Thanks to a recent post by blogger Robert Isenberghttp://open.salon.com/blog/robert_isenberg/2013/01/02/books_by_people_i_know_fringe-ology_1, I’m reading a fascinating book called Fringe-ology How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable – and Couldn’t.
Written by a journalist named Steve Volk, it’s an unbiased, clear-eyed look at what’s collectively known as “the paranormal.” Volk turns his reporter’s eye on psychics, UFOs, near-death experiences, ghosts and telepathy among other things. As a reader, I appreciate not only the open-minded way he approaches his subjects but his ability to admit he can’t be sure one way or the other when he confronts the unexplainable, rather than drawing conclusions based on what science calls true or false. He’s willing to say, “I don’t know.”
Reading Fringe-ology reminded me of certain things that have happened to me, the kind of things that, if they’d happened to someone else and then I’d read about them, might cause me to be skeptical. One of the problems in relating something that’s outside the realm of proof is that often it doesn’t lend itself well to a retelling. Something critical gets lost in the translation.
Also, the words sound silly. "Visitation." "Crossing over." "Out-of-body experience." "Reincarnation." "The other side of the veil." Even "paranormal." It sounds too much like "abnormal." It's easy to get dismissed right out of the gate when you try to talk about things like this - which is why most people, including myself, don't.
Still, with the near-miraculous resurrection of OS it seems as good a time as any to share my own paranormal event because it was quite miraculous for me. All these years later it still has that same quality when I think about it.
And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. My mother-in-law will probably not make it through the night thanks to advanced emphysema. The following story involves her son. I have no doubt he’s waiting for her and he’ll be the first one to greet her when she finally pushes aside the very thin veil that separates this world from the next.
The night of Sunday, May 14, 2000 was the darkest of my life. I had to be at the hospital at 6 a.m. Monday morning for the scheduled C-section of my fourth child. I was in my two-year-old son’s second-floor bedroom having just put him to bed and I was pacing, crying and praying out loud. My husband Keith had died exactly three weeks before and I honestly didn’t know if I could have a baby without him any more than I could picture the bizarre new life I was facing. I couldn’t see any future for me at all and I was terrified I’d lose my mind forever once I got to the hospital. Having this baby by myself was going to make it undeniably real.
I paced in my son’s bedroom all night, increasingly frantic and fearful until sometime in the early a.m. hours I had what I can only describe as a confirmation. Suddenly I knew Keith would be in the operating room with me. I didn’t hear a voice, there was no apparition telling me to expect him and I had no idea in what way he’d be there; I just knew it in the same way I knew if I pinched myself, it would hurt. The knowledge calmed me enough that I was able to sit in a rocking chair for the remainder of the night and rock instead of pace.
Keith’s two sisters took me to the hospital. During the preparations for the main event I wondered how he was going to make his appearance and I briefly worried it wouldn’t happen. Then I remembered that feeling and I knew I was wrong.
The C-section was well underway and my sisters-in-law were on either side of me, each gripping one of my hands. I was lying there looking at the ceiling when I instinctively knew he’d arrived. Something told me to close my eyes.
As soon as I did, it was as though I’d flipped onto my stomach and was leaning on my elbows, chin propped on my fists. I was staring toward the back of the OR which was in shadow. Contrasting with the darkness was what seemed to be a spotlight illuminating a man sitting in an armless straight-backed chair. He looked like he was about to perform a one-man play. It was Keith.
His head was in his hands and his shoulders were shaking. I couldn’t see his face. I could tell he was sobbing although I couldn’t hear him. Forming a semi-circle behind him were people; I’m not sure how many because they were in shadow but I knew they were all of our friends and relatives who’d passed on. Each one had a hand on Keith’s shoulders; they were patting him and I could hear a low murmur.
Even though I couldn’t see his face, he appeared to be worn-out. The overall effect was of a man who’d been working hard and hadn’t gotten much rest. His hair was too long; it looked the way it did when he was too busy to buzz it. It hadn’t been that long when he’d died.
He was wearing his beater shoes, old grass-stained brown leather deck shoes that he wore when he worked in the yard. Ditto for his jeans; they were the worn-out ones he donned when he did chores.
