At midnight after my mother's mid-afternoon burial, there was a huge thunderstorm that struck the pear tree in the back yard of the house she lived in for sixty years. My son Matthew was sleeping in the back room, and was awakened by the windows rattling loudly. Lightning bolted into his room. The overhead light turned on, and the phone started ringing, amid crashes of thunder.
"Are you sure your Mother is really dead?" a friend asked when I told him about this.
That night, in the next room, exhausted from several nights without much sleep, I slept through most of the storm, though I had a vague awareness of thunder crashing and lightning striking.
At breakfast the next morning, my son, my wife and my sister Ann described the whole thing as very spooky. My sister suggested this event had something to do with my mother's very powerful spirit. She also found significance in this plate that seemed to have a special glow the morning after the storm.
Days earlier, my wife Lucia reported that a few hours after I called her to report that Mom had died, she was outside with the dog, and felt a strange presence. Instead of the dog chasing squirrels and birds like a predator, as he usually does, he walked peacefully with them, rather like "the lion will lay down with the lamb." Bruce sees this as a message about reconciliation, "the full redemption to be."
After the death of a loved one, we tend to be in "a thin place" psychologically where we can better perceive or glimpse the spiritual world. My sister Ann mused that our native Scotland County, North Carolina, with its strong Scottish history, and links to the Celts, along with its geographical position -- flat lands where lightning and thunderstorms are especially ferocious -- is a particularly "thin place" where the other world is more accessible. Riverton, a beautiful spot of land along the Lumber River near our Wagram home, was founded in 1807 by a Scotsman, Daniel White, and his evangelist wife, Catherine Campbell. They settled near the 2000-year-old Cypress trees when he realized the spot was the fulfillment of a vision or dream he had in Scotland. Their descendants have included an unusual number of ministers, poets, artists, writers and educators who still gather on July 4th or Labor Day each year. Perhaps Riverton and the new Cypress Bend Vineyard would make a good venue for spiritual retreats, because Riverton has a distinctive "genius loci."
From these experiences, I'm less scoffing of books like "We Are Their Heaven: Why the Dead Never Leave Us," which I picked up at a book store the other day, though I haven't read it yet. Bruce reflects: "Primitive [sic] cultures recognize that there is a reality beyond the mundane, and value people -- shamans, poets, mystics, prophets -- with an insight into that reality...
"Celtic culture has traditionally viewed these gifts more highly. Like you, I am in good part a Celt. Are Celts more prone to be spiritually insightful than is typical, or do we simply come from a culture that values the gifts of those of its members who are insightful spiritually more highly? I'm not sure what the answer is...
"If you dogmatically think there is no 'other world', people who perceive it are crazy. If you believe there is, those who do not perceive it are spiritually blind, and those who perceive a bit of it (I doubt many alive perceive a lot of it) are less so - and thereby have gifts compensating for a poor sense of direction or having trouble keeping up with their keys.
"The Celts called it 'a second sight."
He recalled preparing for a run through Scotland County (he was a track star in high school). "Just before I went on that run, questions about the existence of God and the ultimate outcome of the struggle between good and evil racing through me, as I paused on the back steps of our house to lace my shoes, a warm late November breeze blew through the leaves of the oak sheltering our house. (The oak is sacred to the Celts.) And though the answer had not yet come, that breeze through those leaves conveyed to me a very clear assurance that there WOULD BE an answer - and implicitly, that there was someone TO answer - and to hear my questions, and agony..." He continues:
"My perceptive gifts have been dulled by the weary years. But I do know this - it is those moments when one does perceive some of the underlying reality that make it all worthwhile. And I certainly believe there IS a reality beyond having the right change for the bus - not that that is a talent to be sneezed at, and not that it isn't part of reality. And therefore I value people like Van Gogh and James Taylor who see into that reality more than most - even if their gift (and shortcomings elsewhere?) leads them at times to be dismissed as mentally unstable."
Bruce writes that the priests at his church are going to offer a mass for my recently departed mother on July 2. "This is a way of not only honoring our departed loved ones, but also of asking the Lord to bless them in Paradise, and - because we Catholics think that the soul typically passes through a sort of journey on the way from this world to God, it is a way of asking the Lord to make the way home smooth and quick."