Mystical Allegory in The Good Catholic

[contains spoilers]

On the surface The Good Catholic is a sweet if awkward story of an unconsummated romance between a catholic priest and a free spirited, artistic young woman. Yet while watching, I kept catching hints there might be an intentional deeper, ‘supernatural’ secondary narrative, not unlike Boondock Saints. Like Boondock, The Good Catholic sprinkles easter eggs pointing to a hidden meaning, some more obvious than others.

The most obvious ‘hint’ that this is more than a simple love story is the bingo scene. Strangely in this scene the only person who seems to be able to see Jane is Father Daniel. Even when they burst into an argument, and Jane storms out after throwing a bible at him, no one looks up from their bingo cards. Believe me if a catholic priest was seen in public arguing with a beautiful young woman, people would notice!

Then it occurred to me: in both cafe scenes where Jane is singing, again, the only person who seems able to see her is Father Daniel. In the second scene Jane even makes a point of chastising the crowd for ignoring her.

With the theme of ‘seeing god’ introduced early on in the film it becomes clear that the Jane character is meant to represent more than an attractive young woman: she represents god, or belief in god. So the ‘relationship’ that develops between her and Father Daniel is, on this deeper level, in fact the story of his evolving relationship with god.

If Jane does in fact represent god, her strange assertion that she is dying suddenly makes sense; it is a nod to the nietzschean ‘god is dead,’ a nod to loss of faith in a relentlessly secularized world. And it is only after Father Daniel has fallen in love with her that she ‘comes back to life’ and admits she is not, in fact, dying.

There may be a further, even more wild mystery to the film regarding the priests. Note how many times the three priests are shown eating at the table in the exact same position. This is an unmistakable nod to the famous “three angels” holy trinity icon:

(note the three frames, and the three panes of glass in the background door)

The origin of this image is Genesis 18, where Abraham is approached by three angels who tell him his wife will conceive a son. Abraham then feeds them a meal. Christians believe these “three angels” represent the holy trinity, thus why you often see three angels sat around a table in orthodox icons.

The only scene where Jane is recognized by anyone other than Father Daniel is when she visits the rectory for dinner. Why does such a small parish have three priests? Even huge Staten Island parishes only have two priests. And why are the three priests repeatedly visually referenced to the holy trinity?

For non-christians out there, the catholic concept of the trinity is “three in one.” So while you may have three separate aspects to the trinity, they are ultimately considered one entity. An argument could be made here that, allegorically, these three priests are all aspects of Father Victor’s personality, and Father Victor is in fact the only priest in the parish. There are hints to this too scattered throughout the film; note how Father Victor tells Father Daniel that he “reminds him of a younger version of himself.”

Furthermore Father Victor is the only black person in the entire film (I would have to rewatch it, but I’m pretty sure even the crowd scenes are all white). Why was Father Victor cast as a black man? Was it the chance of catching a famous actor (Danny Glover) or was this deliberate and part of the script?

The reason this is important is because both catholic and orthodox churches have a mysterious tradition of depicting the madonna as having black skin- the “black madonnas.” These vierges noires are associated with miracles, mystery, and spiritual revelation.

If you watch (or rewatch) the film with these two points in mind: Jane as a representation of god/ belief in god, and the three priests as aspects of a single priest’s personality and struggles, I guarantee you will start picking up on the many hints and easter eggs scattered throughout. Pointedly the final dinner exchange between Jane and Father Victor lays it out plainly:

Jane: Was that, like, supposed to have some sort of deeper meaning?

Father Victor: In our work, everything has deeper meaning.

When viewed through this lens the film is not about a priest who abandons his faith for a romantic attraction, but rather about the psychological turmoil of a priest who ultimately ‘falls in love’ with god. It’s no mistake that the final scene is of Father Daniel about to knock on Jane’s door. Even casual christians will know Jesus’ famous statement: Knock and the door shall be opened.

