Irene likes to talk to me. Not often mind you, but when she does, it’s always on her terms. She chooses the when and she chooses the where for our conversations. I hear her words and assume that she understands mine as well.
It wasn’t much of an introduction all those years ago. I was just a young boy of eight or nine when she first decided to let herself be known. It was simple, curt and straightforward. “John, are you there?” a disembodied female voice struck out. This unexpected question caught me completely off guard, so I instinctively answered, “Yes, I am here.” Our talk ended as abruptly as it had begun.
In retrospect, I am reminded of Katsumoto in The Last Samurai when he utters to Tom Cruise’s character the dismissive cryptic phrase, “I have introduced myself. You have introduced yourself. This is a very good conversation.”
More pragmatically, it seems to me now that Irene was more checking to see if my antenna was up. She wanted acknowledgment, for future reference, that I was able to hear her clearly.
I never gave it much thought after that day. Strange things happen sometimes, and the mind has its own way of working around them. It’s a simple matter of self-preservation when people encounter something unnerving or frightening.
Like the body, which coagulates blood and scabs over so we don’t bleed out when cut so too does the mind heal an emotional wound. Traumatic memories are either deeply buried or reconstructed so as to be more palatable and benign. And so it was for my first encounter with the disembodied voice I would later come to know as Irene.
I didn’t always know her as Irene nor does she think of herself in this way. She may not even think of herself as female for that matter. I met her quite serendipitously once while in the midst of tripping through the netherworlds of a guided meditation.
It was a hauntingly beautiful place, silent and still. There, I found myself standing on a narrow country road. On one side of me, sparsely populated forest whilst on the other the undulating hills of a farmers fallow field.
It was shortly after dusk, the sky ever so slightly illuminated by the remnants of a now bygone sun. A soft pale blue hue painted the carpet of newly fallen snow. Soft snowflakes sparkled like white diamonds as they slowly descended from heaven to Earth.
In the distance, I saw a white rabbit scurry across my path as it hopped off into the bushes to my right. I assumed that it was heading home for the evening, another busy day done and gone.
Sensing a presence, I turned around to see a beautiful black haired lady with dark eyes and a warm embracing smile looking directly at me. Her hair fell over her shoulders in curls and tresses spilling out as they were from a dark navy hood that capped her long flowing cape.
I could sense that I was in the presence of an enlightened being much more advanced than I. She made it known to me that she was indeed the one who had previously spoken to me. Awestruck, I humbly asked how I should address her. She laughed, explaining that names were irrelevant on the plane where she resided.
She did although understand my very human need to identify her. We like to do that here on Earth. We name, we label, we categorize, and we judge. Being empathetic, she told me that I could address her as Irene, being that had been the name she was known by during her last incarnation.
I suppose if I were to ask, she might talk with me more often but then again, I have never felt the inclination. Years can pass without my hearing from her, and I am quite content with that. I don’t see her as a novelty but rather a caring guide who allows me to be me.
When she does decide to speak, it oscillates between profound wisdom and dire warning. On one occasion she even took it upon herself to correct a very negative behavior I was engaging in at the time. “Stop it,” she yelled in a very firm and direct voice. It got my attention immediately.
Her tone quickly softened, and she spoke with me the following words.
“Change is not always pleasant child but is it not thunder that is the precursor of rain thus bringing forth to the dormant seed the most precious element required for its growth? So it is with you my son. Break from the castings that bind your seed and set yourself free so you too may grow in the fertile soil of your life.”
Not all her warnings come in such a forceful manner. Several years ago I had just finished loading my daughter and her schoolmate into the back seat of my minivan. Just as I was preparing to engage the key into the ignition, Irene whispered into my ear, “Get out and go to the back.”
If you have never had a similar encounter, I can assure you that when a disembodied voice instructs you on something you are inclined to do it. I unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the car door and made my way to the back of the van.
Nothing appeared to be amiss, so I mentally asked her, “why did you tell me to come back here?” Instinctively, I was directed over to the passenger side of the vehicle, at which point I noticed immediately that rear door had not slid shut entirely and was ajar.
I am not sure what would have happened that day without Irene’s intervention but seeing as she chose to intercede, I am sure it wasn’t anything good.
The last time Irene graced my presence, she shared of her wisdom. As I have written about previously, I am a taphophile. Simply put, I enjoy strolling through the peaceful surroundings of cemeteries. That being so, there is one plot in particular, which I have encountered numerous times before. There was just something about this day, this moment, that drew me nearer to it.
It stands out not because of its grandeur, but rather it’s lack thereof. Entirely out of place, as it is, amongst the white marble headstones and ornate mausoleums, it consists merely of a small nondescript wooden cross. Anyone walking past would be forgiven for not even noticing it as it rises a mere foot or so off the ground.
Many years past, someone who had cared for the deceased, took the time to dig a small hole in the ground, fill it with cement and erect the modest crudely hewed cross. In the coolness of that autumn day, rusty brown pine needles, which had recently fallen, were strewn about its base. The narrow horizontal beam of the cross bore two brass nameplates on either side, akin to what one would find on an inexpensive sports trophy.
I wondered to myself just who these two souls were in life, their engraved names long since faded and forgotten. It was apparent, that whoever they had been their lives had not been noteworthy.
There was no sign of Earthly riches or meaningful recognition; if not for the small, unkempt marker, they would have passed entirely unnoticed from this world. Unheralded, unseen and unknown. I bent down slowly to afford myself a better look.
There before me stood the dilapidated wooden cross, now weathered and worn by both elements and father time. I lowered my gaze, my heart overcome with deepening emotions of pity. Kneeling closer still, I brushed off the dried pine needles revealing the cracked cement base that lay beneath.
I felt compelled to do something, anything to dignify these poor souls. “I will be your guardian,” I thought to myself. A foolish, selfish pride overtook me just then as if I were undertaking some great philanthropic endeavor. “I will take care of you.”
I no sooner finished my thought when a woman’s disembodied voice rang out sudden and clear. “Take care of the living,” she exclaimed, “not the dead.” I recognized the familiar voice all at once. Unshaken, I slowly arose in quiet resignation. “I understand,” I replied, then simply turned and walked away.