Thursday, November 29, 2007

Half a Message from The Other Side

My mom passed away two years ago this Christmas. Her rather quick, untimely death was a blessing in a way. Otherwise she was facing a slow hell of a death from a cancer that was eating away at her body and brain. Eighteen months after she died she returned to me with a message, but I only got half of it.

It was this summer, at the annual Clan Speck reunion (Hubby's family), in a tiny cabin by a lake.

Early Saturday morning Hubby gets up, bangs around getting dressed, and heads off down the hill for breakfast. I drift off back to sleep in the darkness. Thirty minutes or an hour goes by and the squeak of the front door opening wakes me up. I figure it is Hubby coming back to kiss me goodbye and tell me he is off to the golf course with his brothers. But the door bangs shut and there is only silence. It must have been Hubby leaving, I surmise. He probably came in and kissed me goodbye while I was still asleep and the sound of him leaving woke me up.

I squinch open my eyes and the overhead fluorescent light is on and glaring. "Damn that man," I think to myself, "He didn't turn off the light when he left." Then I realize there is someone in the cabin standing by the door, just beyond my view behind the closet wall. I panic for an instant thinking some psychotic mass murderer has found me in the deep woods of Arkansas.

Then I see her. She walks across the cabin looking at me very intently. It's my mother, back from the dead, 18 months gone now. I know she's dead, I know she's a ghost, but she isn't wispy or ghost-like. She isn't floating across the floor. She is just as solid looking as a live person, has on shoes, and is walking around like normal. I am excited but unafraid. I don't think the dead coming back to our world is an odd occurrence anymore. I am merely surprised that it is my mother because I didn't expect to see her of all people.

She looks wonderful dressed in a brown pant suit with a silk paisley blouse. She never, ever wore brown, I think to myself, but she looks great in that color. Her hair looks nice too, all piled up in a Marge Simpson hairdo.

At that moment I feel a wave of love for my mother like I have never felt before. It is deep and genuine and warm and fills my soul....and surprises me. For the first time in my life I know what it is to really, truly love my mother. Our relationship had always been rather cool and impersonal but that's a whole 'nuther story. Suffice it to say we were not warm-n-fuzzy close.

Mom is looking intently at me to see if I'm still asleep. She has that look on her face like she doesn't want to wake me, but urgently needs to talk to me. She is very quiet as she crosses the floor, all the time keeping an eye on me to see if I'm awake or not.

Yes, Mom, I'm awake. You can see I'm awake because I'm looking at you. You don't have to tiptoe. You can say something already.

She crosses the floor away from me and heads for the back door. She disappears out of view around the corner. Dang! Why didn't she stop or do something or say something? Why did she just walk by? What was that all about? I figure she is gone. Then she rounds the corner and strides right up to my bedside. I am so startled it almost knocks the breath out of me. My heart is thumping ninety miles an hour. Can this really be happening?

Mom makes an exaggerated puckered kissy face and bends down to kiss me. I'm still a little groggy from just being woken up, but I manage to crane my head up to meet her and make the puckered kissy face back. Instead of our lips touching, my face...well...goes through hers. She is ethereal, like a 3-D hologram. She straightens up and we both get a funny look on our faces; that we somehow knew that wasn't going to work, me being living and her being dead and all.

She gets serious, furrows her brow and says, "I've got something very important to tell you."

WOW! My brain snaps to attention. I am fully awake now. Whatever she says next will be the most momentous words ever spoken - wisdom of the ages from The Other Side.

"Xrciosion kos slepoise lwisbjios sljew boawlje llbjlkjxfow lxjgoi aejlsjd."

It's just garble, as though she is speaking Chinese. There is a windy, ripping, zippery sucking sound and the lights go off, Mom disappears, and I am alone again in the darkness, the nightlight glowing softly across the room.

Apparently when my brain went from hazy sleepiness to fully cognizant, it disrupted the connection between this world and the next. Dammit! I really, really wanted to know what she had to say. I was listening with every fiber of my body. I wondered why she choose this time and place to find me. She had never been up here, and this is an odd place for me to be. Where did she get the brown outfit? Why brown? I had a million questions and no answers.

When I later told this story to my sisters, they said I had this experience because of unresolved issues with my mom. I don't think so. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. The simple fact is my dead mother returned from the other side to give me an important message. That's it. That's all there is to it. Nothing more. I just need to learn Chinese so I will understand her during the next visit.

