Ralph Waldo Emerson urged us to "Let the dead sleep in their moonless night." Even so, letting go can be a thing we just can't bring ourselves to do. Through the ages, humans have groped toward the great beyond to try to reclaim those who have made that journey.
We know better than to expect an actual return, or a touch, or even a voice from the departed. But maybe there's something, anything that offers a web-thin thread to keep us from the despair of finality.
Maybe, just maybe, there's someone who can intercede for us.
Mary Todd Lincoln couldn't let her dead children go. In seances and in conjurings, she sought Willie and Eddie. And when she thought they had returned, in gossamer blurs, just beyond reach, and then faded, the troubled president's wife, then widow, tried again and again.
There have been many Mrs. Lincolns. And there always will be.
We are gathered in a pleasant home in middle-class Vista. I am sharing the room with 14 women, each of whom is Social Security worthy. We are here to be under the sway of the Rev. Linda Glas of Hemet. Today, she will attempt to connect these women with souls who have journeyed to the other side.
Her business card offers weddings and funerals but also astrology and exorcism. However, channeling the dead fills our plate for today.
Linda is a stout, commanding lady of 75 who presides over the front of the living room. The women and I occupy the edges and spill over into the dining area.
Linda is ordained by the Spiritualist Church. She has written numerous books and pamphlets about various things of the spirit, both here and there. She is a serious, sincere woman with a regular following. Linda's religion is Jesus-centered, although the path she follows wanders far outside the well-worn tracks in the orthodox Christian road.
Linda's views amaze me not. I no longer even blink at the sites to where human brain engines drive us. My religious culture as a youth was largely influenced by Baptists in my family and Jews of my association. It could have been more ecumenical only by including a Potawatomi shaman.
I am also not overpowered by the lofty spires of church respectability. I am mindful of H.L. Mencken's vision of a mainline clergyman standing in a pulpit wearing a fine suit and uttering pronouncements "that would make an orangutan blush."
Linda has asked each participant to bring a photo or an image of the deceased they want communication with. She then studies the photo and channels the spirit of that person in the afterlife.
She offers her classes under the auspices of the OASIS adult learning program in Escondido and charges $10 per person. She certainly can't be accused of profiteering.
She has been married twice and has two children. Her education level is high school. She is assertively bright and well-schooled in her creed.
Her employment history is school-bus driving and clerical work.
"I did whatever I could to earn a living to raise my kids," she says.
She believes we are all reincarnated and have had several lives, and will again. We can return as a man or woman, and occupy any relationship.
Getting back on point: I don't know if Linda can make contact with the dead. I mean, actually. But I want to see her try.
Over two hours, Linda methodically examines every photo offered by the women. When the call goes heavenward on each photo, none of the deceased refuses to respond to her summons. They all seem available and waiting.
Linda picks up a photo of a man offered by one of the women. "Is this your son?"
Woman: "No, he's my brother."
Linda studies the photo. "Well, he's been your son in more than one lifetime, he's been your husband in another, different lifetime, he's been your father in another, different lifetime. You've been sisters together, and you've been brothers together. You've had a lot of lives with this man. Was he protective of you?"
I wait for my head to stop spinning as the woman answers.
"Not necessarily," she says, equally awed.
Linda: "Well, he was (protective) as far as your well-being went. You want to ask him something?"
Woman: "I do. I want to know how he died."
Linda: "I'm feeling constriction in his throat."
Woman: "He was actually shot. On the right side of his face. There's two stories as to how he was shot. One, which was the coroner's report, was that he fell on his gun. The other story is that he had a pipe in his mouth and his friend tried to shoot it out of his mouth, and shot him."
Linda concentrates on the image. "It's the first story. He fell on his gun." She then adds, "When he is born again, he's going to have a mole, a birthmark that will replicate that gunshot wound."
Woman: "Why is that?"
Linda: "Just the way it is. Moles on your body, birthmarks on your body, indicate ways you died in past life because they've left a deep impression on the subconscious. My sister has a brown birthmark on her neck like a burn. She was hung as a horse thief (as a man, in an earlier life)."
Linda picks up a photo of a different man and asks a different woman if he was her husband.
The woman answers, "No, he's my brother."
Linda doesn't remove her eyes from the photo. "Well, he has been your brother-in-law in a past life. He was very attracted to you. However, it was inappropriate, highly inappropriate. He didn't have the karma to be able to be with you in the kind of situation that he would have preferred, so he settled for what he could get which was (to be) your brother."
