Category Archives: Parapsychology and Paranormal Musings

Things that ago bump in the night, precognition, visits from beyond, near death experiences. Anything outside normal conventional experiences having an impact on the one perceiving.

What Makes a Good Ghost Story?

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Orb and Reflection Originally Thought to be Paranormal – Harper’s Ferry, WV

We had another oddity in our household last night. Maybe it was over active imaginations or we bumped into something paranormal in the night. In this house, it could be either or both.

It is not unusual for me to get bolted awake about 2:30 – 3:00 in the morning on a regular base. Sometimes, it becomes annoying enough to stay awake past the 3:00 hour just to prevent the jolt.  Tonight I’m staying awake to write this blog and straighten my office.

I think I have mentioned in the past that this house has some unusual things happening from time to time. Things that paranormal researchers would call residual haunting such as snippets of conversation in the same location between two people we can’t see.

Then there is what they call intelligent haunts. There is a woman that has whispered my name in my ear.  On one occasion I was outside trimming bushes that same voice demanded I go back in the house. It startled the he—out of me. I went inside to find smoke spewing everywhere in my kitchen. Then there was the time my mother was visiting and awoke to find a woman sitting on the bottom of the bed. The woman smiled at her and vanished.

Three other oddities are seeing shadows of people darting around corners and this blue haze about four or so feet tall in a bedroom doorway.  Our animals will also suddenly come to attention and studiously watch nothing (usually in the same location) and track it across the room and then resume their normal activities. We try to distract them without luck. Sometimes they growl or their hunches raise – there is nothing there. The third is that the smell of cigarette smoke will come out of nowhere (no one in the family is a smoker), linger around me, though others coming near me can smell it, and then disappear.

The last and the most prevalent thing, is what they call poltergeist activity. Things that move on their own and we can’t figure out why. The most common in this house has been closed doors opening and then slamming shut.  The most bizarre to us was the night when the dining room chandelier started swinging, increasing its arc back and forth. The grandkids were seated at the dining room table quietly watching when one asked if it was going to fly off and hurt someone. Feeling ridiculous, I said, “Stop moving the chandelier.” It stopped without slowing down. Leaving two little girls asking their grandma a lot of questions she could not answer.

Last night the door that divides the downstairs from the upstairs opened. This door frequently is subject to erratic opening and shutting. We had company one night and the door quietly opened all the way. A moment or two went by and it quietly, slowly closed again. Everyone looked at me and I just said, Oh well.

We’ve tried experiments with air flow, windows open or shut and the air conditioners on or off without discovering the answer. We have learned that my cat has learned how to put her paw under this door and with persistence, pop it open so she can visit me in the office.

I bring all this craziness up because earlier that morning we were sitting in the dining room talking about the battle at Gettysburg and comparing it to the ones at Anteidem and Fredericksburg. Like typical, the talk eventually got back to the topic of ghosts, specifically ghosts and Gettysburg. Most specifically the books, TV specials and ghost tours compliments of author and researcher, Mark Nesbitt.

My one daughter tells me she is afraid to look out windows at night and almost refuses to take another ghost tour because a story Nesbitt documented on his tour. It’s called, The Story of Blue Boy. He is a phantom child who froze to death outside a dorm at Gettysburg College and continues to appear by looking in a second floor window. That’s a powerful ghost story.

I got to wondering how many fears result from experiencing the tale of the paranormal activity instead of actually having one. I started asking around and was a bit surprised at the answers.  People who are afraid of mirrors, opening elevators, looking into binoculars, open closets, quija boards, cemeteries, sleeping alone, sleeping without covers, sleeping in the dark, looking out windows at night, answering the door at night,  dolls, clowns and walking down the streets of Gettysburg or the battlefield at dusk or dawn to name a few. All because they heard, read or saw a reenactment of a ghost story not because they have had an experience.

What amazing power.  I’ve seen people on ghost tours look increasingly uneasy as the tour progresses and I know people who have stayed awake all night with the lights on after reading a Steven King novel. Is it fear of the unknown, the out of control, potential lack of safety or the telling of a great tale?

According to the Center for Religious Studies, over 70% of Americans believe in something supernatural. Be it ghosts, angles, demons, miracles, curses, God, heaven, hell, Satan and so on. Are we taught to fear or mock and ridicule instead of embrace and explore? As quantum physics unfolds new theories of the cosmos that render credence to the ability for other dimensions and planes of existence to occur, will our fears lessen? Or as long as the story teller provides the right atmosphere and hits just the right nerve, we are forever in their grasps no matter what we believe?

Social scientists will tell you ghost stories are sweeter if the society that breeds and reads them is in a state of flux. Uncertainty in the world brings a need for understanding and demonstration of our fears of the unknown manifest in the ghost story.  Or is it, the more upheaval, the more energy and the phenomenon manifests itself more readily making society more sensitive to the paranormal and the ghost story?

Wait a minute, I hear something odd. Okay, no problem, it’s just the door between the downstairs and upstairs. Damn cat. No wait, it just slammed shut. I don’t think she has that skill.

There is a rhythmic creaking of the stairs like someone heavy footed is slowly coming up the stairwell. Everyone should be asleep. Its 3:05 a.m. and even if someone is awake why would they be wearing heavy boots?

The hair on my neck tingles and I shudder at the chill in the air. It’s a nice night; there shouldn’t be a sudden chill from anywhere. My heart races and my hands sweat.

There is another creak outside my office door. I get up from my desk and reach out to take hold of the knob, but hesitate. Do I really want to know what or who is on the other side? It can’t be anything harmful, can it? I’ve never been harmed by these things before, but what if this is different? I take hold of the glass, door knob and slowly turn.

What makes a good ghost story? Is it the retelling of personal events in order to find others with similar experiences? Is it evidence in a world where we know so much, that there is so much more we don’t understand? Or is it all the above and then some?

The door opens; the air is thick and oddly sweet and my hair is still on end. I’m all alone or am I?

Sweet dreams.

 

The Lonely Canons – Of PTSD, the Unknown and an Unusual Interaction at Gettysburg

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Cannon on Little Round Top Over Looking Devil’s Den

We hadn’t seen each other all summer. For the past two years we’d taken a writing workshop at a place called Write from the Heart run by Melissa Green. It’s designed to encourage writers to put behind the critics of the past and learn to listen to their inner, creative voices.