 

 

 

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More on Astral Projection

When this first began happening to me frequently (october 2016) I was reluctant to talk about it even with people close to me, even more reluctant to talk about it publicly. Not so much for people’s reactions which are typically uniform across factions- atheists think you’re crazy, christians and muslims think you’re worshiping satan, hindus just shrug- but more for the fact it’s really, really weird. Yet since it shows no signs of letting up- by this point I have projected hundreds of times- I have decided to talk about it more in depth for those who might be interested. I also feel duty bound to tell people, whether they can believe or not, that there is more to existence beyond this physical world.

So I will try to summarize succinctly my experience with astral projection, how it happens, what happens once I’m out, where I am, and the implications for our collective human experience. Let me be clear I do not have all the answers, and in many cases I’m as clueless as the next person, left only to postulate.

(For the record, I do not use, nor have I ever used, any type of recreational drug. I did try pot a handful of times in high school, hated it, and failed to see any appeal.)

How I Project
I do not project intentionally. It happens “to” me. If you are looking for an instructional guide I can patch together some advice as best I can, but short of that can only describe what happens.

1: The “classic” projection with a vibrational stage. This is when the body gets what feels like an electric pulse running through it- not really painful but not pleasant, accompanied by a roaring sound in the ears. Then a pressure builds up either in my forehead, back of neck, or top of my head [these are the sixth and seventh chakras, though I did not know this when I began projecting]. The soul then exits into what looks like a tunnel of light.

As for what this tunnel of light is, is anyone’s guess. I’m pretty sure it’s what people having near death experiences report- “the light at the end of the tunnel.” But the tunnel is made of light and looks like a vortex. Also, there is not just one tunnel. I say this because many times I have gone through one tunnel only to go through another, and another. They seem to be infinite. I’ve seen these tunnels/ vortexes described elsewhere as wormholes, but have no idea if this could be true.

However there have been times while in the “tunnel of light” I see what look like stars or planets around me. Am I in space? Some dimension of space? I don’t know.

This “tunnel of light” is described in detail by other projectors, so is definitely a shared experience.

2: “Push forwards.” As I projected more and more, I began experiencing what I call “push forwards.” This is when a dream turns lucid (when you have awareness that you’re dreaming) and I am instantly “pushed forward” into the astral. I can literally feel a “shove” going forward.

3: “Stand ups.” This is when, from a state of mild sleep paralysis, I can will my spirit body to stand up. I can then walk around in spirit form in what I assume is the spirit world/ astral, though this form of projection seems to lead to “levels” closer tied to the physical world.

Where am I after I project?
I can tell I’m in the “astral,” or whatever you want to call it (I prefer to call it “the other side” but it’s faster to type astral) mostly because I can feel an atmospheric change, kind of like when you’re in an airplane. There is also a different “look” to everything- to draw another comparison, like the difference between video and film. There is a visual “shift.” I also almost always feel an emotional, even cognitive shift within myself. All the stupid, selfish stuff falls away and I feel a direct sense of calm, love and general positivity (compare this to my grouchy, pessimistic self over here).

What is on the other side?? This is the question people have been asking since time immemorial! I’ll just tell you what I see.

There does seem to be a series of levels or layers. If you can imagine a series of transparent maps layered over one another; they make up a whole terrain but can be peeled back individually one by one as separate layers.

Some layers seem connected to this physical world. In these areas the world looks an awful lot like this one. Some beautiful places, some horrible places, places in between. You see people (though obviously they are souls) much as you see people here. You can talk to them and touch them. But the laws of physics don’t apply as they do here; for instance I can put my hand through solid objects and walk through doors and walls. A few times I can “fly” or jump great lengths.

I have learned through experience that the layers “look back.” For example, say I’m in the fourth layer (I don’t number the layers, but I’m saying this theoretically). I can then see everything in the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1rst layer. But someone in the 1rst layer cannot see past that 1rst layer, and will not be able to see me. There have been times I’ve approached someone and have to ask, “Can you see me?” because it’s unclear to me which “layer” they are in- the same layer as me, or a lower one.

