I remember watching Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos’ series a few years ago. I’ve actually watched it a lot of times since. But one thing that made a huge impression on me was a story that that he told about the Spanish arriving in the Americas. He said that the people on the shores couldn’t see the ships arriving on the horizon, because they had never seen a ship before. It took a holy man to point the ships out to them; he could see the invisible.
“But how can this be,” you might think, “ships exist“.
That’s what I thought for a long time. I felt like it was true, but I didn’t understand how it could be true, that we don’t see all that exists.
It makes me think of that expression, “You can’t teach someone something that they don’t already know”. It’s a paradox, right? But it’s certainly been true in my life. I’ll “learn” something that’s sort of already of the periphery of my understanding. Or I won’t learn it at all. Or, I’ll think I’ve learned something, and then I’ll really learn it on a whole other level. Knowledge, in my experience, is revealed in its own time and according to it’s own schedule.
That “our minds are weird” is an understatement. Since that time I’ve had my own experiences of “enemy ships on my horizon”. Kate and I had fallings out with a couple of people in our small town — not many, because we’re super-nice girls. But one or 2. When she sees them in the grocery store, she gets really quiet. I don’t see them at all and chatter on obliviously about magazines at the checkout. Afterwards she says, “Ugh, _____ was behind us at the till”. I’m just like, “What, really? I didn’t see him. I guess that guy’s just dead to me”. He literally does not exist in my universe.
(Just to recap: Living humans = dead to me. Actual dead people = friends of mine. Truly we edit our own reality).
One other thing I’ve noticed is that when weird things happen to me — really weird things — I might just forget about them. I can’t contextualize them. I’ve had quite a few memories of encounters with the supernatural resurface within the last 2 years or so, just because I’m ready to learn now. I’m not afraid of these experiences. We learn what we learn when we’re ready to learn it.
Kate and I started watching that show “Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal” a couple of years ago. I remember one episode where this little kid was talking about a man that showed up in her room one day, in a suit. I was like, “…That happened to me”. I just realized it in that moment. I couldn’t remember any details at first. I was probably 5 and I hadn’t thought about it since then. It was just like when I saw Un Chein Andalou — startling — but then buried quickly.
So here’s what I remember:
I was in my bedroom, sitting on the floor. I had this white 4-poster bed and I had a toy monkey named “Mookey” that I kept curled around one of the posts with his bendy arms. I looked up at the bed — I’m not sure why — I felt something, or sensed something. And then I saw something. Bluish. As I looked into it I thought I saw some facial details. I looked away. “My eyes are playing tricks on me”, I’d thought. I’d spooked myself. Then I heard a voice say something like, “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost!”. And I looked back, and there was a man sitting on my bed, there beside Mookey, with a moustache and a blue suit. He introduced himself as my uncle Jack.
“Do you know who I am? Have your mom and dad ever told you about me?”
I shook my head.
“No, I guess they wouldn’t have”. *pause* “Well, I know you, and I know all your brothers”.
That was all I really needed to hear — I had thought that I’d seen a ghost, but, this guy was obviously my uncle — I just knew he was telling me the truth about that. And my other uncles aren’t ghosts — no one in my family were ghosts as far as I knew so — this was all fine. I relaxed.
He smiled, and told me a lot of funny stories about my brothers when they were little boys. My brothers are all 10-15 years older than I am. It was obvious that he loved them a lot. After a while he noticed that my attention had started to drift, and he just laughed and observed, “Grown ups are always telling you stories about things that happened before you were born”. He was such good company that I’d forgotten that he’d basically materialized before my eyes in this room, and how crazy and weird that was. I’d forgotten to be scared.
Still, I looked at the sleeve of his coat, and I noticed that it was luminous. It was filled with little rainbow sparkles, it looked like sunlight on mist. It was mesmerizing. Then he gave me some life advice:
He said I could be or do anything that I wanted to. I nodded. He said, “I know you know that now, but as you get older it gets harder to remember that. That’s what growing up is. Grown ups will make you feel like your choices are limited because they’re scared. They’re not”.
This was really a telepathic conversation, but it didn’t feel like one. His lips moved, and he spoke to me. But he understood what I was thinking and feeling, and responded to that. I’d never really felt understood by an adult before or like I was being treated like an equal. While I didn’t remember the conversation specifically, I did internalize it. I grew up feeling “supported by my family” in my creative endeavours, even though I didn’t exactly know why. So I’m grateful for that.
Eventually, he had to go. I’m not really sure how much time had passed. 10 minutes? An hour? I don’t know. He said, “You probably shouldn’t tell anyone I was here”.
I just thought, “What?? That doesn’t make any sense. My mom’s downstairs, and some of my brothers. Don’t you want to say hi?? You’ve been talking to me this whole time and I’ve never met you before. You’re telling me stories about them instead of talking to them. They’ll want to see you too!” (That was not so much words as it was a flash of emotion and a confused look that passed over my face). I didn’t get it.
He shook his head. “I’ve just been gone a long time”. I still didn’t get it — all the more reason to say hi! He said goodbye and asked me to look away and count to 10 or something, like a game. And he was gone.
And… I didn’t listen. I went downstairs and announced that there was a man in my room. My mom flipped out and ran upstairs with my brother in tow.
“How did he get in??”
“…I don’t know”.
“Well, where is he now??”
“…I don’t know. It’s ok, he was my uncle…”
‘NO, he wasn’t! Your uncles don’t live here! Don’t listen to strange men who say they’re your uncles!”
Eventually it was decided that I might have imagined it.
For some time later I attended family events — weddings, Christmas visits — wondering what happened to my “cool uncle”. (I hadn’t done a head count on the family yet and taken stock of them all).
One time, a little later on, I remember going through old photos with my mom. she was showing me pictures of her family from when she was a teenager. “That’s uncle Terry and uncle Garry, they live in Sudbury. That’s uncle Jack”.
I’m like, “I remember him”.
“I met him one time!”. I was pretty convinced.
“…No, he died before you were born”.
Hmm. Well, I’d been so sure I was right, but I also believed what she said. So I’d almost figured it out. But I couldn’t remember where I’d met him, or when.
In any case, he did die 8 years before I was born — and I did meet him.
Quantum physics suggests that an observer is necessary to construct reality; that we see what we expect to see. We don’t expect to see the dead, or hear them. We do expect to see the living, and physical objects in our environment. I really wonder a lot — all the time, actually — what else is here that I’m not seeing. Maybe it’s a question of what I want to see. I’m not sure.