On a whim, I asked my friend to check out an Irish Pub in Lancaster and she agreed. We got lost, driving literally in circles for over an hour saying things like, “Didn’t we pass that pizza place before?” Yes, we have.

Out of the blue, my friend says, “You know, there is some reason we’re supposed to be going in this circle. There is something or someone in the center of this circle that’s going to become very important to us. Isn’t that exciting? I wonder what it will be.”

A day later, both of us have talked to and signed up with Melissa Green’s Write from the Heart. Her place is located smack center of the circle we forged the night before. This event is not surprising to my friend and intriguing to me.

Melissa’s studio is an hour from us and I quickly find that the conversations to and from are not only affirming but spiritually awakening. My friend and I have had near death experiences and are on the same wave-length.  Together what blossoms are beyond what either of us could ever accomplish alone.

Life happened and each of us had to stop attending the workshop for various reasons. That was the beginning of the summer. Although both of us stated we felt spirit was taking us in new directions, to build on the journey we started with Write from the Heart’s wonderful experience, it was saddening.

The summer for me was plagued with death, multiple surgeries for my daughter, trying to run a new business and learning to live minus one income.  Every week when time came for our normal rendezvous for class, I could feel my heart and soul ache. Yes I missed the class, my writing buddies and Melissa. But what I really missed were the conversations on the drive to and fro.

It hit me, this was ridiculous. Call the woman and get together. We don’t need to drive to Lancaster to have spiritual conversations and enlightenment. We can go someplace else and talk. Gettysburg pops into my mind but I dismiss it. I want someplace spiritual, not historical. I think The Grotto.

The Grotto is a Catholic shrine to Saint Elizabeth Seton. It’s a fabulous place to relax, pray, meditate or just enjoy the mosaic art works and mountain environment. I’ve been going there since I was a little girl. This is one of the places I normally hit in times when I need to clear my head.

I gave her a call and find out she’d been experiencing the same longing. So we eagerly set a date, her house for dinner with her family then a drive to The Grotto.

Just as I’m getting in my car, a horrendous storm hits but I keep going.  The main road leading from my house to my friends surges with rising flood water. Cars stall, truck-made waves wash over entire vehicles. I pull into a parking lot, pull out my cell phone and call her. There is no way I am continuing. It’s too dangerous.

She tells me she is only a couple miles ahead of me on her own way home. She is looking at blue sky. I look out into the distance and see a small patch of blue. Okay, I’ll keep coming but I tell her The Grotto is no longer an option. She says, “Let’s wait and see which way spirit takes us.” I agree and head out into the flooding street.

By the time I get to her house, the sky is blue, the rain gone and the roads just wet.  We have a great chicken potpie dinner with her family and she says, “Well, what do you want to do?”

“I want to go to The Grotto,” I tell her. I’m looking out her kitchen window at the soggy ground. I don’t even know if The Grotto is open at seven o’clock on a Thursday evening. What the hell? “Let’s do it.”

We get in the car and drive the half hour to The Grotto while catching up on our summers. It’s a quick drive to the Catoctain Mountains. We climb the narrow road up the mountain and stop short. There is a gate across the road. The Grotto, situated at the top of the mountain, is closed.

“Now what do you want to do?” She asks me. “Where do you think spirit is leading us?”

Gettysburg pops back in my head. I am reluctant to say anything because I feel like I’m obsessed with Gettysburg Battlefield. But the feeling is strong enough to speak. “I keep thinking Gettysburg.”

“Oh my gosh! I’ve been thinking about Gettysburg all day! When you called I thought, Gettysburg! We need to go to Gettysburg. That is why The Grotto is closed!” This, in an odd kind of way, makes sense to me. I turn the car around and head to Gettysburg.

There are several exits into the borough and town of Gettysburg from US 15. She didn’t care which one we took. She says, “Clear your mind and head in the direction you think we are supposed to go.”  I took the Taneytown exit and wound up on the battlefield.

It’s now 6:45 pm. As we enter a main thoroughfare of the National Park grounds my friend says, “Whenever I come out here, I get this feeling that says stop. There is something about that location that I’m supposed to experience.”

“Okay, well, if you get that feeling, tell me and I’ll stop.”

“Stop.”  She immediately states so I pull over. We are about one hundred feet from the old Cyclorama overlooking the high water mark of Picket’s Charge.  “Did you see him?” She asks me.

The park is surprisingly busy for a Thursday night in September. The series of bad storms rolling across the county would have fettered any daytime visit. It looks like a lot of out-of-town guests are taking advantage of the evening’s clear weather. Among all the cars and people wondering in and around canons sits an older man with a very large, Irish Wolfhound.  Yes, I’d seen him. He and the dog were hard to miss.

We get out of the car and wander over and say hello. The dog’s name is Tanner. He stands seven foot four inches on his hind legs and weights two hundred and forty pounds. He is without a leash and his owner informs us it’s not necessary.

The name of Tanner’s owner is not reveled to us. This is okay because we are also nameless.  We spend a short amount of time exchanging niceties. He lives in Gettysburg and routinely walks his dog around the battlefield looking to meet interesting people and soak in the spiritual nature of the location. Normally, he states, he sits on Little Round Top but tonight he was called to sit where we found him.

The conversation takes a turn. The man has had a near death experience that changed his life. We haven’t told him we share this trait and my friend shoots me a look of, see I knew there was a reason we were supposed to stop here.  For about an hour we talk about crossing over, God, the universe, life as we know it and this place called Gettysburg.  The whole time we are talking, I keep looking over at several cannons and ammunition wagons positioned where original cannonades resonated across the field.

Tanner’s owner has not experienced anything he would call paranormal on the battlefield but definitely has at his home. He sees the battlefield as alive, as spiritual and it calls him here. My friend shoots me another affirming look.

I have experienced things on the battlefield and I tell him so. This prompts him to talk about a friend of his who writes books on ghosts in Gettysburg. He’s questioning some of the stories his friend has written which I think is funny considering he just told us several personal, paranormal stories.  I start telling him about my experiences with unexpected things in photos, voices and sounds I’ve heard, odd smells and apparent apparitions on or around the battlefield.