But there are other layers not connected much to this world (at least, as far as I can tell). These worlds are heavenly beyond belief, with gorgeous flowers, lush landscapes and what appear to be higher beings (“gods?”). There are also darker places seemingly not connected to this world, housing darker entities.

As far as I can tell, when a person dies they tend to stay in the layers closely connected to this world. This is probably where the christian concepts of purgatory, hell, and heaven come from. I have encountered souls, particularly those who die by violent means, who do not seem to fully understand they are dead. The movie Jacob’s Ladder is surprisingly realistic in this capacity- a world much like this one but with different physical and spiritual phenomena.

Personally, I believe in reincarnation, though how it happens I don’t know. Our perception of time is linear but time may not be linear. So it’s possible all our incarnations are occurring simultaneously. In other words I’m not sure if a person dies, their soul hangs around the “lower layers” for a while, then is promptly reborn (this is the hindu concept of reincarnation). I also have no idea who or what decides how a particular soul’s incarnations take place.

Why don’t I spy on people?
It’s a running joke on astral projection sites that people always want to know what’s in Area 51. If I have this ability to leave my body (even if I cannot control when it happens) why am I not spying on people and amassing valuable information?

First off, it’s rude to spy. I wouldn’t walk into someone’s house without permission and start rummaging through their belongings. Second off, while parts of the astral may be connected to this physical world, that’s all it is- connected. It is NOT the physical world. So what I see in the astral may not match up with the physical. This is why even very experienced projectors such as myself can have difficulty providing validations. I have done some hard validations, so it is possible, but not as easy as one might think.

What do I do when I’m out?
When I began projecting frequently this was my primary dilemma. Here I was, on the other side, seeing with my own eyes what so many people struggle to believe in. Great, right? But what the hell was I supposed to do once there!!

After lots of googling I learned about retrievals from this blog written by another experienced projector.

A retrieval is when a projected soul (i.e. me) approaches a stuck soul. Usually these stuck souls died by violent means (suicide is a very common one), or have some attachment to this earth they cannot let go of. Other times they are just confused and don’t understand what’s going on.

The theory goes that these stuck souls cannot see the helpers (i.e. angels) trying to assist them (the “look back” issue with layers might be at play here). But for whatever reason these souls CAN see projected human souls, perhaps because we are still tied to the physical world. Once they see us, and interact with us a little, they can usually see the helpers and move on. Often the person I’m talking to will simply disappear before me (this happened in my very first retrieval), an indication they have indeed moved on.

What are the implications for humanity?
You are a human being with a soul. Your loved ones are human beings with souls. Your not-so-loved-ones are human beings with souls! The soul is eternal and multifaceted. When you die, your soul will move on, continue to exist, and (hopefully… lol) evolve somehow. All the loved ones you’ve lost to death are not dead. They are gone in body only.

Based on my experience with projections and retrievals I would give this one piece of advice: do not commit suicide. I have encountered many suicides on the other side, and while the soul is not permanently damaged, these souls end up “confused” in a sort of groundhog day type scenario with no sense of time passing. Obviously not all suicides are the same, but those who kill themselves for emotional reasons while their bodies are still healthy will not find the escape they seek, but will continue to face the troubles that bound them in the physical world.

*

In closing I hope you found this information useful or in some way comforting. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

 

The Good Catholic

[spoiler free]

The Good Catholic is a 2017 drama-slash-comedy, written and directed by Paul Shoulberg, about a catholic priest who finds himself drawn to a woman who wanders into his confessional. The priest then wrangles with his emotions, faith, and vocation.

The film is clearly low budget, with a video look and fixed scenes. But the acting is excellent; Zachary Spicer is poignant as the straight laced Father Daniel; Wrenn Schmidt is striking as the artsy, intense, annoying Jane; Danny Glover delivers an excellent performance as the glowering Father Victor, and Father Ollie- my favorite character- is beautifully acted by John McGinley.

I intentionally have avoided reading reviews of The Good Catholic, because while watching it I couldn’t tell if this is something catholics would love or hate. Catholics are weird- you never know what will offend them. I’ve had casual catholics freak out on me over the vaguest slight to their faith, even when I meant no harm.

