other words, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words and his deeds were entirely consistent with one another.