Please welcome the first guest writer of our series, Cat Calhoun.
“I see dead people…”
I was in my early 40’s before I saw them again. The traffic was flowing heavily down 7th Street in downtown Austin as I stood at the corner along with twenty-five or so other pedestrians waiting for the “Walk” sign. A young man with chin-length dark hair wearing a faded black shirt and cargo pants wove his way through the crowd without breaking his stride, somehow touching no one in the tight pack of office workers. He stepped into the street without changing his pace, though cars were still flowing at the maximum allowable speed.
“Wait!” I shouted, alarmed at his seeming oblivion. I shot my arm out, hoping to grasp his backpack and stop him, but came away with nothing but air. I winced involuntarily, waiting for the inevitable thud of body on metal, but he wove his way through the cars as if the scene was choreographed. No one honked, no tires screeched and no one slowed down, including the man in the black t-shirt.
He crossed the street without incident as I watched, dumbfounded. I turned to the suit-and-tie guy next to me and asked incredulously, “Did you see that?!” He had clearly been looking the same direction I was, and no he didn’t have a cell phone in his hand. “See what?” he asked, looking at me a little puzzled. Instead of answering, I looked across the street to see the guy in the faded black t-shirt looking back at me, grinning. He waved at me, then turned and walked right through the middle of a big light pole and disappeared.
My brain went “sizzle…..POP!” as it tried to process what had just happened and then flatly refused to think. I stood in place, unable to move, as the other office workers crossed at the Walk sign. For reasons unknown, I turned around and walked the other direction down Congress Avenue, not really sure where I was going. I turned east on 6th Street, seeing but not really noticing the sparse pedestrian traffic around me.
After a few blocks my brain apparently rebooted itself and I remember asking internally, and yet, as if I was speaking to someone, “How many of the people I am seeing here are not actually physically present?” My breath caught as no less than six people – an older couple across the street, a sad looking man in a polo shirt and jeans, a mother and a child, and a young man who looked homeless – stopped in their tracks, turned to look directly at me, and smiled. A couple of them waved. And I kinda freaked out. All I remember clearly after that is making a beeline back to my office, which was blissfully free of non-corporeal people, and hiding for the rest of the day.
I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian religion that gave a simple algebraic formula for what happens after you die. If you died as a Christian, you get a life review, get shamed for what you did wrong, go to heaven anyway, then spend the rest of eternity singing hymns and praising God. If you died a non-Christian, you get a life review, get shamed for what you did wrong, then you spend eternity being horribly tortured for what were predominantly thought crimes committed while you had a physical form.
The problem with that formula was that I knew differently even as a little kid. I used the word “again” in the first sentence of this article when I referred to seeing them for a reason. When I was three years old, my grandmother, “Ma’maw,” who was my caregiver, my best friend and my roommate, died. My grief was a deep well that seemed to have no floor. I sank further into it every day after she died until my mom and dad took me to a child psychologist who suggested that I probably wouldn’t heal until we moved out of the house we had all shared together.
Contrary to my Christian teaching, after we moved into a new house, I began to see Ma’maw and to talk with her, which I found very comforting. She wasn’t really gone, she’d just moved to another location and that location didn’t seem to include being sequestered in some kind of eternal church service. As I began to emerge from the haze of my grief I realized I wasn’t the only one affected by my grandmother’s death. My mother was also profoundly lost without her.
I found Mom crying at the kitchen table one day and saw Ma’maw standing behind her. She told me to tell my mother that everything was going to be OK, that she was watching over us, and that she was in a good place. Even though my mother’s sense of relief was instant as I relayed the message and her tears dried, she told me never to say anything like this again. Message received. My mother was comforted, but she was as freaked out as I was by Faded Black T-shirt Guy that day on Congress Avenue. I kept all communications to myself after that, though I continued to speak with my grandmother for some time.
Little children seem to be closer to wherever it is we all come from and return to than adults or even older children are. Perhaps this is why the connection to Spirit is easier for little kids, but fades for many of us as we age. Mine certainly did. Further deepening this problem is our own cultural indoctrination: only that which you experience physically and can prove through testing is real, matters of physical survival are more important than matters of energy or spirit, focus on your education and career is more important than anything else, religious authority trumps the personal experience of Spirit. These tenets are repeated unceasingly in various ways until we almost have no choice but to accept them.
Over time my connection to my grandmother seemed to fade. My ability to see her and to experience the non-physical wonder around me went dark as I pulled the hood further and further over my own eyes. Soon I could only talk with her in my dreams….until I saw the guy in the faded black t-shirt.
When Faded Black T-shirt Guy (may all the deities bless him) yanked that hood away from my vision, my world got a lot bigger. Dying is not the end, but a step to one side and the beginning of a new journey. As I began to interact with these journeyers I have learned a lot about who we are, where it is we might be going, how we get stuck from time to time on our path even after we die … and how to get unstuck.
In the next article in this series we’ll explore possessions and hauntings, a different perspective on what that is, and how to resolve those.
Death, Dying, and Beyond
A series by Cat Calhoun, Shamanic Practitioner