The details of Thomas Breakwell’s life pierce my innermost heart: his powerful attraction to the Faith at age 29 (a story which can be heard here), his two day pilgrimage to the presence of the Master in Akká where his utter devotion touched all those who met him, his transformation from a wealthy Englishman working in an American cotton mill run on child labor to a self-effacing believer who would walk long distances to Baha’i meetings in order to save money he could contribute to the Fund, and his impoverished death, at age 30, of tuberculosis. What I find achingly poignant is May Maxwell’s account of how he embodied the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. These excerpts are her words:
Well I remember the day we were crossing a bridge over the Seine on the top of a bus, when he spied an old woman labouriously pushing an apple-cart up an incline; excusing himself with a smile, he climbed down off the bus, joined the old woman, and in the most natural way put his hands on the bar and helped her over the bridge.
The rock foundation on which the Baha’i Revelation rests, ‘he oneness of mankind’, had penetrated his soul like an essence, taking on every form of human relationship, imbuing him with an insight and penetration into human needs, an intense sympathy and genuine love which made him a hope and refuge to all.
He knew the secret of imparting happiness and was the very embodiment of the Master’s words, ‘The star of happiness is in every heart. We must remove the veils so that it may shine forth radiantly.’ Thomas not only excelled in his social relations, he had become a guiding light in the Paris community in all matters concerning the teaching of the Cause.
She describes how ‘his calmness and strength, his intense fervour, his immediate and all- penetrating grasp of the vast import to mankind in this age of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, released among us forces which constituted anew epoch in the Cause in France.’
Also moving are Dr. Yunis Khan’s accounts of the connection between the Master and Thomas Breakwell:
I was accompanying the Master in the evening from the house where He received His visitors to His home by the seaside. All of a sudden He turned to me and said: ‘Have you heard?’ ‘No, Master,’ I replied, and He said: ‘Breakwell has passed away. I am grieved, very grieved. I have revealed a prayer of visitation for him. It is very moving, so moving that twice I could not withhold my tears when I was writing it. You must translate it well, so that whoever reads it will weep.’ I never knew who had given the Master the news of Breakwell’s death. If anyone had written or cabled either in English or French, that communication would have passed through my hands. Two days later the prayer of visitation was given to me. It wrung one’s heart, and I could not hold back my tears. I translated it into French, and later, with the help of Lua Getsinger, into English .
‘Abdu’l-Bahá called me one day to His presence, to give me letters to translate. There were many envelopes sent from various places. While examining them still sealed, He, all of a sudden, picked out one and said: ‘How pleasing is the fragrance that emanates from this envelope. Make haste, open it and see where it comes from. Make Haste.’… In it there was a postcard … the postcard was coloured a beautiful shade, and attached to it was a solitary flower — a violet. Written in letters of gold were these words: ‘He is not dead. He lives on in the Kingdom of God.’ Further, there was this sentence: ‘This flower was picked from Breakwell’s grave.’
Although I am thousands of kilometers away and unable to pay homage at Thomas Breakwell’s monument, I would like to try to pay tribute to him in the coming days by reciting the tablet Abdu’l-Bahá revealed in his honor and by concentrating my efforts to be more mindful of the needs of those around me as he would have been. No easy feat, I know, but this centenary is a commemoration of deeds and actions in the name of our spiritual forefathers.
The Baha’i World, Volume VII