LAPA made a video recently as a way to introduce ourselves and explain why we do what we do. Although I thought I already had most of the answers concerning “why we do what we do,” the video shoot did clarify some lingering issues for me. Why do I search for disembodied souls? I had a tough time with that one, so I started rambling. In the course of my ramblings, I discovered that I did have reasons.
“I’ve lost people,” I stated, and I have; people I loved, family that disappeared from one day to the next. From that chaos of loss and confusion, something emerged. I recounted the story of a particular night when I was six, when my grandfather walked into my room and sat on my bed. I didn’t question why he was there; I was too young to even wonder about it. He simply was there, visiting me. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but the time I spent with him was comforting. He said good-bye; I didn’t know then that I would never see him again. I didn’t know that when I saw him that night, he had already died.
I found out the next morning. My mother received the call early; he had passed away about the time of his visit. What did I understand then about what had happened? I told my mother that I had seen him the night before, that he sat on my bed and talked to me. She just cried. I don’t think we ever spoke about it. We probably never will. When my grandmother died, I was sure that she would never send me any kind of sign. For years, I asked for her to contact me, to let me know that somehow she was still here, or somewhere, anywhere. Nothing ever happened, as hard as I wished, as fervently as I searched for meaning in the disposition of things, for signs.
I inherited her little silver jewelry box. I was missing her terribly one day, and I picked up the little box and opened it. Out wafted her signature scent, the warm fragrance of Oscar de la Renta. I cried. I never remembered her scent in the box before. In the years since, I conducted a sort of test: I would pick up the box without thinking of her, and sniff it. It always smelled of dust and metal. Other times, I would call to her, talk to her, ask her to join me, and as I opened the jewelry box, the perfume would overwhelm my senses and memories of her would overtake me. She was everywhere then, but especially with me.
It made no logical sense, and there was no satisfactory explanation for why Oscar de la Renta appeared and disappeared according to my needs and requests. I couldn’t explain it, yet I knew it to be true; and that is how most paranormal phenomena work for me. It’s true, in the sense that these things happen: dead people visit their loved ones, we can know things that haven’t yet happened, we can hear voices where none should exist, we can see things that shouldn’t be there, and perfume that no one has used in thirteen years can waft from a box. What does it mean when the facts don’t fit our theories of reality? Do we adjust our view of reality, or do we deny the facts, because they don’t fit the theory?
I prefer to adjust my view of reality in careful proportion to the “impossible” facts. How, then, am I supposed to understand the reality of life and death? It appears that life and death are facts, but our theories about what they mean and what defines them are inadequate. Consciousness, evidently, does not snuff itself out when the shell gives up the ghost. What remains? Is is simply a scent, a sensation, a vision, a sound? I think that is all we are capable of understanding or acknowledging; it may be that if we could read the signs, we would have the answers. I used to think that we weren’t “supposed” to have the answers, that we were destined to wait until our deathbed to figure it all out. Now, I don’t see it that way; there is nothing wrong with seeking the answers now. I learn how I want to live by understanding what happens after we die. If, as the evidence points to, I do not disappear after death but simply change form, then a burden is lifted from my shoulders in this life. I may not accomplish the myriad of goals that I had set before me in the next 50 years, but I may have more than one chance. I gain perspective on the trivialities of work and the impermanence of most of what troubles me. What should truly concern me, what I should work to change, becomes clear. My purpose and my goals take shape as my priorities readjust. I could spend this life in a constant state of worry over situations that I cannot control or transform, but I can transform myself.
That is what the so-called “ghost hunting” has done for me. When I walk into a cemetery or a building and it feels alive with activity, another door opens to yet another mystery. It is the mystery that feels essential to living; and living, it appears, is what everything does all of the time. It makes me wonder if death is simply another theory.
I used to think that Nana’s silver jewelry box was all that I had left of her. I know now that it is simply a signpost, her way of reminding me that I am not without her; she waits for me to see with new eyes and understand with a radically different perspective. When I get there, she’ll be waiting. As I write this, I can feel the softness of her cheek next to mine. She loved me then, and I know she loves me now.
Kirsten A. Thorne
April 26th, 2009