It’s nearly, completely dark. Tanner’s owner looks over at the cannons I’ve been eyeing off and on and says, “Don’t they look lonely? I often think of them as animated. They spend all day being touched, having their pictures taken with people, telling their story. But by night, they are lonely sentinels on this sacred ground.”

This hits me, really hits me and I take a photograph of with my cell phone and send myself a message that reads, lonely cannons. It’s profound in my mind, but I don’t know why.

The conversation comes to a natural conclusion and we get in my car. Tanner and his owner get in theirs. We beep goodbyes and go our separate ways never having exchanged names. We are just three people drawn to a place in time for an unexpected conversation.

My friend has never been on the battlefield after dark. It’s a profoundly sobering time to visit. There is a minimal amount of visitors. The place is quiet, shadows deep and the mind can better attempt to sink in what happened on those three horrific days in history. It’s incomprehensible. No matter how many times I visit in an attempt to understand it won’t sink in.

I deviate from the Auto-tour route to show her several of my favorite monuments and end up beside the area known as The Wheatfield. Our car windows are down. The air is different here. I’ve been here many times and I’ve never experienced this feeling. It’s a tingling on our skin like static electricity, our throats feel tight making it hard to swallow and my friend feels a bit queasy.

I have no intention of stopping the car.  We round the bend and the feelings stop – for both of us.  I pull the car over and we try to process what happened. It was damn odd and not pleasant. Both of us have experienced heightened energy before. Times when the air is charged where there are high magnetic fields, standing near large electrical towers or during lightening storms.  That’s what this felt like.

I pull the car back onto the road and we drive through the woods and end up at Devil’s Den. To my surprise there is only one other car here. Usually, at night, I find this is the most popular place to find other visitors.

I stop the car and we get out. Using the light from my phone as a flashlight, we wander past the granite megaliths known as Devil’s Den and walk up the road around to the back of the rocks.  In the not-to-far distance we hear the sound of a rumbling explosion and stop.

“Thunder?” She asks.

“Too low,” I reply and we stand quiet waiting to hear it again. We don’t and I tease, “Its cannon fire.”  Then add, “Maybe there is a reenactment nearby.”  We shrug it off and return to walking up the darkened hill.

At the top of the hill, directly behind Devil’s Den is a very tall, lone tree. It stands very close to the location where my hubby captured a white form of what looks like an apparition of a soldier. My friend identifies the tree as a place where she and a cousin spent several hours sitting and soaking in warm, positive energy.

Devils Den is made of granite. This entire area is granite and quartz heavy. I know both stones hold and radiate energy. That’s why we use them in computers, watches and why they don’t want you to use granite as a counter top. It emits radon.  I’m not surprised she feels energy here.

I get several feet from the tree and get a sensation of disorientation. I can barely keep my balance. Before I can say anything, my friend tells me she feels odd, her stomach is turning over and she smells something metallic. I don’t smell it but I immediately think of blood. I unfortunately know very intimately the smell and taste of large amounts of spilled blood.  It’s metallic.  I don’t tell her this. I don’t think she’d understand but I could be wrong.

She reaches over and places her hands on the tree. I don’t want to go near the tree. Every time I get too close the equilibrium problem hits again. She says, “Take a picture here, how about here?” I do this and nothing shows up but darkness, a shot of her with the tree and one that has some fog.

I really feel like the world is spinning one way and me in another. “We need to leave,” I tell her.

We start heading down the hill and she grabs me. Both of us are having a hard time keeping balanced.  I think this is nuts and tell her I want to do an experiment.

I walk away from the tree until I feel normal again. Then I turn around and walk till I start to feel ill. I do it several times. I have her do it. It makes no sense. I wish there was some meter or devise we could use to measure any static electricity or high magnetic current. Prove one way or another that what we are feeling is nothing more than being in near-darkness on uneven ground with over-active imaginations and low blood sugar.  We don’t have anything like that so we head back to the car with more questions than answers.

We get in the car and head up to Little Round Top.  Normally, I love to look out over LRT. The view is stunning and it‘s a favorite place for many people to lay on the large granite rocks and sunbath. Sunsets from this point are beautiful no matter what the season. This time, I slowed down but decided not to stop. Something didn’t feel right and besides, it’s dark, what was there to see?

My friend sighs and says, “I’m glad we didn’t stop, I don’t feel well.” Another oddity? I think one of us really has an over-active imagination, ESP or something. We stop at the stop sign and continue across the road.

Almost immediately, I feel like I’m going to vomit. My chest hurts like its being crushed (I actually know what this feels like) and it’s hard to breath.  I get a sharp pain in my eye and a vicious headache making my eye water.  If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was having a physical flashback of the car accident where I was partially crushed in my car, medevaced and endured medical torture before I died of shock.   The flashbacks come on that fast and are horrifically painful. Only I never damaged my eye and I have not experienced anything in the past couple minutes to suddenly throw me into a flashback.

I drive the van forward several hundred feet and slowly, the feelings subside leaving me with a mild headache, a watering eye and some mild agitation. My friend tells me her stomach is very upset and wants to leave. So do I.

The road ends up across from the old Cyclorama where we had met Tanner and his owner.  I look over one more time at the lonely cannons and am glad they are not as animated as Tanner’s owner imagined. They look tragic, lost, shocked and filled with pain, fear and disbelief.  They remind me of the me no one sees during the day and only a select few have seen at night. They remind me of my PTSD and my seaming lifetime of struggle to survive and thrive.

Those cannons are sentinels to the souls of thousands of men never identified, buried and forgotten, witnesses of horrific screams of agony and death. They are the watchers of a history we should never forget but continue to repeat. They are the lonely watchers of the ghosts of Gettysburg surviving through time, telling their story.

As we leave the battlefield I am reminded, there are some things that can’t be explained. Other things even if I could explain very few people would understand. But I’m not alone. Like my friend, like Tanner’s owner, we are a regiment of people having experienced something on the fringe and yearn for understanding. For this reason, we come to Gettysburg.