I’m going to guess catholics will split 50-50 over this film. While yes there are offensive scenes where Jane is disrespectful toward priests, the priests themselves and the church are displayed in a highly affectionate and favorable light. There is no catholic bashing as Hollywood is wont to do.

So yes I recommend this film. It’s kind of a fluff piece and in places tries too hard to be profound, but the relationships and character development are sweetly intriguing and the acting on point throughout.

The film is available on netflix as of this posting.

 

Vikings and Common Core

I had a decent long weekend (long due to the snowday- one school had both thurs and friday off), even helped my 4th grader with math. Her school, like most schools these days, uses a kooky common core approach for basic math. All these weird grids, charts, nebulous instructions and strange doodles for simple division. Was this some kind of sick joke? Anyway I showed her how to divide the way I was taught in school, the ‘tableau’ method.

After just ONE example her eyes lit up! ‘That’s so simple,’ she said, sounding genuinely surprised, and she abandoned her crazy charts, quickly polishing off three workbook pages. I warned her to keep trying the way her teacher instructs math… I don’t want to piss anyone off.

I don’t like to discuss politics but suffice it to say I’ve seen nothing good since the catholic school converted to common core standards and tests.

Anyway I spent much of Saturday watching vikings season 4. I absolutely loved vikings season 1-3 but season 4… well it sucks. Much to my heartbreak. The plots are erratic, there are weird nonsensical sex scenes, and I highly doubt vikings spent much time pondering their inner true selves, but apparently season 4 vikings are filled with ontological doubt.

Then I started to feel sick. At first I was in denial but by midnight I was awake with a fever, body aches, and a killer sore throat. Not again!

I could barely sleep and sunday morning limped into urgentcare. Sure enough I have strep AGAIN! This time the doctor prescribed a stronger AB, I limped back home and spent the remainder of the day languishing in bed.

I have a few theories. 1) god is mad at me 2) I re-infected myself somehow (I did buy a new toothbrush!!) 3) one of my children is an asymptomatic carrier- a few days ago I ate a few bites of leftover chicken off one daughter’s plate. What can I say, I was starving!

The Magic Washcloth

I came down with another cold! Two in one month! What a way to start the new year. The last time I was this sick was about three years ago- I remember standing in line at costco so feverish and dizzy I began to pass out before bracing myself against the conveyer belt.

I was feverish and miserable new year’s eve, spent as much time as I could in bed which I don’t enjoy doing. I’m not exactly a productive person but I hate sitting (well laying) around doing nothing. I read Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die, compiled by Sushila Blackman. The book gives vignettes of how gurus and zen masters leave their mortal coil. Most will predict the exact day and time of their death, and sure enough on that day and time they pass away. Occasionally they throw in a zinger: don’t touch my body for three days! And after three days he starts breathing again, only to really die this time. There were also reports of bodies remaining warm to the touch after death, particularly at certain chakra points.

In retrospect this was perhaps not the best book to read while sick. One passage struck me- when ramakrishna was dying he would say, O mind, do not worry about the body. Let the body and its pain take care of each other. For some reason that resonated with me.

That night going into the new year I continued to be feverish and in pain despite hefty doses of advil. Let the body and its pain take care of each other. It got so bad I thought of how lokenath brahmachari promised to protect anyone from the dangers of war and jungles.

Baba lokenath, I thought inwardly. I’m not in a war or jungle but could you please make me feel a little better?

Right away I ‘heard’ a response: get a wet cloth and place it on your forehead.

I hadn’t done that since I was a kid! I scrounged around in the dark for a rag, wet it in the sink then collapsed back in bed with it folded over my forehead. A little water dripped onto the pillow.

Within five minutes my body was cool to the touch. It was the craziest thing! I couldn’t believe it myself. I touched my face, throat, stomach, legs. What had been burning up was now ice cold. Was it divine assistance? A magic washcloth? Did the advil decide to kick in? I don’t know but I managed to get some sleep- only to wake up that morning feverish again. But at least I was rested.

