photo taken in the last year of Paul’s life — with me in braids
I really don’t trust computers. My dependence on them feels insidious. Maybe this is why I had such a hard time accepting the idea that my big brother Paul, who died when I was six years old, would suddenly use my computer to communicate with me.
I do believe in encounters with spirits, at least most of me, the part that has moved past my western rationalism. After all, I have been facilitating family constellation workshops for nine years. In this modality we set up representatives for people’s ancestors, and experience repeatedly a startling resonance with the other side. I grew up as a Catholic reciting my belief in the communion of saints at Mass. Of course my Protestant-convert mother scorned such preoccupations, though she did like a good ghost story.
Mom passed on to me both her chronic longing to experience a reality beyond this one, and her difficulties claiming her experiences. She mostly filtered out any mystical encounters that were from any lesser beings than God himself — why not go straight to the Source? We never heard, growing up, of any communications from the three children, my older siblings, whose deaths had ripped Mom’s heart out and left our family shaken to its core when I was a young child.
So I was quite hesitant to claim as a miracle the odd event that happened when I was editing the manuscript of my memoir, Ollie Ollie In Come Free, one fall day almost two years ago. The editing process all took place by e-mail, back and forth, right through the summer months, interrupted only by my long bedside vigil with my sisters leading up to Mom’s death. My editor Will suggested changes to my manuscript in colored “balloons” in the margins, and I would write back my responses. We reached round two by September.
Toward the end of my manuscript was a passage where I described a dream I’d had in the 1990’s. The dream had felt like a mystical experience, a visitation from my brother Paul unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It had stayed with me for many years, and I’d decided to end my memoir with the story. Here was the punchline:
Paul of the deep, twinkly brown eyes and impish smile looked straight at me and gave me a wink! And the wink said all that had never been said between us and all that would ever need to be said.
The manuscript that I sent out to Will on September 7 had an additional word typed in blue. I didn’t know this. Only when he wrote me back suggesting it needed to be punctuated did I look back at the manuscript I had saved on my computer. This is what was written:
And the wink said all that had never been said between us and all that would ever need to be said. hillo
Will was suggesting in his new round of edits on October 8 that we insert a colon and quotation marks. Reeling with wonderment, trying to take in what had happened, I wrote back:
This word “hillo” showed up mysteriously. I swear I never wrote it. Hmm. The sentence should just read, “…all that would ever need to be said.”
Will, being a left-brained, rational fellow (that’s probably why I’d chosen him, as a foil to my whimsical narrative) was unimpressed by the miracle. Without ceremony or further comment he took out the “hillo,” and that was that.
Except for telling Gerry, who had no trouble believing in such ghostly communications, and my spiritual director, I sat on this incident for many months. In response to my half-joking inquiry, “Do mystical experiences ever happen by computer?” my spiritual director seemed to remember a few other examples among her clients. Brave new world.
I figured if I waited long enough, some sensible explanation would arise. But I was at a loss to what it would be. I no longer had children in the house who might, by some wild stretch of the imagination, decide to insert a fake greeting from the world beyond at the exact point in the manuscript where it made sense. Our cat could not type. Gerry was no practical joker. I myself would have at least spelled the word right (since I am a phonics teacher) should I have suffered some strange, repressed impulse to insert a greeting to myself.
So I waited for the explanation, and a year later, still had none. I revisited the manuscripts with a determinedly jaundiced eye, looking for further clues I had missed. There were none.
Finally, about the time my book was published, I owned the miracle. I decided my big brother Paul (always a poor speller) was proud and exuberant about my memoir, and he wanted to let me know. After all, the book was alive with the love that still resounded between us.