Death and Needing to Hear from the Neither World: Grief, Insanity is Thy Name

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When we have loved greatly, we will never walk alone.

My uncle is terminally ill in a Florida hospital with a do not resuscitate order. He is a father figure to me so this is very important. I live 900 miles from Florida’s sunny gulf coast. This plays horribly with my mind.

9:00 am: I get the phone call telling me to expect the inevitable at anytime. Notify the rest of the family on Facebook, keep my phone charged and with me, Mom says.

I’m sitting with my daughter, who is in her second week recovery from spine surgery. We are home, finishing breakfast and morning showers when the call comes in. Immediately, I realize the problematic nature of the timing of everything. I feel I need and want to be in Florida. My daughter needs me home. She can’t do this on her own. Not yet.

Fourteen years ago, my parents, brother and several aunts and uncles heard the calling of the snow bird at the retirement capital of the country – Ocala, Florida. They sold their homes, packed their things, bought RVs and waved goodbye.  Ending what was a very close knit extended family system with all the trimmings. This left me with my own little family.

It’s been difficult to maintain close relationships across the miles. Responsibilities, expenses and health have all played havoc. But we have succeeded with only moderate feelings of loss on my part, especially during the holidays. This is not a holiday, but like a holiday, I feel the pangs of not being in the same location as the rest of the family and it’s taking its toll.

I’ve spent most of my day trying to figure a way to juggle taking care of my daughter and her cats and still fly to Florida. I realize I not only want to be near family, I need to be there for me to nurture them and for them to nurture me. I want another chance to say goodbye to a man who will always be my other father.

It’s 5:00 pm and my phone rings. It’s my mother. I ask her if my dad can pick me up at the airport if I figure out the logistical nightmare.

She hems and haws and says, “Let us go to the hospital and see what’s what. Then we’ll have a talk and call you back between 10:00 and 10:30 tonight.”

Not a problem, I have class in an hour and I still have not figured things out, so this gives me more time.  I take care of dinner for my family, take the dog out another time, another glass of ice water and an ice pack for my daughter and leave for class with my assignment left behind on the table. I have my fully charged cell phone in my hand in case the call telling me it’s over happens.

Class ends and I get back in plenty of time for the mom’s call.  The phone does not ring and this is where insanity set in and never looked back.

By 11:00 I’m concerned. My daughter asks if there is any news – no. 11:30, I get this odd feeling of relief.

Enter crazy thought #1. He’s passed away, no longer suffering and this is the relief I feel.

I tell all this to daughter who says, “Why do you think they didn’t call? Why don’t we call down there to see what’s going on?”

Enter crazy thought #2. They are so busy with Uncle’s death; there is no time to call, too distraught to call.  Who the hell am I to call them during this horrible, intensively challenging time?  I’m not a part of the family anymore anyway. I live 900 miles away! They had a family portrait taken several months ago, of all of them – without me. I’m really abandoned and on my own.

Enter crazy thought #3. I flash back to my sister’s death when I was seven. I didn’t get to say goodbye then either.  She died; they whisked me off to Grandmas while things settled. When I returned, all my sister’s things and pictures were gone. We weren’t to talk about her, it was too painful.  As an adult, I get this. As a child, I did not. Sitting in my room alone waiting for a call that was not coming, perhaps the adult is not too far removed from the child.

Enter crazy thought #4. They are doing this again. Arranging everything with me out of the picture because they don’t think I can handle it.  Just like, I couldn’t handle my sister’s death back in 1968. I was seven years old then! I tell my daughter all this.

She wobbles over, gingerly sits down on the side of my bed and puts her arm around me. Our roles have reversed. She tells me things I would have told her in a reverse situation. The leaves don’t fall far from the tree.

12:00 midnight. Enter crazy thought #5. I tell my daughter, “Well, if I can’t be there to say goodbye, I’ll be expecting a visit from his spirit. At this point, he can probably get to me easier then I can get to him.”

She looks at me to verify I’m serious. I am.  I’ve heard of many people having death-bed visits from loved ones.  Family finding out someone died before the police or hospital called to tell them. Why not have my uncle come to me to say goodbye?

1:00 am. My daughter is back in her room leaving me and my over active imagination to run amok.  I’m writing the next chapter of a manuscript while sitting on my bed.  Behind me is a double window that overlooks a second story balcony. There I have a rocking chair where I drink my early morning coffee. The windows are open.  I have my I-pod on a speaker stand set to shuffle. The music is anything from tribal to Bach, Incubus to Frank Sinatra.

The writing is going well until I hear a noise. I shyly look up from the computer screen half expecting to see the materializing form of my uncle. I see nothing out of the ordinary.  I continue writing, fighting back sorrow. I can’t believe this is finally the end.

The I-pod stops playing and I stop typing, startled by the sudden silence. A sign, I wonder. Cautiously, I turn to see what song is listed on the screen. Was it Edelweiss, the song we danced to at my wedding? No, it says D00045.

That is the code for a series of voice recordings I’ve made. One of which is a lengthy conversation with my uncle where he tells me about his childhood.   I rummage through my computer to find the original clip convinced it is that recording (I-pod will not play it). It’s not.  It’s notes about muses in the Peach Orchard in the Gettysburg battlefield.  Not my uncle.

I laugh at myself and turn off the I-pod. The room grows still with the exception of the tip tapping of my fingers on the laptop keyboard. Behind me, I hear the sound of my rocking chair on the balcony moving. Is it the breeze? I don’t feel a breeze on my skin.

I want to turn and look but find myself griped in fear. What will my uncle look like? What if it’s not what I expect? I get up the courage to look but it’s too dark to make out the chair. Stealthily, I move closer to the screen, cupping my hands around my eyes to block out the ambient light.

Before my grandmother died, we got possession of her rocking chair and my father placed it in our clubbed-in basement. After she died, that chair rocked on his own for several minutes on many evenings. We always said it was grandma. Many a night, I would hear the creaking of the chair and sneak downstairs to watch it slowly move back and forth for just a few moments and then come to a stop.

The rocker on my back porch was empty. A swift breeze pushed back my hair and I sighed. It was the wind after all.