And yes, I realize that by sharing this with the world, I have just given my family all the fodder they will need for my commitment hearing. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Miracles of Life; or Tres Butterbean

The Nephew and his wife are pregnant. Since the day the EPT test turned blue, the family endowed the new baby with the nickname Butterbean.

We have included Butterbean in conversations as if he is already here. The Christmas cards will probably go out with Butterbean's signature even though he is not due until late April 2008.

Butterbean was a miracle baby. He was most definitely unplanned because Butterbean's momma is in the final stretch of a B.A. in Medical Technology and graduates in May 2008. Butterbean's daddy knew he was being called to active duty Oct 1st this year. He's currently training in the States and ships out to Iraq in March 2008. They were doing everything possible to prevent a Butterbean, but ya know, sometimes things don't go according to plans.

So everybody was a bit meshuganah at first but they've calmed down considerably since the EPT test. Butterbean's mom and dad have moved in with Butterbean's grandmother, my sister Nana. BBMom is going to finish school and start working while Nana takes care of Butterbean after he arrives.

So today is the big day...the first sonogram. Today we find out if Butterbean is really a he or actually a she.

BBMom and Nana are in the sonogram room and the first thing the tech says when the sonogram screen lights up is, "Oh, twins! Congratulations! That wasn't on the charts."

BBMom and Nana's jaws both drop to the floor. They had no idea.

The tech starts a long routine of measurements and techie sonogram stuff. It's taking a very long time. Then the tech frowns and says she's confused, that she needs somebody else to come look at the sonogram. A veteran sonogram looker-ater person comes in and fidgets with the equipment for a minute and says, "Yep, there's a third baby. Triplets."

So world, say hello to Tres Butterbean...
(Yes, I had to include the gratuitous fuzzy, amorphous blob sonogram photo.)

They are fraternal triplets. Two are definitely girls. The third one is probably a girl too, but the jury is still out. They are 19 weeks and everybody seems to be healthy and on track. BBMom and Nana need some tranquilizers, but we will get them peeled off the ceiling eventually. BBDad is ecstatic.

I called Momma Speck (who is no relation to these babies whatsoever) to tell her the good news. She's a big ol' baby lover and doesn't care who they belong to. They are her chirren now and she was squealing with excitement. She couldn't hang up the phone fast enough to go out and buy materials to start sewing baby quilts and receiving blankets.

Hubby snorted Pepsi out his nose when I told him the good news. Wiseacre that he is he said, "Well, now we're gonna have to call them Butterbean, Sweet Pea and Collard Greens."

Life is never going to be the same.

And that's a miracle.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Old Boyfriends, Old Memories

I was in the same room as my old boyfriend Tony on Thanksgiving day, a mere one table over, and missed him completely. The next day a friend clued me in that Tony had been there with his wife. Dang! We live just 20 minutes apart and had both driven over 100 miles to be in that same room Thanksgiving day and failed to find each other. Just two ships passing in the night. Sigh.

Tony was the first boy I was sweet on. I can't say that I was in love with him because I was just five years old at the time. He was in my first grade class and I thought he was cool. He was the only boy I deemed worthy enough to invite to my sixth birthday party. He knew he was going to be the only boy there among seven little girls and he came anyway. That alone tells you what a sweetie he was.

Here we are at the party. Aren't we cute????? My sister boofed my hair for the occasion.

After first grade we went to separate schools but were in the same Junior High and High School until we graduated. But alas, by 7th grade our paths were divergent and would not cross again. Tony was a young JFK, a member of everything and president of most, loved by the teachers, and destined for great things. I hung out with the stoners. Tony went on to become a lawyer and run for Congress. not.

But Tony remained near and dear to my heart all those years, even after I was married. You see he gave me a very special present on my sixth birthday; one I cherished for years and years. It was a white teddybear-looking cat with pink ears. I named him Bear because I already had a real cat. That's Bear in his box at the bottom of the photo.

Bear had a hard plastic nose and whiskers which fell off almost immediately. The poor thing had only a glue smudge for a nose for the rest of its life. I loved all his fuzz off and a good bit of the stuffing fell out of a hole in his arm. Mom sewed up Bear many times trying to keep him alive.

I'm not and never was a big stuffed animal fan. I thought hugging around on stuffed animals was rather silly even when I was a little kid. I had a live cat to hug on so stuffed animals didn't do much for me. But Bear was different. I loved him special just because Tony had given him to me.

