The Gift

He couldn’t stay in his body, the pain was too great. It was Joe’s leaving time, but my mother couldn’t let him go.

I was in Oregon, gathering car keys, handbag and notebook. It was a racing-out-the-door morning, my thoughts intent on teaching and the forty-five minute drive between my house in the Columbia River Gorge and Marylhurst University. Photographs of my New York family were ensconced above the fireplace, mingled with decorative candles and a ticking clock.

Did I have everything? I thought so. Just one more pass through the living room to make sure. Then I saw it, Joe’s photo glowing with light, a sure-fire way for the unseen reality to get my attention. I stopped. Everything coming to an abrupt halt as I picked up his picture, dropped to the sofa and closed my eyes. Acceleration and tension drained from my body. I softened and exhaled. Joe was in the hospital in upstate New York but his spirit was there with me.

“I need you to talk to your mother,” he said, hovering in my vision. “Help her to let me go. I want to die before my birthday, but she has to release me first. I need to hear her say it out loud. I need to know that it’s alright to go. Ask her to tell me, then ask her to open the closet and begin giving away my things.”

My chest filled with the light and energy of his message, his words floating around my cells like weightless sand. Then he was gone.

That memory, nearly twenty years old, drifted through my thoughts as I sat at the dinner table listening to Julio describe a week-end with his family.

“When I speak about my art,” he says, spooning brown rice next to carne asada, “it’s as if they can’t hear me. I show them my paintings in The Art Detour brochure and they say nothing, their expressions are blank. Yet I feel disapproval because I am not working in the way they think I should be.”

Julio comes from a family of laborers and field workers who strive to keep their pockets full, their personal dreams diminished by a harsh reality.

“They have no frame of reference for it,” I tell him. “Art is a foreign world.”

A deep well of sadness lingers in Julio’s eyes, a longing for an acceptance that can not be given, a longing I’m familiar with.

I remembered replacing Joe’s photo on the mantel, wondering how I could bring such news to my mother.

“This is my daughter, Karen,” she’d tell her friends. “She is a free spirit.” And later, behind closed doors: “When are you going to get a real job?”

Intuitive work didn’t show up for my family. When I spoke of visions or predictive dreams, my words were met with confusion, talk of brain tumors and lingering looks of concern. Eventually, I learned to keep my mouth closed and a sensitive nature to myself.

I called that evening, knowing what a difficult time mother was having, though she rarely showed vulnerability. I hedged, not knowing how to bring up the topic but needn’t have. Near the close of conversation, she surprised me:

“Do you get anything for me?”

“What do you mean, get anything?”

“You know, psychically.”

I was silent. Joe had openly ridiculed my gifts and yet come to me for help.

“Yes,” I told her. “I do have things to share.”

She listened respectfully as I closed my eyes,  a vision of Joe’s pain-filled body hovering in my awareness.

“He wants to go before his birthday, but your love is holding him here. He wants you to let him leave.”

“I can do that,” she whispered, her voice private and internal. “I’ll tell him today. And there’s a young man from the firehouse that would fit one of his coats. I know Joe would like him to have it.”

I hung up, aware of the healing that had taken place. A warm sense of gratitude washed over me, like some long awaited rain in the desert.

Joe was born on April 8, 1920, and died on April 3, 1993.

I reached for mother’s hand as we stood in the funeral home reception line, hushed pieces of conversation passing between us.

“What made you ask for my vision during our phone call? You’ve never done that before.

“Just a feeling,” she answered. “It’s not that I don’t respect your work, sweetheart, it’s that I’ve never understood it. How could I? My life has been full of children, bookkeeping, salesmen, running a restaurant and hotel. How could I know anything of what you do?”

Julio looked up from his plate,  bringing me back from my reverie. “I wish I had my family’s support. It would make such a difference.”

“Give them time,” I smiled. “How could they know anything of what you do? How could they conceive of the gift you’ve been given? A talent that takes you to the core of yourself, allowing you to heal and shine in ways they never imagined. And when you succeed, and you will, you’ll be doing it for all of them, for all the men and women in your bloodline who never knew the joys of freedom.”

River of Light

I’m thinking about the women in my bloodline tonight, women I loved, often disagreed with and unfairly judged. I’m thinking about my mother having five children because there was no birth control and how her dreams of personal fulfillment were dashed by that responsibility. I’m thinking about the talk we had one evening in the back of the restaurant, as I followed her from the kitchen, her tiny high heeled shoes tracking grease along the dining room floor. We sat together, her hands overflowing with end-of-the-day receipts, black curls stuck to her forehead from the heat of an industrial stove. “I don’t want this life for you,” she said. “Be something better. Be something more. Get out of this small town. Go far away.” 

I listened to my mother’s lament and left my rooted place. In fact, I traveled as far as I could without falling into the sea. I made a life 3,000 miles away, a life I think she’d be proud of, although she never understood it during her lifetime, the words, psychic, healer and artist falling dangerously far from accepted norms. She needed familiar occupations, like doctor, lawyer or business owner, titles to give her bragging rights with friends as they gossiped about their children over glasses of evening wine. 

Her words and desires dance in memory, as I look into her life and the lives of those before her, acknowledging that I stood on the back of her broken dreams to make my own. I think of my mother’s mother, Ada, and my father’s mother, Lottie, and their mothers before them, and their mothers as far back as I can imagine. I try to sense their radiance and gifts, ambitions, sorrows and longings as a river of light, each life flowing into and through my own, each person’s existence a kind of sacrifice for the next and the next and the next, each new foundation an expression of hope.