Three bizarre, possibly supernatural experiences happened to me recently. What do you think? My imagination or . . . something else?
I was painting the inside of the house and my wife and daughters spent the night elsewhere so they wouldn’t have to breathe fumes. I was doing some touch-up’s at about three in the morning and listening to a YouTube playlist of top songs of 1932 and 1933. I was doing this because that morning, I had bought two Glendale High School yearbooks from the same years, both of which were owned by the same person. He was the Student Body President of the school so both yearbooks were loaded with comments from his fellow students and a few teachers, wishing him well and predicting great success in his future. I had read most of the comments and felt like I knew him. I even talked to him a little. I apologized that his grandchildren sold me his yearbooks, but promised I would take good care of them. (I know. I couldn’t believe they would sell them, either. I mean, how much room does a couple of yearbooks take up? It’s not like they were couches. Maybe there was some bad blood between them and their grandpa, or maybe they were just ungrateful, little twits.)
Of course, the knowledge that he was either very, very old (approximately 98) or very dead tugged at my heart. To simultaneously see him so young and vibrant with his whole life ahead of him, and know that his life had already passed, along with the lives of all his classmates who wrote such energetic, hopeful, happy comments in his yearbook, stirred strange feelings in me. Awareness of my own mortality, of course, but more than that. The age-old existential angst of knowing that everything we do and are, or everything our children do and are, is passing away inexorably as it happens. That everything is temporary. Human life and the awareness of death we have been blessed or cursed with (depending on how you look at it) creates an ever-present bittersweetness that is, as someone put it, “like licking honey off a thorn.”
Anyway, on to the supernatural part – at about three a.m., while I was painting and listening to 1930’s songs, there were three solid knocks at the front door. My dog, who had been asleep, was startled and began to bark. I was less than ten feet from the door. Of course, I wondered who could be knocking my door at such a late hour. I looked through the window and there was nobody there. I looked around the yard but nobody was walking away. I opened the door and walked to the alley next to my house. Nobody. I stood at the curb and looked into every car on the street. Empty.
Who knocked at my door? Was it the owner of the yearbook? Was he standing on my doorstep, waving his arms, hoping I would see him? Did he somehow get the news that someone had spent a few hours reading his yearbook, and playing the songs he loved as a teenager? My friends know I’m married with children, and there aren’t many delinquents in our neighborhood, so it couldn’t have been someone playing “Ding Dong Ditch.” Besides, it was a weekday, not the usual night for kids to be wandering around playing tricks on people. Nobody knocked the door at 3 a.m. before or since that night.
My father passed away in December of 2014. My brother died in 1997. My mother-in-law died in 2009. I often think about how much they would enjoy the silly things my 1 and 4 year-old daughters say and do. I talk to all of them, trying to share the little things I find joy in. I look at death the same way Henry Scott-Holland describes in his poem Death is Nothing At All. In fact, that poem has done more to shape my feelings about death than any other. A few of the lines are, “Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.”
I was in the back yard the other day with my girls. They have a regular parking lot of different kinds of cars, trikes, bikes, scooters and other conveyances back there. Most of them have horns and buttons that produce other sounds, but they never – and I mean never – go off without someone pressing them. My youngest daughter had just said a few words I hadn’t heard her say before. I said, “Hey, dad. Listen to that. Your granddaughter is talking up a storm.” Just then, a horn on the car closest to us started to honk, and honk, and honk. We all looked at each other, mystified. I asked, “Is that you, dad?” It honked once more for a few seconds, then stopped.
A wiring glitch? A dying battery? The horn still works so the battery seems fine. All I know is it never honked by itself before, and it hasn’t since.
There’s something mysterious about the number 1111. I see it way too often to be coincidental. Mainly on digital clocks, of course, but also on buildings and elsewhere. I imagine it’s my brother saying hello. In the master bedroom, I have a digital clock-radio that recently fell off the table and broke. We can’t set the clock anymore so it’s always three hours or so off. The clock still works but we can’t set the correct time.
Yesterday, I was working and saw on the baby monitor that my daughter was waking from her nap. I went into the room and saw that the broken clock-radio just happened to read 11:11. As usual, I smiled and thought, “Hi, Paul.” (My late brother’s name.)
Before I continue, I should mention that it’s impossible to hear in this room when my daughter is sleeping because we put that broken clock-radio on a station with static to block out sounds that would wake her up. I turned off the radio noise, went to the bed, and picked up my daughter. The first thing she said was, “Hi, Paul.” I was certain that I had not said it out loud. I was amazed and a little horrified. I said to her, “What did you say?” She said, in a very loving way, “Paaauuuul!” There is no explanation for this one other than a) she has met Paul somehow or b) she’s clairvoyant and read my mind when I entered the room.
So what’s going on with the afterlife? These events are frustrating because they hint at a visit but don’t confirm it. In the first two incidents (the knock at the door and the toy car horn), it almost seems as if they’re teasing me. Are the dead able to peek into our world, but not too much?
I saw a ghost when I was a teenager one night when I was laying in bed. He was standing in my room, looking at a picture I had hung on the wall earlier that day, as if wondering what the new addition to the room was. He realized I could see him and looked at me. As soon as I realized it was a ghost, he began to fade and I couldn’t see him anymore. I realized that ghosts don’t disappear. We just lose the ability to see them, which causes them to, as the saying goes, “vanish before our eyes.”
Whatever the answer is, it’s easy to see why so many people either want to be mediums, or believe in them. It seems like it should be easy to bridge this world and the other one, to find that mental or spiritual space where we can be with our lost loved ones again. We’re given hints, peeks, suggestions of the other world all the time, so why can’t we cross over easier? Why can’t the dead come into this one and sit down and talk with us? Maybe they can and our minds are too governed by what we expect to see. It’s one of the deepest desires of the human heart to see those we have lost again. Were the above experiences visitations, or just imagination fed by sorrow?