When I left for college I packed Bear away in Mom's attic in my box of special treasures. He was one of my few childhood possessions that made the cut. Everything else got trashed because I was now a "grown-up."

I found Bear a decade later cleaning out the attic. He had become hard and crunchy from the heat. I grieved to part with him but he had become a fire hazard and had to go. I silently asked Tony's forgiveness for throwing away his gift when I tossed Bear in the trash bag.


I miss Bear.

Tony not so much.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Another Family Wedding

We had another family wedding yesterday. My cousin's daughter (that would actually be my first-cousin-once-removed) married her long-time boyfriend. It was a quiet, intimate affair with immediate family, close friends, and a few odd, distant cousins (me, my sisters) in the audience. The ceremony was lovely and touching with the requisite sniffles of sentiment.

I was giggling inappropriately through the ceremony of course. I giggle at weddings and cackle out loud at funerals. That's just what I do, I can't help it. A sister is usually poking me in the ribs trying to get me to behave. Funerals are my all-time favorite rituals of society with weddings running second. Where stress and solemnity mix, hilarity ensues.

In this case the little ringbearer was charming the socks off of me AND my sister this time. He was so cute! He was up there in his little tux twirling the pillow around on his finger, yawning, scratching, fidgeting, and rolling his eyes towards the ceiling. He was definitely a scene stealer and the highlight of the day.

Overall the entire event seemed to go off without a hitch. The ceremony went smoothly, the food was delicious, the guests well-behaved. However, the bride's immediate family was stressed out to the nth degree. I didn't really understand why, but hey, it was a wedding and what bride's family isn't stressed out at a wedding?

Because they all looked like deer in the headlights they weren't relaxed enough to sit and visit for a spell. My cousin John commented that we really don't see each other any more except at weddings and funerals. Yes, so true. We really need to have a family reunion other than at a major life-changing event.

That got me and another cousin conspiring. She agreed to have a gathering at her house sometime this spring or summer. Details will have to be worked out after the holidays. Plans will be made, notices mailed, tables gathered, menus hashed. It will be a major ordeal but well worth it.

On the long drive home I mulled over the prospect of a family reunion. I started getting all sniffley-eyed just thinking about it. There are 14 cousins in my generation. Almost all are married. There are about 23 young uns from those couples and a few grandchildren to boot. If everybody came there would be 56 people, and most of them will attend. That's just awesome if you think about it. Fifty-six people who think enough of each other to willingly show up, bring food, and spend six hours together. Just awesome.

How lucky I am to be a part of such a family. We have our quirks to be sure. Eccentricity is genetic after all. But we know our quirks and hold them near and dear to our hearts. It makes us uniquely who we are. We are family.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Recap

All in all this was a splendid Thanksgiving holiday. I put on my chefs hat and spent most of Wednesday afternoon engaged in holiday food prep. My contributions to other people's waistlines were the traditional green bean casserole with fake french fried onion rings; squash casserole (recipe courtesy of sister Nana); a carrot souffle (recipe courtesy of sister Pris); and a pretzel and white chocolate nibbling concoction called White Trash. All were big hits and I didn't get to bring home nary a bit of leftovers, dangit. I would have coveted another helping of the carrot souffle. It was excellent!

On Thursday morning I sent all my goodies with Hubby to his family's farm in one direction and I headed off across the state in the other direction. I volunteered to serve at a Community Thanksgiving dinner in my hometown. It's a cool concept conceived by one of my old friends JA. He feeds everybody in town regardless if you're rich or poor...just come on in and eat. When a bunch of Southern cooks get together and cook a mess of food, they want a mess of people to come and eat it. So, if you didn't want to cook, all you had to do was gather up a crowd and come sit at JA's table. All were welcome. It was quite an event and was like Old Home Week. I saw a bunch of folks I hadn't seen in years. I ate well and visited until I was hoarse.

At 2:30 I was back in the car driving across the state again. Arrived at the farm in time for the between dinner and supper leftover helping. Ate my own goodies at this sitting and Boy-O-Boy were they good. I think assembling them the night before made them better than if I had cooked them that morning. The flavors had melded together to make for some incredible soul food. I was tickled pink with the results because I had never made the squash casserole or the carrot souffle before. I'm still a bit unsure of my cooking abilities especially when I'm responsible for the entirety of the vegetative matter at a major holiday. It all worked out and everyone ate it without wrinkling their nose, so I'm happy.