But I was transfixed by his shirt. It was a coral-colored semi-dressy thing, the first article of clothing I’d ever bought him right after we’d started dating. As soon as I saw it I knew it would look good on him and I was right. He loved it so much he wore it out. He’d tossed it years ago and I’d forgotten all about it. Until now.
I tried to grasp what I was seeing; nothing made sense. It appeared everyone had come for the birth of our baby, not just Keith, and it should have been a joyous event. Something was wrong and I became alarmed. In my mind I screamed at him, Look at me! Tell me what’s wrong and look at me!
He answered me but not with words. I sensed something coming toward me, from him; an approaching wave. It washed over me, I could feel it, and it came again and again. For a moment it shocked me because the feeling was so deep and it was both physical and mental - yet it wasn’t my own. Then I knew: It was sorrow. His sorrow. I was feeling his sorrow at not being present for the birth of our baby.
It was terrible. I started to panic and he made it stop. Again, I screamed at him, Look at me! Why won’t you look at me? He answered by sending another wave. It rolled over my entire body, over and over like the first one and it was worse than when I’d felt his sorrow. It was so intense if I’d been sitting up it would have knocked me over. And then I knew why he couldn’t look at me. I was feeling his shame. Keith was ashamed of himself for what he’d done. For dying when he did.
I know firsthand what both sorrow and shame feel like and I can feel empathy for someone else experiencing the same things. This was entirely different. These feelings penetrated my entire body, all the way to the cellular level. I could taste them. They were pure, unadulterated, heavy, awful, shocking. I wanted them to stop because I couldn’t bear them and more than that, I wanted them to stop because I knew they had to be so much worse for him.
It seemed to go on for a while but it couldn’t have because a C-section doesn’t take that long. I felt as though I was using up everything I had screaming at him, telling him he didn’t have to be ashamed and begging him to look at me. His shoulders just shook harder and he covered his face with his hands. The murmuring got louder and the people behind him moved closer, as though to protect him. I couldn’t stand it and started to cry; I didn’t realize I was really crying until my sisters-in-law squeezed my hands, patted me and said, “It’s okay, it’s almost over.”
Then I heard the wails of my baby and it was.
That incident or visitation is as clear to me today as it was almost 13 years ago. I remember it exactly as it happened, with a clarity unlike any other important event, such as the birth of any of my children. Vacations. My wedding. Even my husband’s funeral. There was nothing dreamlike, hazy or ambiguous about it. It was hyper-real.
It was also disturbing, upsetting and nothing like what I’d hoped for. If I’d been allowed to stage it, I’d have gone with warm and fuzzy. He would’ve appeared above me and smiled sadly while mouthing the words “I love you.”
Yet the way it happened was better for several reasons. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought at all about Keith other than how his dying affected my children and me. It never occurred to me that his own death might have affected him too. I’ve always believed in an afterlife but my assumption was that the dead, relieved of earthly concerns, viewed the living with love but also with amusement and maybe even relief, at being done with life.
Now I had to rethink my whole notion of “heaven” as a state of perpetual bliss because I was worried for him. Even though he was surrounded by people he loved and who loved him, it wasn’t enough.
I also had to consider that the sweet hereafter might not be so sweet; from the way Keith looked, he wasn’t spending much time reclining on a cloud, remote in hand, watching eternal ESPN. He looked haggard and exhausted.
Finally, I feel like I glimpsed a miniscule bit of what it’s like to be the author of my being – and everyone else’s. If it’s true God knows every aspect of us, everything about us, has counted every hair on every single person’s head who’s ever lived, and if it’s true he feels our pain, our sorrow, our grief - what a terrible job it is to be him. Those brief moments that I felt another person’s sorrow and shame were unbearable. I feel sorry for God. Irrational as it sounds, I worry about him a little bit. How long can you take it, even if you’re God?
For me, this experience was proof there’s life after death and it’s more complicated than anything I’d ever imagined. It didn’t turn me into a religious fanatic, change me or make me a better person. What it did do was force me to think harder about organized religion and humanity, re-examine my own spiritual beliefs and open my mind to ways of thinking I’d never have considered before. More than anything, it was a profound learning experience and in that regard it was anything but paranormal.