Next, Linda selects a photo of an older woman. "Is this your mother?" she asks. The woman who gave her the photo says no.
Linda: "Then she has been your mother before in other lives."
Woman: "She's my grandmother."
Linda persists: "She has been your mother. You attempted to come in as her child and she wasn't able, not strong enough, or she couldn't carry you."
Woman: "I don't know. I didn't know her well."
Linda: "Well, she knows you and she loves you very much, and you have a ..." Linda stops, distracted, then says, "She's dancing in the middle of the room. I feel sorry for her. She doesn't want to leave. It's like she's here. It's an interesting thing because I've (previously contacted) people on the spirit side that while they were alive, were not right in their heads.
"She prefers to stay the way she was because there is no responsibility. Somebody else takes care of her. She doesn't want to yield the floor, but she's going to have to because I'm calling for somebody to come and escort her out now."
It's now my turn. She picks up my submission. It is a photo of a painting of an older, severe-looking woman. I identify it as a grandmother from an earlier generation.
Linda studies the picture. "I think she may have had servants. She's been a mother figure who wanted to be better off financially, to be a higher level. She worked hard. She was a stern woman."
She turns to me. "You have a sister younger than you?"
Linda: "You have no sisters whatsoever?"
I answer that I have three older sisters.
Linda: "The youngest of those, does she have dark hair and dark eyes?"
Linda: "She's already been reincarnated into your life, this woman ..."
"What do you mean? In my sister?"
Linda: "The younger of those three sisters is the reincarnation of this woman," she says, returning to the photo. "This woman was a slave or a maid or a servant."
Hardly. I explain that the portrait in question was painted in about 1825. It is of my great-great-great grandmother who was a prominent slave owner in antebellum Georgia. By family lore, a very tough lady.
After her patrons depart, I sit with Linda to try to learn where she's coming from theologically. She has as complex a religion as Martin Luther or Maimonides ever formulated.
She's got all this down, and she believes ardently in her faith. It's part Christian, and part - I honestly don't know. That's not meant to be demeaning. I just don't recognize a lot of what she says.
She tells me that when you go to the spirit side and "go through your death stuff," you do your "retrospection," which is to start where you are now and go backward. You experience everything you ever did to everybody else, but not from your standpoint any longer, but from theirs.
She believes that every populated planet has its own god, including ours. That every person dies and is reincarnated until, eventually, they become elevated to the angelic level.
I ask if these planetary gods are of equal status.
"That I don't know. I believe that a planetary god is a planetary god is a planetary god."
We talk about predestination. I say that I understand her to believe that people are born at a certain point and they're going to die at a certain point. That is, however, unless they choose otherwise.
"Right. But if they choose otherwise, they have to get permission, because if I want to live longer, I pray to God and ask to live longer than whatever my path of destiny is given me."
She says that every disease is caused by negative thought. If you live more than one life, you had thoughts in an earlier life that preceded the life you're living now.
I ask, "So if I develop Alzheimer's, it could be because of something I did in an earlier life?"
"You either inherited it, or you brought it upon yourself."
"Then you're saying I inherited it from myself, if I understand you."
There's no question in her mind. "From yourself, from other people, other family members. Yes. It's inherited."
Before you say all this is off the deep end, be aware that John Calvin, a founder of the Reformation, made predestination a core belief. Also, faith healing is believed and relied upon by millions. And many doctors swear by the healing power of prayer.
I am rarely intimidated by ideas, though some might say I probably should be more often. However, trying to keep up with this otherworldly interview made my brain smoke. It was as daunting as trying to make sense of reading James Joyce or cramming for a chemistry exam.
But, keep a perspective. If travelers from one of those other occupied planets stopped over here and read the Hindu Vedas or the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, they likely would shake their heads and agree, "This is crazy."
I confess my skepticism about all this. However, others who were in that room are true believers, so I guess it's a tie. I am reminded of what Thomas Jefferson said of those whose beliefs differ from his: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
It's called tolerance, and it should be a core belief of every religion.
Our lives can be ho-hum enough; encountering the new and different can be both enlightening and entertaining, like a tourist stopping at a roadside alligator farm.
Regardless of what you or I may choose to believe or disbelieve, the yearning of humans to reach out to their dear departed will never die.
And who knows, some relative might one day be channeling you up. Personally, I may be harder to reach. Or so I've been told.
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.