Four of the Brothers Speck worked in the yard all day bushhogging, raking, and trimming, trying to hold back the wilderness from taking over the house. In the evening we lit a roaring "bondfire" as Momma Speck calls it. There in the darkness all the Speckticles gathered 'round, reconnected with each other, and solved all the problems of the world. It was a glorious time and made for very happy memories. Clan Speck is a crazy lot of folks, all very opinionated, but all very loving. I am blessed indeed to be a part of this nutsy family.

For that I am very, very thankful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Vocabulary Ramblings

A long time ago and far, far away, I worked in corporate America writing technical reports. Technical reports may be an exaggeration because we dumbed them down to an eighth grade reading level so Headquarters could understand them. My boss kept telling me to "use little words to explain it to their stupid asses." I did that very well, thankyouverymuch. So well, in fact, that I lost most of my 16-cylinder vocabulary words.

I get frustrated when I want to describe a beautiful something and the only adjective I can come up with is beautiful. Sigh. Some blogs I read have me running for the dictionary on a daily basis. Why don't I know what those words mean? Why, oh why, won't my brain think up those words when I need them? Did I live on the eighth grade reading level for so many years that my vocabulary gray matter died?

Writing for the common man has its pros and cons. If a piece is full of 16-cylinder words, the average Joe won't be able to understand it and thus won't read it. A writer wants to have their work read after all. When writing for a wide audience, simpler is better. The drawback of using simplistic words is the piece tends to be rather flavorless. The English language has beautifully exact words to convey a precise meaning, but if nobody knows what they mean, the whole idea has been lost. My problem is that I am stuck on simplistic. I need to expand and utilize a grown-up vocabulary.

Towards that goal I found a cool vocabulary game on-line at For every word you get correct, 10 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program. I don't know about the rice donation business, but the vocab game is fun and challenging. I've made it to Level 45 of 50 and that was really stretching my brain cells. I didn't really know the words I was getting correct. I guessed at the meaning based on the Latin root of the word. I guess my guesses were pretty good.

Here are some words from the game:

Level 41 - candent, bibulous, luculent
Level 42 - stentor, complot, parvenu
Level 43 - trammel, mulct, execration
Level 44 - scaphoid, perspicacious, obloquy
Level 45 - parturient

I only got one shot at the Level 45 word and I missed it. The game dropped me back down to Level 44. Brownie points for anyone who can use scaphoid and parturient in the same sentence.

I was composing an email earlier and I used the term alma mater. For some reason the spelling looked wrong. My brain kept reading it alma MATE-r instead of alma MOT-r. Alma Mater, sister to Tow Mater from the movie Cars. I kept hearing Larry the Cable guy say, "Yeah, he went to my alma MATEr." (Humm...this explanation would work out better if I had an audio clip.)

Well, anyway I went looking for the correct spelling of alma mater and got sidetracked on a tangent through Wikipedia. I always get lost in there reading all kinds of stuff that is only useful when playing Jeopardy. But I digress. What I found on Wiki was a new vocabulary word:

The incipit of a text, such as a poem, song, or book, is its first few words or opening line. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits. Incipit comes from the Latin for "it begins". In the medieval period, incipits were often written in a different script or color from the rest of the work of which they were a part. Though incipit is Latin, the practice of the incipit predates classical antiquity by several millennia, and can be found in various parts of the world.

Yep, I would only need to know that if I had just selected Arcane Bibliographics for $800. But it was interesting nonetheless. Who knew there was a name for the first line of a text???

I also discovered this:

Many books in the Hebrew Bible are named in Hebrew using incipits. For instance, the first book is called Bereshit ("In the beginning ..."). The incipit has passed into English, "Genesis" being derived from the Greek translation of Bereshit.
Does a Bereshit in the woods? Alma Mater would like to know.

Yeah, I'm still in the eighth grade mindset. There may not be any hope for me.

By the way, this post was intended to be didactic.

And dangit, I couldn't come up with a cool "V" word to go with Vocabulary for the title of this ramble. Sigh.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

How to get to Heaven from Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Some lost soul found my blog Googling for an answer to "How to get to Heaven from Pine Bluff, Arkansas." I can feel their pain and despair. Sounds like a great title for a country & western song or a Memphis blues classic.

If I found myself stuck in Pine Bluff with no possible means of escape, I could see that Heaven would seem to be the only way out. I would be praying that The Rapture was imminent to flee the torturous predicament of my existence. Now I'm not hatin' on Pine Bluff particularly...well, yes I am. I've been there once and saw no compelling reason to return. But then I have the same sentiments for almost every little town in Arkansas south of I-30.