I return to my laptop. My nerves frayed and my mind on red-alert. The auto fan in the far window clicks on and the anxiety makes my skin feel it’s being peeled off my muscles. I push off the laptop, bound out bed and slam shut the windows, locking them and pulling the blinds shut.

If my uncle is going to visit, it’s not going to be through the window or in the rocker! He can visit but only on my terms. Whatever those are?

I go out to the bathroom in the hallway and return to my room, shutting the door behind me. I pick up the laptop and return to chapter three. Something outside my door bangs once, then twice. Everything goes silent except my heart.

I slid out of bed and mosey up to the door. I outstretch my hand to the glass door knob debating if I really want to see what is going on. I think, why in the hell would my uncle try to scare me like this? Followed quickly with the thought, maybe, he doesn’t have many options.

I’m the one that wanted to say goodbye and here I am cowering behind a door. I open it to find the empty hallway which does nothing to calm my nerves. Across the hall is my office.

I listen and notice the outside street sounds are louder than normal. I walk over and find the window open and several paperback books scattered on the floor. Lightning flashes and I assume the wind has knocked the books off an end table. I shut the window and return to my room thinking I’ve read too many Stephen King books and seen too many episodes of paranormal television programming.

3:30 a.m. and my stomach is growling. I need something to eat.

To get to my kitchen I have to go down the stairs and through the living room and dining room. The staircase is completely enclosed with a heavy wooden door at the bottom. I don’t like the staircase at night. In fact, I try to avoid it.

Tonight, my stomach says we’re moving forward through the darkness and down the stairs (there is no light on the stairs). I tell myself my apprehension is ridiculous. I reach the glass door knob and stop. On the other side of the door will be my living room partially lite by the porch light coming through the front windows.

In my living room is my late sister’s Chatty Cathy doll. It is my most prized possession. This doll is also a very special memento for my uncle and ties all of us together. I tell myself (enter another crazy thought) if he has any ability to communicate with me, it will be with this doll. Now I’m afraid to go into the living room for fear I will find the doll moved or moving, maybe talking. It is Chatty Cathy for goodness sake.

I chide myself again for thinking such crazy thoughts and bust through the door. Keeping my eyes firmly on my feet, I quickly work my way through the living room, dining room, slam on the kitchen light and sigh in relief.  Everything is normal. Everything is going to be fine. Uncle is not going to pay me a middle of the night goodbye call. Mom and dad will call later when they are able. I’ll figure what to do at that time.

I pull out a plastic bowl, the box of Lucky Charms cereal and some milk. I wonder what the family is doing now. Are they still up like me? Are they making arrangements for Uncle’s cremation in the morning? Why haven’t they called me? Don’t they know I’m worried sick?

A dark shadow whips by my feet and returns prowling towards me. I scream, dropping the milk, tipping over the cereal filled bowl, spewing Lucky Charms all over the counter, down the cupboard and onto the floor.

I clench my heart in absolute terror, convinced the world is coming to an end when the dark, shadowed creature speaks to me – Meow.

My uncle’s spirit, if it could, did not visit me because he was still alive. My parents didn’t call because they thought it was too late. Never thinking I’d be up all night in grief then terror because someone I thought had died, hadn’t and was coming to visit me but wasn’t.

“Why didn’t you call?” They asked me. A good question and I don’t have an answer. I need to figure that one out.

If this isn’t an example of the power of our thoughts and what happens when we let them run amok, I don’t know what is. I need to ask myself some serious questions about my mental behaviors. I can throw in, yes, I was tired, I have PTSD, and I’m grief stricken and feel helpless. I think while all those things are factors, they don’t negate the fact; I let the whole thing run crazy. I didn’t reality check. I didn’t use the resources at hand to help myself.

It’s 11:30 pm and I’m sitting here on my bed typing this blog. My window is open and there is a slight breeze from the balcony brushing through the rocking chair slats.  I wonder if my uncle will make it through another night. If he doesn’t, I wonder if he’ll come visit.  Perhaps, I’ll sleep with the light on.

Uncle died at 1:30 a.m. My daughter and I were in my office reminiscing through old photos of us with Uncle when it happened. The call from my parents came in directly after that. While there was no ghostly apparition, I still got to say my goodbyes in a much healthier way. Through all the fabulous years of memories that will last not only myself but my children as well. Thanks Uncle Joe, I’m missing you already.

Ghost or Imaginary Friend?

ImageThe driveway to our house was a mile-long tunnel hand-cut by men long ago forgotten. During the day, sunshine danced through tree limbs like happy fairies eager to great us home. At night, the moon cast deep shadows that morphed into terrifying creatures rushing past the car. In the age before mandatory seat-belts and car seats, the floor of the ‘ 66 Chevy was the safest way to travel at night. I was five years old.

The first time I saw him, it was a balmy afternoon and I was wandering through the woods around my house. He was mowing a lawn I had never seen before.  An old man wearing baggy, grey pants held up with suspenders over an off-white tee shirt. His hair was thin, grey and very short.  His face was clean shaven. He pushed a single-blade lawn mower silently across the grass. I should have heard the sound of the mower wheels or at least some birds. I heard nothing. All I felt was an uncomfortable sensation in my body that tingled and the sudden dramatic cooling of the air near his location. There was something different about this man but I could not understand what.

Intrigued, I retuned many times over the summer to the same spot.  Sometimes, all I would find were mounds of rocks, shrubs and trees. Other times, he would be there silently mowing a lawn that was not there the day before.  Occasionally, I could hear the sounds of his world, distorted, as if coming down a long tunnel. On those days, a stone and clap-board, single-story house sat several hundred feet from my position.

 I wanted this man to be my friend. We didn’t have any neighbors for me to play with. I decided that the next visit when I could hear the rhythmic screeching of the mower wheels rolling through the grass I was going to approach him. I didn’t have to wait long for my opportunity.

I arrived at the spot I now knew well. I could see and hear him pushing the lawn mower across the same stretch of grass he always mowed. I moved toward him, pushing my way through a very uncomfortable thickness in the air. My skin stung from static electricity but I kept going. I was determined to learn his name.

