In 1977 when I was a suburban housewife, matching my Marimeko fabric to my Dansk sofa, I found Ram Dass’s (aka Richard Alpert) landmark book Be Here Now on a friend’s shelf. I read it in one sitting and when I finished, I knew I had found my bible. And my teacher.

The concept that there was a ‘now’ never crossed my busy mind. To understand that there was a present moment and to be conscious of that moment was brand new and quite the challenge for someone who lived mostly in the future.

Ram Dass was in love with everyone and everything. My transition from caring deeply about wall-to-wall carpeting to caring for everything and everyone was because his love was so infectious. I bought all the tapes I could find and played them over and over in my car. I would shush the carpool kids and say, you absolutely must listen to this guy.

His father was a lawyer and business man and when Ram Dass started to gain popularity his father told him he wasn’t charging enough for his recordings. Ram Dass said, “When you help your brother with legal matters, do you give him a discount?”

His father said, “Of course I do. He’s family.” To which Ram Dass said, “Well, these people are my family.”

And that’s how I felt. He was my wise uncle, my spiritual brother, my irreverent cousin who was more reverent that the rabbi. He was my chosen family. And I wasn’t the only one. He was the spiritual guide for thousands before we knew what guide and spiritual even meant.

In 1997, one year after his stroke and four years after my son Dan had, at 22, been diagnosed with MS, I brought my angry boy to San Anselmo, Calif., where Ram Dass moved after rehab. At that point, Dan was falling constantly and his right hand was tremoring.

Ram Dass greeted us and had someone bring us tea. He asked Dan a lot of questions and then he said, “Dan, when I had my stroke I had just bought myself a new Karmann Ghia. I never got to drive that gorgeous new car. Whenever I had to go anywhere, my aid got to drive my brand new beautiful car. I would sit in the back seat seething. All I could think was how could this have happened to me. I felt this way for months and then one day I must have been so tired of being angry I just surrendered. And the minute I let go, it hit me, hey, I’ve got a chauffeur. And from that day on I loved being driven.”

“Dan,” he said, “you’re not in charge of what happens to you but you are in charge of how you respond.”

He was there for anyone who needed to meet with him, to call him, to write to him. He had that self deprecating humor that the comics from the 1950s had. If you called him a guru he said he wasn’t a guru, he was just a rent-a-mouth.

He was able to explain Eastern mysticism with stories that made us laugh, made us listen and made us learn. After his stint at Harvard with Timothy Leary where they were fired for experimenting by giving psilocybin to undergraduates, he spent years experimenting with his own mind-altering substances. But he started to realize that getting high always ended in going low.

Eventually he went to India and found his own teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, who after years of meditation and yoga, told him to go home and love people and feed people. That was his actual assignment from his guru. When he returned to America he started giving talks and after Be Here Now was published his following grew exponentially. And so did his message.

He started the SEVA Foundation, to combat blindness in India and Nepal and supported reforestation in Latin America. He developed health education programs for Native Americans in South Dakota and he started the Prison Ashram Project to introduce inmates to spirituality. In his later years he became interested in helping the dying die with ease.

When Dan and I visited him, one of the things he said was “suffering is grace.” That went over like a lead balloon with Dan, but ultimately Dan, too, was able to see the beauty in his difficult journey. And miraculously, so did I.

I am one of thousands who loved him, grew a larger heart because of him and will miss his genuine child- like joy. At one of his talks recently he said, simply, “We are all just walking each other home.”

And I say, welcome home, my precious teacher.

Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart. She teaches the Chilmark Writing Workshop.