I can imagine some poor kid desperate for a life beyond Smalltown, Arkansas pecking away at his computer keyboard in search of an answer. Maybe he was guilt-ridden over some imagined indiscretion; his tormented soul believing there was to be no forgiveness for his sins. Was it possible that a sinner in Pine Bluff, Arkansas could repent and gain access to Heaven???

Well kid, apparently you have remorse for your actions so there's hope for you yet. What did ya do? Kill somebody? He needed killin' is still a valid defense here in Arkansas. Anything other than that is no big sweat. That guilt-trip you're on was probably initiated by a small-minded individual who never left the borders of Jefferson County. Let the immortal words of Pete Townshend be your mantra, "I don't need to be forgiven."

I'll tell ya what to do kid. Get out of Pine Bluff as soon as humanly possible, but not by way of Heaven. Car, train, or bicycle will do. Join the Navy, the French Foreign Legion, or the Peace Corps. All of them will provide transportation for your exodus. Go out and see the world while you're young. Meet strange and interesting people who do not eat cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving. Discover "different" is not "wrong."

If you aren't up for worldwide adventure, at least try to cross a state line. No, no, not that way! That'll take you to Mississippi and ya really don't want to go there. Go west to Texas, maybe further to California. Maybe there's a little bit o' Heaven out thatta way. If ya find it, let me know, I'll come join you.

Whatever route you take may not get you to The Pearly Gates, but at least it will get you the hell out of Pine Bluff. That in itself would be an improvement.

Good Luck kid. Send a postcard.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Math Learning Disability

For years I thought I had some type of math learning disability. This may sound odd coming from somebody who made straight As in advanced algebra II and took up accounting as a profession.

I bang my head to this day trying to add and subtract in my head. I count on my fingers and make little dots on paper when adding numbers. My flippant reply is, "If God had wanted me to add and subtract, I would have been born with a TI calculator in my hand."

My problem is with simple addition and subtraction. Algebra is a breeze until I get down to x = 4/2, then I tank. I can whip through all the complicated algebraic theories and formulas. My brain came hardwired with those. It's the third grade math that trips me up.

A math teacher friend of mine explained that I didn't have a math disability, I had an arithmetic disability. Addition and subtraction is arithmetic, at which I suck. Algebra isn't math, it is logic. I excel at logic, therefore, I excel at algebra.

Here's a simple arithmetic problem:

8 + 6 = ____

The normal brain response would be: 14. Nothing more to it than that, just 14. Probably any third grader could spit out the answer without thinking about it. But oh no, not me.

My brain response would be something like this:

1.) Select smallest of two numbers: 6
2.) Double smallest number: 6 + 6 = 12
3.) Hold result in memory bank: 12, 12, 12, 12.....
4.) Find difference in the two original numbers: 6 + x = 8;
(Note this is step is NOT 8 - 6 = 2, which would be simpler)
5.) Solve for x: x = 2
6.) Hold result in memory bank: 2, 2, 2, 2, 2........
7.) Retrieve original memory hold: 12
8.) Retrieve second memory hold: 2
9.) Add two numbers together: 12 + 2 = 14
10.) Hope nobody noticed it took at least 60 seconds to do this calculation.
11.) Pray the result is correct so that others will not laugh.
12.) Make flippant comment about God and TI calculator.

My brain goes through this each and every time I encounter these simple addition problems. It will not memorize the addition tables. My cerebral synapses just won't fire correctly for some reason.

I have more calculators stashed around my house, office, car, and briefcase than Microsoft has programmers. My arithmetic disability gives me a new perspective on people with reading disabilities. I know the shame and agony they go through. That fear of being called to the board, the public humiliation of realizing everybody else "gets it" and I don't. Arrrggghhhh!

Telling time using a digital clock is just as painful. I'm OK as long as the current time is in the first half of the hour, but anything past XX:30 requires math. So, as this holiday season approaches, please!, don't give me a *&%!! DIGITAL clock or watch! I can't do math! By the way, just glancing at this digital clock graphic makes me cringe.

I discovered recently there is a name for this math learning disability - discalculia. Down in the Wikipedia article is this explanation:

"...there is evidence (especially from brain damaged patients) that arithmetic (e.g. calculation and number fact memory) and mathematical (abstract reasoning with numbers) abilities can be dissociated. That is, an individual might suffer arithmetic difficulties (or dyscalculia), with no impairment of, or even giftedness in, abstract mathematical reasoning abilities."