Despite feeling like death warmed over I had to do some birthday shopping for the almost 16 year old, then it was back to bed. I reread some Graceful Exits then watched a very funny episode of the IT Crowd where Douglas learns the truth about his new love interest. Reader advisory: if you’re easily offended, you may not want to watch these highlights. Why is british comedy so much better than american stuff?

 

When Gods Walk the Earth

For my birthday my husband was kind enough to buy me a kindle. I was hesitant to take the digital plunge, but having tried out my mom’s kindle I decided why not. Also they’re inexpensive, in the $50-$80 range. I believe the price is kept low by placing adverts on the lock screen (they annoyed me at first but I got used to it).

The first book I bought was the 99 cent kindle version of The Incredible Life of a Himalayan Yogi, a biography of Lokenath (“Master of Worlds”) Brahmachari. Lokenath was a 18th-19th century yogi who wandered the earth for more than a hundred years. While seemingly implausible, there are Buddhist and Hindu monks who can control their heart rate, body temperature, and who can survive long periods with little to no food or water, so an extended lifespan is not entirely inconceivable. At the very least we can agree he lived to be very, very, very old.

The book is well written and has no typos; this is not always the case for books written and published in India. Author Shuddhaanandaa Brahmachari is exquisitely articulate and writes in elegant prose. While it discusses Lokenath’s life, the book also delves into the philosophy and teachings of the saint who is considered a “god incarnate” much like Christ.

After reading this book it is even clearer to me why Hindus are, in their own way, so receptive toward Christianity. Just as Christians hold Jesus dear, Hindus hold their own “divine men” (or women) close to heart. Hindus simply don’t limit god walking the earth to a single individual or incarnation.

So if you’re looking for something to spend 99 cents on this holiday season, The Incredible Life is highly recommended!

Do Not Try This At Home

The Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos Ware must be reading my blog, because he too is contemplating the corollaries between hinduism and christianity. The article’s tl;dr is that the hesychasm tradition in orthodox christianity is similar to meditative techniques in hinduism, mystical judaism (the so called ‘chariot mysteries‘) and the muslim dhikr (repetitive recitation of god’s names and attributes). In short, all four traditions teach repetitive prayer techniques geared toward ‘touching god.’

Hesychasm is something of a guarded tradition within orthodoxy, tagged with caution that if improperly practiced, or if practiced without the supervision of a spiritual father, great spiritual harm shall ensue. It’s pretty much slapped with a “do not try this at home!” warning. This is something I’ve noted about orthodox christianity in general: have a question or spiritual venture? Ask a priest.

My interest in the jesus prayer was piqued after reading The Way of the Pilgrim some years ago (I blogged about it here). Despite the supposed danger I began reciting the prayer off and on, usually aiming for ‘loops’ of 100. I would recite it during obstinate stretches of late-night insomnia. This was less to obtain enlightenment than to bore myself back to sleep, and along the way I memorized a few sanskrit mantras off youtube. These too I recited in 100-loops but I never really thought of it as “meditation.” For instance, I never utilized a particular posture or breathing technique (still don’t).

In my post about astral projection I mentioned I have no idea why this phenomena is hitting me with such frequency. What was once a rare and bizarre experience is now commonplace for me. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve projected just this month, and last night was in a state of near-constant projection.

Looking back to last year when I began projecting frequently, I realize it was around this time I began reciting the jesus prayer in force, using prayer beads to make sure I was getting those “100 loops” and not doing it solely to bore myself back to sleep- I just somehow felt compelled to do it. It was also around this time I memorized and recited those sanskrit mantras in earnest.

If I were to approach this from a non-partisan perspective, my guess is that repetitive prayer- regardless of the religion- “wakes up” spiritual points in the body and energizes- for lack of a better term- one’s spiritual capacities. This is something that has, apparently, been well known to ascetics from religious cultures ranging from east to west, indigenous to sophisticated. Keep in mind these ascetics practice not just repetitive prayer but deliberate starvation and sleep deprivation (amazonian shamans will starve and isolate themselves to achieve greater spiritual heights). Starvation (fasting) and interrupted sleep also likely trigger “spiritual points” within and without the body.

