When I crunch through the snow to my truck, then turn the key in the ignition and hear it roar to life, I know water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and believe the science behind the internal combustion engine. My normal, everyday mindset isn't skeptical of things I can verify, directly or indirectly, time after time.
Paranormal claims have always been outside that mindset - subjective rather than objective evidence and no clear way to repeat the experiment or measure the results. I therefore tend to dismiss paranormal claims as wishful thinking, self-delusion or superstitious nonsense.
There was an exception, however, and I experienced it the day my son was murdered.
He, his mother and I had driven to the mountains to hike and run the Pacific Crest Trail. I was training for a 50-km race. His mother was training for the 10 mile part of the event. Our son wasn't doing the race but was also a runner and came along to be with us. We left the parking lot around 8 in the morning. His mother planned to hike for an hour or so, but I wanted to run for 3 hours. Our son was tired from a week of college exams, so he decided to run with me for 20 minutes, then return to the car and wait for us.
When he and I got to his turn-around, I gave him the keys to our car. I continued up the trail to my turn-around, then started back. When I was 2 miles from the parking lot, a very dark, ominous feeling came over me. I didn't hear a voice but something inside me wanted to get back to my wife and son quickly. It was frightening and urgent--not something I could dismiss as imagination or indigestion.
When I got near the parking lot, my wife was walking around calling for our son. Not loud enough for me to hear her when I had been 2 miles away, but there was an urgency in her voice. We searched the forest and the road leading up to the trail head for an hour but never found him. Exhausted, I ran down to a nearby restaurant and called the police. The search party found our son late that evening but the detectives never found his killer.
Before that tragic day, I was too busy with life to pay any attention to death. My nose was to the grindstone, my elbow was in the grease, my head was in my career, and my heart was in my family and friends. That morning, I woke up to a new world -- a world more ugly, dangerous and terrifying than the one I had known.
What I heard has never been in doubt.
The message was as plain as if somebody had shouted words in my ears. What I have wondered all these years is who sent the message? Was it my son -- telepathically while he was being killed? Or supernaturally after he was dead? Or was it my wife communicating telepathically as she searched frantically for him?
My wife and I shared the burden of his death and the search for answers to questions like those for many years. When she joined him on the other side of the moon, I was left behind to ponder the questions and the answers on my own.
In one of Francine Prose's novels, a character put her finger on my dilemma when she said, "The mystery of death, the riddle of how you could speak to someone and see them every day and then never again, was so impossible to fathom we kept trying to figure it out."
Yeah, I kept trying to figure it out.
And because I am a writer whose understanding of things is dominated by words, I explored the words of other writers, quotations that orbit the angst of life and death. "Don't cry because it's over." wrote Dr. Seuss, "Smile because it happened." Mae West thought one life is enough if you do it right. Woody Allen didn't want immortality through his work. He wanted it by not dying. Another writer wrote, "We could bear the poignant truth that birds sing beautifully for a time, then become a pile of lifeless feathers if we could embrace the possibility that there are other worlds in which to sing."
Some of those words didn't just move around the subject like a mongoose circles a cobra or the moon orbits earth. They landed on top of it or crashed into it. My religious friends had their explanations too, but those were also couched in words, and as powerful as words can be, they are only handles to carry the idea of something from one person to another--not the thing itself.
True skepticism, of course, ought to suspend belief and disbelief. But who wouldn't want to believe they will be with their loved ones again in some cosmic consciousness, collective or otherwise? Will I never know? Never is a long time - longer than forever, which is only now.
My normal, scientific, empirical mindset is that we only know something by how we have chosen to interpret its sensory effect on us; that our interpretations are rational judgments based on obvious cause-and-effect relationships we can see, hear, touch, taste and feel. But I also know we cannot peer over the edge of our interpretations to see things as they really are.
We don't see what we're looking at. We see the light reflected from the object of our attention and our brain interprets that according to another, cerebral set of conditions. That doesn't mean our conclusions are wrong in an everyday, "normal" way. But it might mean the Cosmos speaks to us in other ways. So I am willing to believe the Cosmos operates in ways that transcend rational explanations and normal evidence; that perhaps the answer to my questions will not always be blowing in the wind.
Perhaps paranormal experiences are one of those other ways, a window through which we can peer over the edge of our sensory judgments and cognitive interpretations. We certainly do spend a great deal of time in our heads, allowing words to dominant our interpretation and our understanding. Only rarely do we get into our bodies to allow color, shape, sound, smell, taste and touch to influence how we interpret and understand the world around us.
How does the paranormal world speak to us?
It spoke to me that morning on the Pacific Crest Trail. No doubt about that. But I have never been able to embrace the experience of hearing something without my ears as proof that consciousness survives death; that death does not disconnect us from this precious consciousness we call life; that we are not forever disconnected from the people we love so dearly.
I want to know, not just believe.
Steve Pavlina says we should choose to believe. We cannot prove life after death by investigating evidence outside ourselves. We can only go inside ourselves for the answer by choosing to believe it. "Work on your consciousness now," says Pavlina. "If this life is all there is, yours will be better by increasing your awareness and sensitivity to it. If consciousness survives death, your next life will be better for the same reason."
Steve's advice resonated with me because it made me remember the wisdom of Josh Cohen, who told me there are two kinds of power. One is passive and the other is active. Passive power is accepting or rejecting things that come to you. Active power is initiating something from within yourself.
Occam's razor says we should choose the simplest explanation, the one that explains unknown phenomena in terms of known phenomena. If you heard hoof beats in Central Park, for example, the right side of your brain might conjure up Unicorns but the left side would associate the clippity-clop reaching your ears as coming from horses. Reason and reality prevent us from extrapolating from horses to unicorns because unicorns are not on the curve of sound, sight and sense. So it seemed unreasonable for me to leave the curve of reality and ass-u-me I had heard a voice from the other side of the moon.
From a scientific point of view, telepathy is unknown because it fails the test of repeatability. Science has no tools to empirically verify telepathic communication. If I claim my experience was due to telepathy, I must invent an aspect of the universe unknown to science.
But scientific facts are repeatable because they are seldom situational or circumstantial. The evidence of a scientific fact must be objective, independent of the subjective way our minds work.
How do our minds work? They function differently depending on the circumstances. So despite my normally scientific mindset, a telepathic link between me and my wife is a valid explanation for what happened that morning. And I don't need the test of repeatability because no other couple can repeat it -- they are not us.
So, since we're still discovering how the Cosmos works, I continue to indulge myself with the possibility that my wife and son are on the other side of the moon--the side I cannot see, touch or hear. Perhaps someday I will join them. Until then, who knows what separation we are meant to bear--normally, paranormally or supernaturally.