One day in Lebanon in the 1940s, Marie Simonian set out for the boarding school attended by her oldest child.
Something was wrong, she could feel it.
She walked six hours to reach his school. She arrived exhausted, dripping sweat.
She was told that her son had been burned in an accident. He and another student were jumping over a campfire. They collided. Her son fell in the fire. Mrs. Simonian was led to the school infirmary to see him.
There is no rational explanation for how she knew about the injury. No one had sent for her. It was mother’s intuition.
And strong intuition, at that. She didn’t walk six hours on a mere hunch. She knew.
Claims about psychic visions and extra-sensory perception are common. Perhaps many of the claims would collapse under rigorous examination. But in my own experience, some are legitimate, and startling.
I once met the psychic medium Laura Lynne Jackson, who wrote The Light Between Us and Signs. Without knowing anything about me, she looked at the scar on my right arm and began telling me details about the day I nearly died as a 3-year-old. She told me about the elderly neighbor who saved me, about the tourniquet he tied at the top of my arm.
A shiver went through me as I realized she was receiving information from … well, I don’t know where.
A few other examples:
I was working as a waiter one day in New York City in 1997. A co-worker stopped me in the middle of our shift. She asked my permission to share a message she’d just received.
I was startled.
“Uh … I guess so?”
“You don’t think you’re attractive because your mother didn’t think she was attractive. That came from your mom. That’s not real.”
My mother did indeed grow up believing that her sister “got the looks,” while my mother “got the personality.” And it was true that I myself had never felt particularly attractive, desirable, or important. But what startled me in the moment, what got my attention, was this concept of information arriving out of thin air, a dispatch from the ether.
In The Light Between Us, Jackson describes doing a reading once for a New York City couple named Charlie and RoseAnn.
Jackson was accustomed to relaying messages from dead humans to living ones. This time she received messages from dead cats, dogs, a bird, even a whale, and a bee.
Each time she would mention a particular animal, the elderly couple would smile or laugh, and then tell a story connected to that animal.
They’d once joined people near the Verrazano Bridge who were trying to help the Coast Guard steer a 30-foot humpback whale back toward the ocean.
They’d removed a bee from the crowded boardwalk at Jones Beach.
They’d fed and taken care of a stranded pigeon on a cruise across the Atlantic Ocean.
All these animals, one by one, were now popping into Jackson’s field of consciousness and expressing love and gratitude toward Charlie and RoseAnn.
Whatever you may think of this account, it changed my life.
As my annoyed wife and children will attest, I stopped killing anything in our house — flies, spiders, any of it. Overnight I resigned from my prior post as Exterminator in Chief.
I still occasionally intervene by trapping and relocating an insect or lizard. But I try not to kill anything.
Which reminds me, by the way, of a funny scene in the 2012 movie Wanderlust. The actress Kathryn Hahn plays a member of a rural hippie commune visited by yuppies Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd.
One afternoon at lunch, Rudd casually kills a fly. Hahn goes berserk.
“This man has a FETISH FOR VIOLENCE!”
I realized the other day, I’ve become like Hahn (minus the unbridled rage and 1970s-era jewelry). I can’t kill a fly.
Unlike her character, though, I don’t actually care if others kill a fly. That’s up to them. I just don’t want to participate.
Okay, so it’s not Muhammed Ali refusing to serve in Vietnam. But you have to start somewhere.
my best friend Boomer
I suppose the logical next step for me is vegetarianism because, speaking of things which don’t withstand rigorous investigation, factory farming of animals seems especially horrible if one puts any credence at all in the psychic reading which Jackson did for Charlie and RoseAnn.
That is, if animals have spirits, if they can later thank us from the other side, I don’t even want to think about the way we routinely treat millions of them, daily, in captivity, on death row.
As a teenager, I went to a Quaker high school in Washington D.C. The school was chosen for me; it was the same one where my siblings had gone. We weren’t sent to it for the Quaker religion and values, but for the academics. Still, the simplicity and logical integrity of Quakerism appealed to me. There weren’t a lot of rules, rituals, head-scratching parables. The emphasis was on connecting to spirit.
It was gratifying to learn years later that my family tree is littered with Quakers and Mennonites from the 1700s and 1800s, and with Anabaptists before that. One dissenting ancestor was killed for his beliefs in 1529 in Bern, Switzerland.
So maybe there’s some religious fervor and radical pacifism baked into me.
However, in more distressing genealogical news, I used to brag to friends about my great-great uncle Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who carved Mt. Rushmore.
Turns out, he was in the KKK.
So much for that brag.
I don’t know what to think about the current debate over Mt. Rushmore. Just from an environmental perspective, I’d hate to see any large-scale activity which changes the ecological stasis. On the other hand, it would be appropriate and inspiring to see Dr. Martin Luther King added.
One more ghost story:
My nephew Bruno Zicarelli lost a friend years ago to a fatal accident in the Pacific Northwest. The friend disappeared during a wilderness outing. The body was not found for months.
And then one night, Bruno had a dream in which the friend appeared and said, effectively, It’s all right, Bruno. They found me.
Bruno learned the next day the body had indeed been found.
To me, there’s no explaining this, other than to take it at face value. When we die, our spirit lives on, somewhere. The body is just a shell, an incarnation.