As for what’s happening to me I know orthodox christians would say I’m in a state of prelest– spiritual delusion- because 1) I ventured into repetitive prayer without permission or guidance of a religious authority and 2) my experiences and beliefs do not match orthodox christian doctrine. My use of sanskrit mantras, belief in reincarnation, and involuntary astral projections would be considered heretical (if not downright satanic) and even disqualify me as a christian. That all being said, I have no clue if repetitive prayer and astral projection are linked. I mean it’s not like I spend all day praying, and there have been many times I projected without having recently prayed.

Either way I’m not too worried about it- I’m not pretending to be in a place of spiritual authority here- I’m just sharing my experience. If someone asked me for advice I would do my best to give it, but that advice would be, at best, imperfect. I also don’t expect or even particularly want anyone to believe me. I share this information in case someone might take an interest in it, or perhaps someone in a similar plight might garner a little help from my words.

Sometimes when asked what I do, I have to stop myself from saying- “I’m a praying person.” Prayer is like a sport. It takes practice, endurance, determination. Just as it’s difficult to run x number of miles, it can be difficult to pray x prayer x number of times. Furthermore it takes practice to “navigate” prayers. Hard to explain what “navigate” means here, but it’s one thing to look at a map- it’s another thing entirely to TRAVEL what that map represents. Likewise you can recite a prayer rote (which still serves a purpose) or you can “travel” that prayer within yourself. This is why orthodox christians call it “interior prayer.”

The Other Side

This post requires two disclaimers: 1) I don’t expect anyone to believe me, and 2) I know it sounds crazy. I provide this information only because I know there are people out there with a keen interest in it, or who are simply curious.

Exactly 20 years ago I was a new mother with a young baby. My oldest was about 4 months old when this happened. He was a difficult baby and I was in a continuous state of exhaustion and sleep deprivation. One saturday my husband announced he needed to go to the drug store. I pleaded with him to take our baby son, so I could catch a much needed break.

I was asleep the moment the apartment door closed (we lived in a tiny one bedroom at the time).

Then something weird happened.

Even though I was dead asleep, I heard a roaring sound in my ears like tinfoil shaking, but much louder and sharper. This sound “woke up” my consciousness and I had full awareness of what was transpiring.

The roaring grew and now was accompanied by a distinct pressure at the back of my neck (this is the 6th chakra if anyone is interested- I did not know this at the time). This pressure built up as the roaring increased. The pressure built and built… it felt like a fist pushing my neck from the inside- then I was “out.”

I was staring at the roof of our apartment building. I was outside of my body.

At this point in my life I held a nascent, if fragile belief in god. I spent my teenage years as a loudmouthed atheist, but had read enough about near death experiences to immediately understand that my soul was- for whatever bizarre reason- out of my body.

Well, I thought to myself. If this is real I should be able to travel anywhere. Let me see my husband.

I felt a whoosh and was on the ceiling of the drugstore. There was my husband, there was my son in the stroller. My husband was browsing razors.

Okay… I thought to myself. If this is REALLY real, let me see my sister.

Another whoosh! And now I was above the rolling mountains of the Vermont-New Hampshire border. At that moment my astonishment turned to sheer terror and I snapped back in.

I was stunned. I had just experienced absolute (personal) proof of the human soul. It was real. Absolutely real. Since that day, even if my religious beliefs have faded or transformed, I always knew- even when I wished it were not true- the human soul irrefutably exists. It was a completely different experience from sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming and hallucinations (I have experienced all three- the hallucinations were from a raging fever). It was visceral and tactical- I physically FELT my soul push out of my body.