I tumbled forward, feet landing in the grass. He turned, stopped the mower and looked at me puzzled, then smiled. My head started to pound. My eyes watered and it was hard to breath. I fell backward into the woods. The man and his world were gone.  

On the edge of my yard, before the woods enveloped my house, were a table and several multi-colored, metal, bouncy chairs. My swing-set, sand-box and the dog house were within throwing distance. I was riding my bike around the wrap-around porch waiting for my lunch when I saw him. He was sitting at the table in a bouncy chair. I rushed over and plopped down onto a bouncy chair beside him. The air was cold and tingly. I didn’t mind too much.

I invited him to have lunch with me. I told him all about my dog, who was howling and whining at us. He said nothing and stared straight ahead.

 My mom came out with lunch and asked who I was talking too. I pointed to my friend but he wasn’t there anymore. So I ate my lunch alone.

If I was outside playing around the table, I could feel when he arrived. I’d rush over and take my place in my bouncy chair. He never looked at or talked to me which was upsetting. I decided the next time he visited I was going to make him look at me.

It was lunch time. I was seated at the table with my peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. My arms started to tingle. I looked at the other bouncy chair, the one he always sat in. He was there. I got up, ran in front of his face and acted like a jumping bean so he could see me. For some reason I either knew I could not touch him or I had no desire too.

 It worked. He smiled and then faded away. I reached over and swished my hand around his seat thinking maybe he was still there and I couldn’t see him. I felt nothing.

Bummed, I left my lunch and wandered back into the house. My grandmother asked me what was wrong. I told her. She yelled for my mother, who came running.

“Tell your mother what you just told me,” Grandma said angrily.

I did. Just like I always did. I told them both about my friend, what he looked like, the lawn mower, the house and how he sometimes came to visit me for lunch.

My grandmother became very upset and called me a liar. She’d never done that before. She and my mother argued and I wanted to cry.  Mom kept saying I had something called an imaginary friend.

My grandmother turned to me and said, “That man you described can’t be there because he died years before you were born. That house was torn down. There is nothing back there but rubble! I don’t know how you learned about him, but I don’t think this is very funny!”

Desperate to prove I wasn’t lying, I took my mother through the woods to the man’s house. It wasn’t there. I tried to explain things but the more I talked the more upset she got.  

I was no longer allowed in the woods by myself. I never saw my friend again.

This should be the end of the story, but I have never forgotten this event. Long after the death of my grandmother and the deterioration of our old house, I returned with my mother and infant daughter. I wanted to find that yard, that house. I wanted, needed to verify that what I remembered all these years ago was real.

I couldn’t find anything but our house and the skeletal remains of my swing set and the dog-house.  Vagrants had taken over our once beloved home. The windows in the house were broken or gone.  Graffiti butchered the interior walls.  It was heart wrenching. My mother was spooked by the derelict nature of the house and the vibes she said she felt. We left.

 Years later I returned again. Only to my horror the entire area was now townhouses. I was able to find the remains of my swing-set and the dog-house deep in the woods behind the houses.  I brought home a piece of rusted metal from the swing and a stone from our house foundation.

In my forties, I was still haunted by my experience. Although, I will never be able to truly prove what I experienced, I still needed to find some kind of information for my sanity. I needed a name for my friend from so long ago.

I searched property records to see what I could find. There it was. According to the historic records our house and the house of my friend were built in the 1870’s by a man named S. Disney (I know his full name but am keeping it and the location quiet).  On a map, his house was located where I remembered seeing it in my youth. I searched in vain for a picture of him. Oh well.

Was I somehow able to reach and befriend a deceased S. Disney or did I simply have a very unusual imaginary friend?  You can decide what you wish but remember sometimes life is odder then fiction.

“Slow down,” said the Turtle. Over and Over Again..

    Image    “Have you ever watched a turtle?” An Oneida woman asked me from behind the counter of the at Shako:wi Cultural Center, Oneida, New York.

     “Not really,” I tell her. The subject of turtles has been a recurring theme lately. I tell her this.

     She smiles and nods. “Turtles are slow, steady and strong.” She gives me a tour of the center, showing me wonderful pieces of Oneida history and craft work. My gracious host tells me she is Turtle Clan. “Is there something you were looking for?”

     “I am looking for a book on the teachings of Deganawidah and Hiawatha” (a Haudenosaunee prophet and his companion I admired from a book called, Travels in a Stone Canoe by Harvey Arden and Steve Wall). The center has what I am looking for.

     I’m interested and I pick up a book on this and one on the Oneida creation story.

     “It’s the turtle that grows and becomes the island of North America,” she says.

       I tell her I have been reading and rereading a book by the humanitarian, wisdom-keeper Oren Lyons called, The Art of Being Human.

      She smiles and we talk about the Onondaga man (he is also Turtle Clan) and his influences before I say my goodbyes.                                              

Image   Stained glass window in Shako:wi Cultural Center

     Several months later, I am a guest at a Lenape Inter-tribal Winter Solstice gathering at the Eicher Indian Museum in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. We are in a large stone and log cabin that sits next to a meandering stream. It’s three in the morning, half way through singing the nearly six hour Walam Olum ( the Lenape creation story, which takes about six hours to sing in alternating verses of Lenape and English).

     I am sitting against a wall surrounded by a sea of sleeping bags, pillows and people. The drum has been loud and consistent for the past three hours, reverberating off the walls drowning everything but the loud singing. I am told that the drum unifies us, brings all our heart beats together as one. As I look around the lake of people I believe this. We all move the same.

       A paper is handed to me with the English translation to the story. I read and stop when a see the words, and the turtle became the foundation of the earth.

      Turtles again! I stop singing and get up. I need to go outside and get some fresh air.

      I work my way to the door and outside to the roaring fire used earlier for part of a blessing/forgiveness ceremony. It’s freezing; there is frost on the grass. I am not wearing a coat and my tee-shirt is wet with sweat from the heat of the building and excitement of the night. I’m standing next to the three foot flames shivering violently. I can’t go back inside yet. I really need to think about why turtles are prominent in my current life.

     A tall, dark skinned man wrapped in a wool blanket walks over to my side. He unwraps his blanket and without asking throws it around me. “My name is Walking Bear.” He tells me and pauses a moment watching me.  “You looked a little cold. Drum too loud?”