That describes me to a "T", but omygosh, that is concrete evidence that I am, (gasp), DAIN BRAMAGED! Wikipedia said so! I blame it on the fact that Momma dropped a can of peas on my head when I was two and just learning how to count. This incident may also be the reason I have a horrid aversion to English peas, but I digress.

The Sissies also claim to have problems with math and digital clocks, but Momma never confessed to dropping peas on their heads. Hummm... Maybe this thing IS genetic.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Message from Josh

There are forces in this universe I don't understand. Things happen at a certain time for a certain reason and I don't understand why. I am getting the feeling it is time to tell this story. I'm not sure who needs to read it or why. All I know is that I need to tell it.

These events are real, but the names, dates, and locations have been changed for the privacy of those involved. It's long and involved so get a glass of tea and set a spell....

I'm an obituary collector. I read the obits in a voyeuristic fashion, looking for the interesting tidbits of stranger's lives. I clip and save the obits that are uniquely written with unabashed raw truth about the deceased. I love those. No flowerdy pomposity, just an unvarnished assessment of the person or their life. I hate reading obits that state the deceased was a fine upstanding member of society when in fact the guy was a raging drunk who beat his wife and kids. I'm all for truth in obituaries.

Scanning the paper one morning I find Josh's obit. The photo caught my eye first. He was a young guy, too young to be on the obit page, a good looking kid.

JOSHUA RANDALL BURKS, age 20, died in an automobile accident Sept 20, 2000.

Those who have known Joshua will remember him as a blithe spirit. He marched to the tempo of his own drum. He high-fived his way through life. He lived more life in his 20 years than most people experience in lengthy life spans. Josh had a magnetic personality, a sense of joy that made him a pied piper of all ages. He had a juicy sense of humor that served him well throughout his life. He was fascinated with current events and stayed abreast of the latest political news. He was not easily persuaded. He had a keen insight that enabled him to see through phoniness and hypocrisy. He was fascinated with people and their thoughts and found friends in all walks of life. Josh was born with a liberated mind and was never overcome by the many adversities he encountered. He drank of life’s fullness and took all it could give. Josh was preceded in death by...

"He marched to the tempo of his own drum..." I immediately felt a connection to this kid. I know the pain of marching out of step with the rest of the world. It isn't an easy thing to do. The different drummer reference is from the conclusion to Walden by Henry David Thoreau, 1854 - perhaps two of the most exquisite lines of prose ever written:

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away."

I tore out the page with Josh's obit and stuck in it my "Great Obits" file for future reference. A few days later, I got it out and started an essay titled, "Truth in Obits." I worked on it a while, copying verbatim Josh's obit, and adding my thoughts, but the piece wasn't coming together the way I wanted. I was struggling with what I wanted to say, so I filed it away again to work on later. Sometimes letting a topic rest a few days and approaching it later with fresh eyes helps to get the words to congeal.

Almost a month goes by without any work on the essay. I'm still trying to formulate the outline, but I'm still not having any inspiration. Then one day, a nagging thought forms in the back of my brain...write on the essay, write on the essay. I wasn't ready to write anything. I still didn't know where I wanted to go with the piece. Brain is still nagging...write on the obits piece, write on the obits piece. All through the evening that nagging voice won't go away. Write, write, write...and Josh's picture kept popping in my head.

OK fine! I'll write. Don't know what I'm gonna write but I'll put my damn fingers on the keyboard. So I pulled up the essay on the computer and read it again. I went to the point where my thought process had been interrupted previously. I scrolled all the garbage off the page and stared at the blank screen. Still nothing was coming.

I dug out Josh's obit that was published in the newspaper with his picture. I propped it up next to my computer and stared into Josh's eyes. I said, "OK Josh, what am I supposed to be writing here? Help me out. What is it that you want to say?"

I cleared my mind and just stared at Josh's eyes. His picture became kind of fuzzy but his eyes remained clear. Words started scrolling across my mind like the sign in Times Square. Just phrases really, not whole sentences. I just typed what my mind saw without thinking about what I was typing. I continued to stare at Josh's eyes and not at the computer screen. After typing for a while, there was almost an audible click like a telephone had been hung up and there were no more words.