But this is only the beginning of the story. I continued to experience these strange projections (new agers call it astral projection, I simply called it “my soul leaving my body”) from time to time. I thought it was peculiar but didn’t pay it much mind, despite it being hard confirmation of the human soul (again, confirmation for me- I don’t expect others to believe me). Exactly a year ago, for reasons I still don’t understand, it began happening all the time. What was an occasional occurrence was now a near-nightly occurrence. Since october last year, the longest I’ve gone not projecting is two weeks, with the average rate of projection being three times a week, often more than once in one night. I have now projected well over a hundred times.

After a month of this I hit the internet, and for the first time in twenty years actually researched what was happening to me. New agers call it “astral projection,” native americans called it “spirit walking.” Hinduism has tomes of scripture about other dimensions and layers of bodies that encase the human soul. Most of what I found was instructional for people aspiring to astral project. Well I had no problem doing it, I just needed to know what to do once “out!”

Then I learned about retrievals. A retrieval is when a projected human soul (i.e. me) assists a “stuck” soul in moving on. I read that I should request “I would like to do a retrieval” when I project, and I would be brought to a stuck soul or soul shard in need of assistance. Most “stuck souls” don’t understand they are dead, or cannot accept it. For whatever reason they are unable to see the helpers (angels) trying to assist them. But they CAN see projected human souls, perhaps because we are still tied to this physical realm. And once they see us, they can usually see the angels/ helpers… and move on.

As for what “move on” means, I personally believe in reincarnation. I don’t know how exactly it happens- is it sequential?- our perception of time is linear but time may not in fact be linear. Perhaps all our incarnations are occurring simultaneously. Anyway, for all intents and purposes, let’s just say the successfully retrieved souls get “unstuck.”

Since october 2016 I have done countless retrievals during projections. I have also seen many parts of “the other side” ranging from heavenly… to flat out weird. And while I don’t expect anyone to believe me, if you are OPEN to believing, I can tell you with absolute conviction that the human soul is real and “the other side” is real.  When your loved ones die, the soul simply moves on and evolves elsewhere. They are not gone. And when you die, your soul will move on and evolve elsewhere. As I say to my agnostic daughter: like it or not, you’re stuck existing… eternally.

I can’t tell you which religion is right, what concept of god is accurate, nor even how you should live your life. I can only tell you what I have seen and experienced, that there is infinitely more to human existence than what we see around us. There may be reasons to fear death, but a terminal point is not one of them. As Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) says: death is a period before the beginning of the next sentence.

 

The Mammogram

Last week I finally had a mammogram. The grim part of me felt I entered the world of Old People Tests. The bright side of me felt this was so cool sophisticated technology can peer at the inner workings of my boobs. I was a little worried about radiation exposure- supposedly for every mammogram a woman receives, her risk of breast cancer ticks up 1%. But I figured one time wouldn’t kill me.

As I sat in the waiting room I thought of Maryam Mirzakhani, the only woman ever to win the most prestigious honor in mathematics, the Fields Medal. She recently died of breast cancer at the age of 40. Why would god give a woman such an incredible gift only to take her from the world prematurely? Not only that, but make her suffer in the process? God, you’re weird. I nearly said it out loud.

Then they called me in.

The mammography tech was, unlike me, ample bossomed which somehow seemed apropos. She was also nearly a foot shorter than me. She asked cheerfully had I ever had a mammogram before? Nope. Did I know what one entailed? Uh… not really. I know big machines are involved.

She had me undress waist up in a dressing room and cover myself with a blue gown. I walked into the exam room and she announced she had to put these little stickers with metal dots on my… ugh… I opened my gown and let her have at it. She asked was there a history of breast cancer in my family?

Yes, my mother.

Ovarian cancer?

Yes, my aunt. She recently died from it.

Ah… she said, filling out forms.

Then she explained I would have to place each breast on a platform while images were obtained. I looked at that platform, looked down at my now-pastied boobs, and regarded her skeptically.

I don’t have much breast for the platform. This is true; my breasts are so small they may as well not exist.

Oh I’ll manage something! She was laughing in a good natured way. I thought of poor Maryam, all the boob examinations she must have endured.