     “I just needed a break,” I tell him. “Thank you for the blanket.” He nods.

     “What do you know about turtles?” He asks me.

     I turn and look into the flames, listening to it crackle and spit almost in rhythm of the drum inside.  “Not a lot, why?”

     “I saw you inside. Sometimes you reminded me of a turtle. Other times, this evening, you seem to have forgotten how to be a turtle.”

     Remembering my conversation with the Oneida woman at the cultural center, I reply. “Turtles are slow, steady and strong.”

     “Ah,” he responds. Turtles are very important in many native cultures for their ties to the creator and for being the foundations of mankind. If it weren’t for the courage of the turtle, you could say, we wouldn’t exist. What is your name?”

     This all feels like an odd dream. “Deborah.” I keep looking into the flames.

     “Ah,” he says again. “That’s Hebrew for the Busy Bee. You know a person can be too busy?”

     I don’t agree. Since my near death experience I have spent almost every waking hour trying to show my return from the brink was worthy. I was given a second chance at life and I wasn’t going to waste a moment. I was told during my near death experience that once I was healed I would be engaged in a mission to help others.

     For the past decade, I have been working extremely hard to force that healing. Terrified, I’d die again, only to find out it was all a mistake. They should have sent back someone else. This man does not know any of this. I keep quiet.

      “I think you should seriously consider turtles.” He continues. “They can carry the horrors of the world on their backs and remain strong, attached to the creator who made them. You appear to have the turtle shell.  As we stand here by the fire I can see it. I saw it off and on inside the gathering.” He pauses and I turn to look at him. I still don’t know what to say, so I say nothing.

     “ You’ve seen the creator, haven’t you?” He doesn’t know me, my near death experience, my work with trauma victims and my own hellish nightmares.

       Someone calls him. He nods again at me and walks back toward the building.   

      I don’t see him the remainder of the event. I leave the blanket on a table inside the cabin when I leave after breakfast.

     I start looking up turtle totems, turtle animal behaviors, turtle legends and drive my friends crazy. They keep telling me I have to slow down. I can’t, I think too much is at stake.

     I don’t learn anything new. If anything I am the anti-turtle. I find the idea of becoming a turtle a waste of precious time. I thought there was some secret message from God in these events but I don’t see it.

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                                          Eicher Indian Museum, Ephrata, PA

      I’m in Oriskany, New York on vacation with hubby in our RV. A large turtle walks onto the street in front of us and stops, looking up at us. It’s a turtle – RV standoff.

        “That turtle has something to tell me!” I excitedly tell hubby. I grab my camera and jump out of the RV.  I immediately lay out on the road in front of the RV eye to eye with the turtle. I don’t know if it’s a terrapin or a turtle and I don’t think it matters (I find out later, terrapin is an Indian word for little turtle).

     I beg in a whisper. “Turtle, please help me. Everywhere I go people talk to me about turtles. I’m seeing turtles everywhere. My college mascot was a turtle!  What’s going on?”

      Of course he didn’t answer. I shot a couple pictures. I watch and wait for a long time (in my opinion) while he watches me. I don’t know what I think will happen.

     The turtle finally, turns around and walks off, continuing his journey across the street each step deliberately placed and slow. I keep watching to make sure he was safe. It was a bit anti-climatic.

 

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      It’s now the end of the summer and I’m in Corning, New York to give a presentation on the choices we make in our daily lives. I have a dear friend, another presenter with me sharing a room at the hotel.

     This is the first time I’ve been in front of an audience in over twenty five years. I used to be a performer. For nearly fifteen years my life revolved around countless hours of practices, rehearsals and performances. Trying to be perfect on a consistent basis was paramount for my performances, keeping haunted memories at bay and the illusion that everything was grand.

     This presentation has no rehearsals. I have minimal ideas how to say what I need to say. I’m freaking in the hotel room. I’m talking fast and non-stop, moving quickly, bumping into furniture, waving my arms around like a fool and feel like I’m going to die of a panic attack.

     My friend turns to me and demands. “Holy crap! Go run a warm wash cloth over your face to calm down. You’re driving me crazy!”

     I’m mortified and crushed. Obediently, I go into the bathroom and pick up a wash cloth from the sink counter. A little turtle charm falls out.

     I stare in awe at this silver charm with tears in my eyes. It’s a miracle. It’s exactly the reminder I need. Slow down!

     I rush back to the bedroom waving the charm by the little ringlet at the turtle’s nose. “Do you see this?” I ask. “How in the world did the cleaning staff know I needed a turtle? How did the turtle find its way into the wash cloth? I know what I have to do, I have to slow down!” I exclaim and throw myself on the bed. “I can’t believe the creator sent me a turtle!”

     My friend comes over, picks up a pillow and smacks me upside the head. “Did it ever occur to you that I put the turtle in the wash cloth?” I look up at her.  No, it hadn’t  “Did it ever occur to you that I knew what you needed and I was the one performing the miracle? No, you didn’t   No, you think it’s the cleaning lady, it’s the creator, its Tony the Tiger! Who would better know your needs then me and I have news for you, I’m not wearing gossamer wings.”  She moves around the room flapping her arms as wings but still looking exasperated.

     She’s angry, I’m calm, the turtle went in my pocket and the presentation went off without a hitch. After I’m finished, I look over at her and smile, pleased with myself. She looks back, flaps her arms and sticks her neck out like a chicken pecking. I blush.

    Had I been moving too quickly, I would have missed that. What a disaster that would have been.

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                                “Slow down and pay attention,” says the turtle.  Yes sir.

      Months later, I’m at work and long ago forgotten about my turtles. I’m exhausted, can’t sleep, drinking multiple, massive cups of coffee and chasing them down with energy drinks to keep going. I’m taking on more projects and responsibilities and attempting to do all of it to the max humanly possible. I’m forgetting important dates and how to scramble eggs. I’m sick all the time and my nerves are shot.  I no longer think there is a God. 

     It hits me; I can’t do this work anymore. I start interviewing people for my replacement. An ex-Roman Catholic priest who came out of the closet, left the priesthood to help others is my replacement. He doesn’t need the money. He saw the ad in the paper and was called to be here.