This popped me out of my reverie and the rest of the room came back into focus. For the first time I looked at my computer screen and this is what was there:

"Marg wants me to say that I have come to the end of my life but that's not true. I am living on in the place of non-existence. We go through life wondering what we need to hear. What we need is the reason to live. Help me to send this message to those that I love. Help me to say what I can't say. I am never going to get the chance to say the things I need to say to those that I love. Just as I have gotten over on to them me to say things that I need to say. There is something I need to send to three people. What is the meaning of the words....can't make up my mind. Who is my savior in that the day of my existence is now at hand. Probably need to say what I mean to you. Help me to say these things to mother and David. Help me say goodbye."

"Tell them I am happy here. Tell them I am safe and happy. Tell them I will see them someday soon. See that they don't worry about me. Ask them to send their love to me on the other side. Ask them to see that I am happy. Work with them to say what I want to say. Tell them I am happy. Tell them I am safe. I am warm, unharmed. I am whole now. Be kind to each other. Peace be with you. Goodbye."

When I read it I cried and wailed and boo-hooed and sobbed. No! No! No! This is not happening to me! This kid is not sending me messages from the other side! This CANNOT be happening!

I didn't know what to do. I was scared out of my mind. I had not written this, it was not from my brain. It is not at all my style of writing nor the words I would have used. Why was Josh talking to me?

I composed myself and read it again. I wondered who David was. I reread the entire obit with the list of family names and didn't find a David there.

I stared at the message and asked "Who is David?"

I got the answer "Rogers, David Rogers."

I went to the AT&T website and searched for a David Rogers in Arkansas. There were about 25 or so. I read through them all looking for one that stood out from the rest. When I got to the end I sighed with despair because I would never be able to figure out which one it was, or if it was one that was listed. I started going backwards through the list and said "There's too many Josh, there's too many. I need a flashing RED sign to show me which one." The next one I clicked on lived on REDwood Drive.

"Oh, thank you Josh."

The reason I was interested in finding "David" was because earlier when I was having the nagging thought of writing on the essay some more, I was thinking about Josh and visualizing his picture in my mind. Between thoughts of Josh I kept getting the thought "Tell David that ham is dangerous." This was kinda scary to me. It sounded like a warning. It might be an inside joke about pork and cholesterol. I don't know. That's just what came into my mind.

This had never happened to me before. It made me sick and worried and I didn't know what to do. I felt I had been given an important message to deliver, but this was all so crazy. How could I ever deliver the message, even if I could, should I? How would I ever explain?

I stayed up all night balling and squalling. At daylight I called my sister and told her what had happened. Turns out she was good friends with Josh's mother Linda, a lady I didn't know. My sister said I should call Linda, right then. She gave me Linda's phone number and I dialed the phone.

By this time I was an emotional wreck. I sobbed and blubbered my way through the phone call to Josh's poor mother. She had just lost her young son in a car wreck and now some crazy woman she doesn't know is calling her with a wild tale. It's a miracle she didn't slam down the phone. She was surprisingly patient and kind. After I finished my long tale she gave me her email address so that I could send her the message to read.

After I hung up the phone, I heaved a big sigh, looked towards the ceiling and said, "Message delivered Josh."

Three days lates, Josh's mother Linda sent me the following response (posted here with her permission):

Dear Speck,

Thank you for contacting me and letting me know about Josh. I must admit at first I struggled with the message. The struggle was not about whether the message was from Josh. That I believe with no doubt! I kept worrying about the part that I didn’t understand. Finally, I heard the message, “Focus on what you know”. I know that Josh was saying, “Mom, I’m okay. I am safe, happy, warm and unharmed. I am whole. Be kind to each other. Send me love.” Yes, that message is so much Joshua.

Joshua was facing yet another DWI charge and was concerned about what he was to face with the judicial system. He came to me not long before he died and said he had thought about just leaving the state. I said, “Well, that is pretty selfish.” He looked surprised. I said, “Josh, do you know what that would do to me not knowing if you were okay or not.” He said, “Oh, mom, I wouldn’t do that. I would let you know I was okay.” True to his word, he did!

Josh and I have always had a bond that is beyond description. Someone wrote to me and described him as my heartbeat. He always was and will be. We had conversations about many things. One of recent before he died was about my conversation with a friend, Greg whom I went to high school with. Greg is divorced from my life long best friend. I am the Godmother of his children. I had not seen Greg to visit in years but we were at the hospital together about six months ago because his daughter was having surgery. We had time to sit and visit and he told me about his channeling and conversations with the dead. He told me that he and the woman he lives with help souls who are stuck go over into the next existence. I came home and told Josh. We sort of laughed and talked. I said, “far be it from me to not believe what Greg was saying.” Josh agreed.