Onto the platform the right one went. The tech twisted and crammed, eventually a plexiglas compressor bore down, trash compactor style. EEEEEeeeejjjjjj. That was the sound of the x-ray. EEEEEeeeejjjjjj. Then the left. EEEEEeeeejjjjjj.

It was definitely uncomfortable, not necessarily painful. I was more concerned about my back potentially spasming (my back likes to spasm) than the state of my breasts- she kept twisting my arms to and fro and grabbing my bare shoulder blades; the muscles on my shoulder blades are the most spasm-prone.

Then it was over! The whole ordeal was less than fifteen minutes. So if any of you ladies are avoiding a mammogram, please don’t. It’s not so bad, it’s not embarrassing, and if you have a history of breast cancer in the family the risk of minute radiation exposure is dwarfed by the worser fate.

 

Wimpy Wine

The island survived my absence: turkeys still grifting, opossums still gnawing through garbage, my oldest daughter kept the feral cat colony in our yard alive. My tomato plants died but that was written in the stars.

It was difficult being up there, not in ways I anticipated. Often while driving around it felt I never left. Nine years non existent, maybe a time loop. The town looked somewhat worse- I saw a meth head handcuffed & hauled into the police station- I never saw that while living here. I never saw anyone handcuffed until I moved to nyc.

My dad was irate. Ranting about my aunt, her lack of estate planning, nitpicking her last motions, grumble grumble grumble. God lord, I wanted to tell him- the woman was dying! Cut her some fucking slack. I kept my mouth shut.

My mother dragged us to church, “us” being the little guys and myself. Alright I get it, she wants to show off the grandkids. I’ll show them off too- they’re criminally cute.

The church was so depressing. They recently signed a compact with a lutheran church merging two dying churches, and I could sense one foot in there was turf war betides. The lutherans on one side, anglicans on the other. Stink eye ensued.

My lovely children started acting rotten so I dragged them to the back where exactly one child (I later learned he was being raised by his GREAT grandmother- both parents and grandma were unfit) playing with legos and toy sharks.

Did I like sharks!? he asked, full volume. I tried to shush him. Had I ever picked up a shark? Had I ever picked up a shark but failed! What was my favorite type of shark?

He rolled up his sleeve. I’ve gotta tattoo, he said proudly, showing off a temporary skull tattoo. I gave him a silent thumbs up then shushed him again.

Day before the funeral my parents had a wine and cheese event. My mom’s cousin was first to show up; they discussed weather, traffic, grandchildren, who was at what school studying what. There was discussion of family history. The cousin marveled how adept my two year old was at navigating stupid games on my defunct android. I listened politely… and thought of the steven king story where people slowly turn into vegetables.

Then my dead aunt’s buddies arrived. The greeted me uproariously- hugs, jokes, booze! My aunt’s best friend’s other best friend sat in an armchair, perched on a cane chatting brightly. Aunt’s best friend threw back a tumbler of gin. I don’t want any of that wimpy wine! — she bellowed– viking style. The other friends downed glasses of wine and nibbled on cheese. We discussed architecture, history… the house was rocking!

Then the funeral. It was at the merged church, beautiful in its day. Rich mahogany knotted the ceiling, elaborate stained glass pictographs: Ruth the Gleaner, John the Baptist, St. Michael– ready to charge.

I read from revelations, my sister read a poem. The gin drinker cried quietly.

A reception at my sister’s house. I wolfed down turkey and roast beef while my kids ate fruit. My sister’s german shephards skulked like patrolling soldiers while I clandestinely fed them pieces of meat. I watched our kids, all our kids, my kids, my sister’s kids, my sister’s friend’s kids, frolic in the gated garden. How surreal to regard such life in the shadow of death. The yard sloped down to a pond, endless acres of forest, the sky clear. I wonder as to the state of my aunt’s soul.

The funeral. We drove two hours to the grave site, my little guys surprisingly well behaved. An ancient retired pastor gave the homily while a grinning funeral home worker stood by his side. What a racket! (I later told my mom just to dump my ashes if I precede her in death.) The weather was sublime, a perfect breeze shimmering through towering oaks like god had planned it.