Tuesday, July 03, 2012

put aside your skepticism

For just a moment, turn away from your understandable suspicion, your disbelief in things you cannot see, and let me tell you a story. Listen to me with the openness we had as children, an age when we all willingly believed in what is mysterious and magical, for this tale, while true, is hard to accept.

I've told you before about my mother, who vanished on a cold Sunday morning, a few days before Christmas of 1969. It was a singular event in my life and in the lives of my family members. There is tragedy and heartbreak in losing one so loved to death. And it is a different kind of tragedy, an endless heartbreak, for someone to go missing for over 40 years.

There was before, and there is after. In more than forty years of after, we've never been able to really let go, to grieve and move on, and we've marked the transitions of life and the passage of our ordinary days always wondering. What happened? Where could she have gone?

Often, I would look at my father, now nearly 95, and think "it's not possible she could still be living." She would be so old, and surely in ill health, alone and lonely, and troubled by the same demons that drove her out the door that frigid December morning. But if not alive, then where could she be? Where is her body? Wouldn't her secrets be finally revealed in death? For 20 years, I've fought to keep her on my state's missing persons list, the oldest case in Oklahoma, but nothing has come of it. Nothing.

Two years ago, my very smart, rational, science-minded Republican sister, 66 years old, happened into a small encampment in Florida called Cassadaga. There, she encountered mediums and psychics, first one, and then another, for this was a small village devoted to the mysterious arts and whether you believe or do not believe, they are there, a flock of working spiritualists, and they are busy.

I know. Their busy-ness is no indicator of truth, just in the willingness ~ sometimes desperation ~ of people to believe in something that soothes their pain, or illuminates an uncertain future in a way that engenders hope. And isn't that what we all want? A bit of soothing, some certainty, something to hope for? And might that cause us to believe the unbelievable? Of course.

And yet, a skeptical Karen entered the medium's lair, was seated, and before she could even speak, the medium drew back, looking alarmed, and exclaimed, "oh, oh, there is someone rushing at me, she is pushing everyone aside."

Everyone. Yes. I know the images that will evince for most of you, the very idea that we are surrounded by the spirits of those long gone, that they can be invoked simply by a willingness to believe they are there. And yet it is possible, I now know this. It is possible even if we cannot set aside the flood of disbelief that wells when someone says these things aloud. Sometimes, as with Karen, we have only to show up, skepticism in tow. But even if we cannot believe ~ if you cannot ~ it changes nothing. It happened. It is true, and disbelief, yours or mine, does not change the fact of it.

I must continue, so come along with me, and if you can, push it aside, that sense you have that I've gone a little mad, succumbed to the kind of new age craziness that sometimes afflicts women and men in their middle years. Listen. Because the spirit who rushed the medium to get to my sister, the one who pushed "everyone" aside, gave us answers to the questions we've had since that ghastly day in 1969.

What happened to Audrey? Why did she leave? How could she have stayed away, never to have reached out, not once?

If you've been here before, you will know that, like my sister, I am also reasonably smart, and science-minded, but also artsy and romantic, so you will naturally suspect my interpretation of events. I want to believe, I admit it. I love the idea of the unknown becoming known and I inhabit my own imagination as if it's another, very real, world.

So do not believe me, as I am suspect, but believe Karen, who conversed with our lost mother 41 years after she vanished. Because you do not know them, either Karen or Audrey, you can't know how unsettling it was, how difficult to accept, but that it was my mother, I have no doubt.

There were dozens of proofs, dozens. A complete stranger in a part of the country where none of us have lived before knew details of my mother's pre-internet disappearance she could never have known. Karen's appearance before the medium was not preceded by an appointment, or signing in, or any of the myriad ways a bit of information can be given and research obtained. The trip to Cassadaga was done on a whim.

Karen's appearance was unheralded and the medium a stranger. It seems impossible that one can speak to the dead, but this happened and it is real, though unbelievable, I admit. The medium revealed everything: where she left from and why, what was happening to her at the time, where she went and with whom, and most importantly, that she had died in 1993.

Listen. I know you are scoffing, having gathered back into yourself your skepticism and unwillingness to believe in things unseen because it's more comfortable that way, to believe only in truth we can verify, touch, or experience ourselves.

But listen, and know this is true. It was my mother, of that I am certain, as certain as I am that my eyes are brown and my once red hair has gone silver, that I am living and breathing in Tulsa on a hot Thursday in July. As certain as I am that most of you will not believe, though a childlike part of you, before you fall asleep tonight, may whisper "what if?"

Believe this: my mother, her spirit, had to make amends to move on, and more importantly, she needed to know that we could forgive her for walking out that chill morning in 1969, that we could let go of our pain and anger and years and years of wondering, of not knowing, of never being able to grieve for her. She needed our release and we gave it.

We performed a ritual goodbye, Audrey's three daughters, committing a last loving act of forgiveness and letting go. For two years, we have had a sense of peace that's been missing for the previous forty. And her spirit, my mother's, was healed. You're frowning, I suspect, thinking "how could she know?" but that, that knowing, is for another day. About the 40 year mystery of my mother, though, I finally know, and I believe. I am at peace and so, at last, is Audrey.

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