A while ago it happened again: my mother, who died nearly fifty years ago, stopped by to say hello. I did not see her nor did she speak, but I felt her presence and the message she brought: “I am proud of you.” I smiled, and said aloud, “me, too, Mom.”
The first time this happened it terrified me. I was in my twenties. I sensed her presence nearby. “Go away,” I said. Although my message was silent it was unequivocal. “Go away.” She left. I felt terrible. I worked the event over in my mind, trying to make peace with it. If it happened again, I wanted to not be afraid.
I have learned how to do that but I still have a problem: I do not believe these incidents are what they seem to be. As an adult, I found the way to my particular understanding of spirituality and it does not include preservation of the individual after death. I came to this through my recognition of nature as a capacious basket of metaphor: rivers of the land, rivers of blood; storms in the sky, storms in the heart; E=mc2, whatever was, is, and evermore shall be so. As goes matter, so goes spirit: it dissipates back into the universe, the old organization untraceable in the new one. I do not believe my mother or her spirit has come to me. I know this the way some people know there is a spiritual creating force. To know means to hold firmly in the mind—it is not merely the knowledge of science. To say I know is to say I believe. It is a small step from there to faith: I have faith that life as we know it does not continue after death.
The problem with my theory is that I do not want to dismiss out-of-hand the visitations, which I experience as real, that feel like they come from outside of me and which give me comfort.
When I first articulated these contraries, I tried to resolve them. One or the other must be wrong. My belief, an artifact of the mind, trumped the experiencing of the visitations, but I decided, finally, to accept them anyway, to take pleasure in them, no matter their source. Perhaps both the idea and the experiences could be true. Even science has its conundrums: Einstein’s relativity is not compatible with quantum mechanics. The physicists are not bothered: they say they have yet to discover the Theory of Everything that will accommodate both theories. They know that to be true. They believe it. They have faith in it.
It is a good example for an individual, and I take it to heart. I bask in the dichotomy, two sides of a coin that can be flipped one way and then the other and still remain the coin. Knowledge is belief is faith. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.