Another memorial service yesterday – a wonderful one with an open bar and a live band, exactly what the deceased would want. Still, the dependable presence of that person, that mind, is no longer here, and that’s a loss no amount of “celebrating” can diminish.
Okay, it’s that time of life, but peers dying in significant numbers is… I was going to say “unnerving” but it’s not that. It’s more like a gradual free-fall as links to minds who share one’s world-view and require no explanations, vanish. Four of those minds have very recently taken off on the heels of eight previous flights – all smart, educated, interesting, feminist, socially and/or politically engaged friends/acquaintances. Leaving me with a strange awareness that if, as seems likely, I keep living, I’ll have to spend entirely too much time explaining what terms like “misogynist” and “sexist” mean even if Hillary runs and the Republicans design ever-nastier buttons.
It’s sort of like that September after high school when everybody leaves for college and you know nothing’s ever going to be the same again. Except this time they’re all off to some impossibly distant and fascinating grad school while I stay behind and write novels. Which is okay; I like staying behind and writing novels! But the spate of recent deaths made me ask where I got the grad school idea, which is weird but for some reason resonates.
I’d forgotten, but I got it from somebody named James Padgett (http://www.jamesepadgett.com/, who may or may not be a multiply-removed relative. Years ago I received, and declined, an invitation to be honored as his descendant at a church in Los Angeles devoted to his ideas. I’d never heard of him but was curious, looked him up and stumbled onto a story somebody should write. Because James, while about as far from “eccentric wacko” as it’s possible to get (he was a successful Washington, DC. attorney), rather reluctantly became a spiritualist, a medium who recorded 2,640 messages from his dead wife, Helen, and other spiritual entities. Yeah.
Of course James’s whole experience can easily be seen in subjective psychological/sociological terms – he was a stressed single parent, grieving the death of his wife, during an era in which spiritualism was widely popular among educated people. Even so, he feared professional censure and kept his automatic writing revelations private, which fact is significant. No cornball huckster deluding people for a buck, James just went on for nine years doing his thing, alone. There’s something to be said for that.
He transcribed all these messages between 1914 when Helen died and 1923 when he died, and of course spiritualism was all the rage back then, so he was taken seriously by the few friends with whom he shared his experience. And apparently still is taken seriously, since his ideas have contemporary adherents and an organization. The ideas are buried in heavily altered but nonetheless recognizable Protestant/Christian terminology (he was a pillar of his Methodist church in DC), but if you strip all that out, what’s left is a description by Helen and others of a tiered afterlife system that sounds more Buddhist than Christian. It also sounds like fun. Levels of awareness through which the soul must journey. Grad school! Buddhists would say, “ stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, and arahant.” For me it’s Baccalaureate, Master’s, Ph. D. and post-doc. Something to look forward to. Eventually.
Meanwhile, I wonder how my friends are doing every time I hear Pomp and Circumstance.