Vol. 1 Issue 4, Winter 1997
by Linda Mantini Christen
My paternal grandmother died more than 20 years ago. Countless times I have recalled her face and successfully fashioned an image of it in my mind's eye. I have remembered the pitch and inflection of her voice, as she would open her front door to greet me. "Hello, Doll Baby," she would say, her black eyes smiling and shooting sparks of love.
Even now, I can easily recall the way her permed hair felt against my exploring fingers, when I was eight or nine years old. It felt like curls of cotton, extraordinarily soft and light.
Grams and I spent a lot of time together while I was growing up. And, so, my memories of her are numerous. Most times, they bring me quiet joy. Once in a while, they cause my heart to ache from missing her. That ache rises to my eyes, and tears spill out for a moment or two.
Vivid memories. We've all experienced them. Once inside a vivid memory, we almost feel as though we are reliving that past event.
Indeed, memories deal with the past. Presence is a phenomenon of the here and now. There's no mistaking one for the other. Aside from wonderful memories, I have also experienced my grandmother's formless presence.
The first time this occurred was on the morning of her bodily death. Grams was in the hospital. I was attending college and phoned my mother from the student union, to check on Grams' condition. Gently, my mother informed me that she had died.
I had always written her letters -- from band camp, from the beach, from Uncle Jim's in Philadelphia. But, this time she was the traveler. And there would be no postcard saying "wish you were here." I left for home immediately. When I arrived at our house, no one else was there. Insulated drapes of tan and green brocade stretched across the picture window in the living room. I quickly pulled them open.
Outside, wild cherry trees thrust themselves upward from the backyard's green grass, and patches of azure sky vibrated between the branches. I crossed the room and sat in silence on the couch.
A great tremor, like thunder without any sound, rolled up through my innards and down again. My heart lay shattered inside of me. All thought gave way to the image of Grams suffering. Among strangers. Without me. I lowered my head and sobbed into my hands -- as grief, like a black hole, devoured me.
Then, the presence of some power -- so subtle and benign -- began slowly to permeate my being. It gently loosened each finger of grief from my heart and bathed me in sweet tranquillity. The presence grew stronger as it drew my attention through the picture window.
There, on the slim branch of a wild cherry tree, stood a small, brown bird. Her black eyes gleamed and blinked, as we looked at each other. At that moment, I realized that my grandmother was present.
I don't pretend to understand the "mechanism" by which all of this occurred. Such things are difficult to describe. They occur in a realm beyond thought, for which we have no words. Nevertheless, Grams (or the spirit which had once been Grams) was there. She was comforting me.
At first, it seemed that she was the bird; but her tranquil radiation was everywhere. Perhaps she was using the bird as a focal point for my attention. Focused there, my mind was still and my awareness fully in the present. Thus, I was more receptive to receiving the message she was about to deliver.
"I'm all right," Grams said -- silently. The words came clearly and precisely into my consciousness. The bird lifted its wings and continued to stare at me. " I'm all right, now. I'm happy."
Her message delivered, Grams didn't linger. But, she left me with a gift: as the bird flew away, I was immersed in a complete and profound peace.
I learned much from that experience and ones that were to follow. Here, I will just say that (as we have heard so often) life is a dynamic process, always moving, always changing. That process continues after bodily death, for the mind and body are inert, taking their life from the eternal powerhouse called soul.
I do not consciously try to invoke my grandmother's presence; nor do I think it would be right for me to do so. She comes when she will -- or when The Higher Will bids it. And always when I least expect her.
My husband and I recently moved to a new home in the country. We live on a mountain top called Snake Hill. One evening, as I was unpacking some boxes, I came across the small wooden box in which Grams had kept her handkerchiefs and small personal items. As I slowly pulled each one from the box, I thought of Grams in a new way. I was not so much remembering what I had already known, but learning something new about her life.
It was late evening, and our house was quiet. I sat at my desk inspecting the boxed items one by one, with a kind of wonder and reverence. Her Sunday missal was there; I inspected its cover, glanced through the pages and laid it in my lap. There were three tiny vials of perfume, partially full (distributed by Fuller Brush): Sparkling Gold, Leading Lady and one slim vial without its label. I didn't remember seeing any of these items while Grams was still alive. Yet, they seemed to be charged with her vibrations. I picked up one of the perfume vials and became further absorbed in it.
All of a sudden, Grams was there.
I glanced up, as if I might find her face in the air in front of me. No materialization. But that same ineffable calm and peacefulness, which had overwhelmed me on the day of her bodily death, permeated my being. Her unmistakable love pressed gently through my heart. We communicated without words -- soul to soul.
As I basked within this extraordinary exchange, I wanted it to last and last; but, I knew it would be fleeting. That knowledge, however, did not upset me. Grams has a different life, now (a joyful one, it seems!) and she must live it, just as I must live mine.
At the most profound level, the level of Spirit, we are never separated, anyway. Each one of us has what it takes to experience this Oneness. As all of us have been born of Spirit, spirituality is our birthright. It is not the domain of a chosen few.
Grams reminds of these truths, each time she comes to visit.
Your visits, now, always catch me
You were there. As if my remembering
For a moment
It's cool today on Snake Hill.
Your Presence gathers elsewhere.
©Linda Mantini Christen
Linda Mantini Christen lives in the countryside of Morgantown, WV, with her husband and four canine friends. Founder of EarthStar Herbal Company, she works in the herbal community as a consultant, educator, and writer.
Photo by Robert b. Campbell©1998,All Rights Reserved
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