        The last two weeks of my employment I’m supposed to train him. Instead he trains me. He gives me a crash course on spirituality, self-care, and making positive changes.  He taught me volumes and I taught him pages.

     On my last day, he shows up with two gifts. One is a self-made cross stitch picture, which says; To help another person is to touch the heart of God. The other is an Oneida creation story print of….. the turtle as the backbone of the earth.

      We’ve never talked about turtles to my recollection.

     “You have a turtle shell, kiddo,” he says. “ You’ve heard the rest. You need to make it yours. Find your inner turtle. You really don’t have a choice. I can’t stress that enough.”

     We say our goodbyes. I leave. He leaves about two weeks later saying he no longer needs to be there.

 

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      It takes me four more years to understand that I am the anti-turtle, always speeding about, taking on the world.

     I’m an over-achiever, dedicated, altruistic and determined. I’ve been this way my whole life.  What’s the problem?

     The problem is the human body is not designed to handle all the adrenaline it takes to do those things. The ex-priest was right. Despite all the turtle coaxing from the universe, I kept going until there was no choice. Forced to slow down from chronic exhaustion and an immunological disorder, I wait like a turtle in doctor’s offices, hospitals and pharmacy lines.

     I often wonder, had I listened to the message of the turtle years ago, where would I be? I can’t go backward. Slowing down has allowed me to hear the natural rhythms of life and spirit. There is so much of the human experience I was missing in my hurried behaviors.

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             “Slow down and be like a turtle,” the man said.  Something we all should do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to the Sounds of Nothing to Hear Everything

Monument Valley     What does it mean to be alive? Obviously, I’m not referring to the status of a person’s brain and cardiac functioning.  Every so many months I find myself saying, I need to do something so I know I’m alive.

This particular time I was face up in a cemetery under some unknown person’s headstone with an associate in dire straits when she announced. “I don’t feel alive anymore. I have to find out why.”

And so it begins. Another restless zombie looking for answers. I nodded in understanding and set out on my own quest. I took a road trip across the country.

Monument Valley National Park is actually part of the Navajo Indian Reservation (as well as Hopi, Ute and Zuni) and encompasses the corner of four states, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.  I had never been there but was compelled to go. There is a dirt drive where you are allowed to take your vehicle. It takes you to a small portion of the park. I wasn’t interested in that.  I needed something more for reasons I can’t explain.

I hire a Navajo (Dine’) guide, got in his jeep and headed out to explore lesser traveled areas.  We are about two thirds of the way through the tour, almost axle deep in rich, orange sand when he stops the jeep and turns off the engine.

“What do you hear?” He asks me.

“Nothing,” I replied. There are no noises. No birds, humans, or sounds of any civilization what so ever.

“Exactly,” he said. Smiling, he turns the jeep engine back on and we continue swerving through the sand until we get to a massively tall, orange, rock alcove.  Stopping again, he hops out of the jeep and says, “Come on.”

We head into the alcove and he instructs me to lie against the slopping, rock wall next to him and I do so.  There has to be a twenty degree difference between the air inside and in the sun. The rock is so smooth and cool I close my eyes and desire to become one with the rock against my skin.

“What do you hear?” He asks me again.

I hear him breathing. I hear me breathing and realize the alcove walls are magnifying sound. He starts to sing in words I’ve never heard before and a rhythm that soothes my soul.  The sound of his voice reverberates beautify around the alcove and I hope he never stops singing. But he does.

“ Isn’t that something?” He asks.

I’m too busy finding my voice. My heart and soul still flooding from the experience and I can’t find my voice to answer. I don’t have to. He knows.

“We have to get back,” he said. Sadly, I know this but don’t want to leave.

We return to the Park Visitor’s Center and I’m still in awe. He just smiles and shakes his head in approval.

Heading out of the park, I turn down a road leading to an over-hang. It’s supposed to be a great place to see the remains of cliff dwellings. I stop and park the car.

As I’m walking down a path to the cliff edge an elderly Indian women with a teenager in tow stop me. She is holding a glass bead and juniper berry necklace with a wire dream catcher as a pendent. She says something in a language I do not know. The teenager smiles at me. The old woman is her grandmother and she has a gift for me.

I think she is trying to sell me the necklace. I wouldn’t mind owning it, but I’m suspicious and wonder if somehow this is a tourist trap of some kind.  I must look suspicious because the woman is more insistent and the girl more adamant I have to take the necklace. I take it saying thank you and they both smile.

I continue down to the cliff edge and shoot a bunch of pictures. The view is magnificent. I know there is no way any of my shots will express what I am experiencing.  Despite this, I shoot a couple more before returning up the path to my car.

The two women are no longer around. I do find a tin can with various dollars and a few coins sitting on a blanket. I toss a twenty dollar bill in the can and head to my car feeling like I just committed a mortal sin.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so alive. It took me days to realize lessons that were basic instructions for living.  To feel alive, listen to the sounds of nothing and hear everything. The gift from a stranger is more powerful than a gift from someone you know. The necklace hangs on the wall in my house.

Zombies Walk Among Us

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri

They say zombies are the remains of the living-dead who walk the earth searching for flesh to quench a hunger. I say zombies are the remains of the dead-living  who wander the earth and beyond searching for something to stop their unquenchable restlessness.

Hauntings do not just occur in houses, cemeteries and places where horrific events have occurred. They also occur in the mind.  Many people haunt themselves.  Others have help from their daily realities.  Then there are people whose hauntings come from an unimaginable terror.  One that does not go away when  they close their eyes and intensifies after dark when the vulnerability of sleep sets in.  It forms a restlessness not only in the body but the very soul. It seeps in at the most innocuous times and behaves like a spirit communicating with a medium. No one else can see it, only the result of it’s actions on the victim.  It’s real tempting to run.  I’ve clocked many miles and searched many dark corners only to find it can’t be outrun.  Armed with every demon hunting tool I could learn I did what I should have done in the first place. I hit it head on and and only stopped long enough to check a map, grab a bite to eat and laugh till my sides ached.

Welcome fellow zombies and couch zombies to reality – the other reality.