When I saw the Medium in Lily Dale my mother and her sister came through; I was not expecting them. “I’m aware of someone on your mother’s side of the family stepping forward,” the Medium told me. “Your mother is the intermediary but this is someone – not your mother but related to her, older than your mother…”
I knew without being told it was my Aunty Fran, my mother’s older sister, a woman I had adored growing up because she did everything my mother disapproved of: she smoked, she drank, she traveled abroad, she engaged in glamorous and mysterious affairs with men who gave her presents but didn’t marry her, she lived in Miami and would arrive to visit us up north in the winter wrapped in a fur coat. I was glad she and my mother were together. Surprised they were showing up at all, but I was willing to be open.
“She’s someone you identified with, do you understand that?”
Yes, with reference to the drinking and the smoking and the affairs and some of the rest of it, but I wasn’t going to explain that to the Medium so I just nodded.
“She’s telling me,” the woman continued, “she felt very close to you, the two of you shared a similar point of view, do you understand that? She’s saying she accepted you, your lifestyle, and your mother – your mother is the intermediary here and, well, she’s getting quite an education in the process, (she chuckles and even I share in the joke, smiling apologetically across the divide between this world and the beyond). “Oh yes, quite an education, but please understand (and here the Medium shifts gears, leaning forward while still listening to an inner voice and directing her gaze to the side) “she is telling me, she is acknowledging, who you are in this world is not a mistake or a coincidence, you are here intentionally to be who you are and by the grace of God and many good people in your life you have been encouraged to live it and by so doing you are educating people here and in the hereafter who otherwise could not progress had you not chosen to be who you are, and your mom is acknowledging that. She is the neutral intermediary here, taking it in, there was much she was not aware of while she was living, although she’s not surprised, okay?”
I nod and try to be okay, because it sounds like something my mother might say, or something I hope she might say. I sit across from this woman as so many other people have done before me, people who have come to speak to the dead and be healed, to be reassured, to be consoled, but I am not naïve, and really, how hard would it be to look at me and see a single man, no wedding ring, a sensitive thoughtful gentleman of a certain age, how difficult would it be to guess that this is a man who was close to his mother, maybe had a favorite doting aunt? And yet, there you are. There I am. I have the CD recording and I can listen to it later, as I do now, and I’m not making any of this up and I can tell you whatever else this Medium was doing, she was sincere, a true believer. Also a filter, of course, processing and translating whatever she thought she was hearing or seeing through her own ideas, her own perceptions, her own language. She calls my mother Mom, for example, and none of us called her that, she was not a Mom, she was always Mother but I don’t know, I can quibble with the language, I can scoff at the easy guesses, the intuitive hunches. so I try to be patient and polite and wait for what comes next.
“I’m hearing a song,” the woman says. “’Down by the Boardwalk…’ I’m seeing through this lady’s eyes, I’m seeing a beach scene, and you’re a young boy right before you came of age… the freedom was so priceless, and the lady here, she’s standing on the beach, she had a place there, and she’s remembering you then, she’s acknowledging that she knew you might abuse the trust they gave you, that she and your mother gave you, that you might be reckless… she knew that, but she also knew you and who you were, and – who you were was not an issue with the people who cared about you, love is love, she just wanted you to be happy, and … all kids drink beer, she’s saying, we all go through rites of passage and trials and tribulations and she helped you with that, she’s happy you survived… that she knew you were going to be okay, she knew who you were, and no one else knew that, you signed up for that, Spirit was there.”
I don’t know what to say to all of this. I smile. She’s busy concentrating.
“And ping pong.”
“Ping pong. A game.”
I shake my head. Suddenly something so out of left field, so unexpected, I’m pulled out of the moment. Either she’s gone off track or she’s tipped her hand that she’s grasping at thin air. Literally. Or maybe she’s picking up someone else’s life. Or it’s a rather bad Auntie Mame joke, she’s channeling an old movie, Gloria or Muriel stepping on the ping pong ball, ghastly. I feel a little tricked or deceived, and I’m shocked and frankly disappointed, and skeptical.
“She’s insistent,” the Medium says of my aunt, and she even says so rather insistently, but I’m not buying it. She shrugs. “Leave it there then,” she says. I’m taken aback she doesn’t try to retract or redirect or admit she’s made a mistake but she doesn’t. It’s odd. It’s awkward. But we continue.
Then, over the holidays, a few days ago, I visit my older brothers and their families in Texas. Nowhere near where we grew up or spent our respective childhoods, but that is how life works, sometimes we can end up a long way from where we started. I too am a long way from home. I arrive from the airport and my oldest brother shows me to the guest room where I’ll be staying. I am not making this up. We are making polite conversation, the weather, the plans for the day ahead. On the stairs going down he is ahead of me. “In Boca Raton,” he says, “when we were living there, do you remember?”
“Remember what?” I have not been listening.
“Ping pong,” he says.
I feel a little dizzy.
“That Christmas you came and we set up the table and we made you play. We all played. Even Mother and Aunty Fran.”
I understand how easy it is to lose pieces of the past. How it is not at all hard to forget a time, a long time ago, when I was young and so uncomfortable and out of my element and lost and trying to grow up and trying to be a part of and not knowing how to. What I wonder, though, is how the past can come back to us. How a stranger can find those pieces of memory for us, and how, like a ripple in Time, that finding is recalled later, somewhere else, by someone else.
And then I do remember.
And in the remembering, the past itself is changed.