I am certain that Josh knew not to reach me through Greg because there would have been doubts in my mind. I would have been afraid. Instead he came through you, Nana’s sister. I have long trusted and looked to Nana as a spiritual guide not because of her doctrine, but because of something much deeper, her “spiritual connection”. The first message was delivered with Nana’s own hands to me thus removing any caution I would have had to who you were otherwise.

That led the way for me to be completely open and trusting to your phone call. You began with, “I didn’t know whether to contact you or not but Nana said to call you”. Josh knew exactly how to get the message straight to me so I would know I didn’t need to sort the validity or safety of it.

I have been praying to know for certain that Josh was okay. All I ever wanted for him in this life and the one beyond was for him to be happy, safe, whole and at peace. What a powerful gift of love to know that he is.

What a strange position for you to be in and what a gift! You have been the messenger of love. I pray the prayer of St. Francis almost every day that I might be a channel of Thy peace. You have been. Thanks be to God!

I don’t know what the rest of the message means but I figure that when the time is right, if I am supposed to know or do something with it I will. I will stay in prayer about it and about being a channel of peace. What I need to know will be revealed to me when I need to know it, I am certain.

I hope that we can get together some day soon and visit. My dad lived [in My Town] for several years. In fact when Josh was three months old we can home from Germany to be with my Dad who had cancer. We lived there in the apartments on Main with him for about 3 months. Josh loved my dad and his cremated remains were buried in my daddy’s cemetery plot right above his heart. It felt so right to have him tucked in with daddy. I felt Daddy and Josh were together and it felt good knowing Josh was with my daddy whom I loved dearly. Josh was even named after my dad. Maybe the connection of [the town] means something too. Who knows!

Words cannot expression my appreciation for your courage and your connection. Please stay in touch with me and know that I will be anxious to hear anything you get in the future.

With much appreciation and gratitude,

P.S. I am attaching a copy of Josh’s Eulogy. I thought you might enjoy reading just what a delight he was, and I suspect your kindred spirit.

Yes, I believe Josh and I are indeed kindred spirits. Even though we had not met in life, we are somehow connected.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Freethinker Choir

I was asked recently, "What was it like to be a free thinker growing up in Smalltown, Arkansas?"

Note: Webster's defines freethinker as: one who forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority; especially : one who doubts or denies religious dogma. The conversation was not religious in nature, so I'm assuming this question was about independent thinking in general. But I like the term freethinker. I like it a lot and will use it here in the general sense.


Well, I didn't know I was a freethinker at the time. All I knew was that the things I was told as being The Truth didn't seem to be logical. Since everyone's opinion was the same, yet different than mine, I figured I must have it wrong. I was puzzled and kept pondering it around in my brain, thinking that I must be missing something...that some day it would all make sense.

I began to think that there was something wrong with me because I just didn't see things the way everyone else did. When I was in high school I hung around with the stoners. They were far from getting it right, but seemed to be less wrong than the other kids. At least they were open-minded to new ideas and new ways of approaching life.

When I grew up I discovered I was right about a lot of things (or righter than my momma was.) However, when I voiced my opinion folks looked at me like I was crazy, so I shut up again. Around age 33 or so I decided I didn't care if everyone thought I was crazy. I told them I was crazy right off the bat and proceeded to live my life like nobody was watching. I finally found peace, but it was a solitary peace. Freethinkers are few and far between.

My sisters think I'm quirky because I don't give a damn what anybody thinks of me. Why should I care what others think of me? Why should I seek approval from all those I encounter? What does it matter if a person I meet doesn't like me? I've lived happily all my life without their company, I can live happily the remainder of my life without it too. Every now and then I meet another freethinker, another kindred spirit, and I rejoice.

I guess my motto is: think for myself, gather evidence, weigh facts, don't be a lemming. Thankfully Hubby is like-minded in that aspect. Everybody is a little bit right, everybody is a little bit wrong. They're just right and wrong in just a little bit different ways. The truth is in there somewhere, but it isn't always recognized...not by me, not by anybody.

The key to living life as a freethinker is to find a harmony in the disharmony and make that the tune you hum each day. Soon you'll find others humming your same tune. They won't be humming exactly the same notes as you, but complimentary notes that support or accent. Pretty soon you've got yourself some four-part harmony.

I love the Internet because I've found evidence that the rest of my choir is out there. I always knew they were, I just having trouble finding them in Smalltown, Arkansas.