*This column ran Sunday, Aug. 31. With all the hoop-la of Gustav, it was not posted when it should have been.
Long Story Short, Aug. 31, 2008
Our trip to Houston started as a joke nearly five months ago.
My cousin Dee Dee and I were talking about her dad, my uncle David.
He was my favorite. If you had known him, he would have been your favorite uncle, too (of course, that’s only on my father’s side of the family. Uncle Mack, you know you hold that spot on my mother’s side of the picture).
Uncle David was a force of nature – a storyteller beyond compare, a man who went about noticing those tiny details of one person’s life that worked in the retelling to remind us all of our shared humanity or the humor, even the absurdity, in every day life.
The last time I spoke with him was a few minutes before midnight Dec. 31, 1999. He called to wish me a happy century. I had a party going on at my house and didn’t take all the time with that conversation that I’ve wished I would have many times since. But Uncle David understood; he loved a good party.
A few weeks later, he died suddenly as the result of an unknown blood clot in one of his legs. The clot broke loose and lodged in his lungs. He was there one minute and gone the next.
As strange as it sounds, I have no doubt that his passing was much to his liking. He had talked to me about that before. He wanted to go fast. Although he was barely 50 at the time, he told me he had far outlived his personal life expectancy.
Still, his death left loose ends for the rest of us. Beyond the sadness, there was so much we wished we had said or understood. There was no closure.
That lack of closure is what prompted the conversation last spring with my cousin.
She has moved on and accomplished much since his death, including fundraising for arthritis research, the disease that plagued her dad for most of his adult life. Even still, more than eight years later, she still has moments when she struggles and wishes for that one last conversation with her dad.
Right after she said that last bit about “one last conversation with my dad,” I said, almost as a joke, “We should go see John Edward.”
She said, “The guy who ran for president?”
“No,” I said, “The guy who talks to people on the other side, host of Cross Country.”
I was sitting at the computer and did a quick search to find his Web site.
Sure enough, John Edward was coming to Houston in late summer.
“We should go,” she said with a laugh.
That was all I needed. I love a good road trip for a cause.
Closure for my cousin, the possibility of a conversation with a dead uncle and the spectacle of watching a man “talk to people on the other side” had all the makings of a trip to remember.
We bought the tickets right then and there – before we hung up and had the chance to think about it.
Months later, Dee Dee and I stood in a long, hot line winding through a swanky hotel lobby in downtown Houston. We weren’t alone in wanting to talk to someone on the other side.
We took up two seats in a ballroom packed with chairs. All I could think about was, “In each chair sits a person with a story looking for closure or reconciliation.”
I don’t pretend to know how or understand what John Edward does. It was impressive, and Dee Dee and I walked away with a real sense of peace.
No, we didn’t get a reading. Uncle David didn’t peek through and say something sassy to us, but that was OK. Listening to other people’s stories was like a sort of therapy. Dee Dee and I both recognized the masses of people in that room (and beyond) with a need for closure far greater our own. And in that realization, it was like we knew Uncle David was happy with us – now I know that line will be hard for some to take. For some, it will be easy to say that we – and the 498 other people in the room – were taken by a snake oil salesman.
We all believe what we need or want to believe.
All I can say is this: There’s a lot I don’t understand that goes on in this world, but I do believe in a higher power. It’s possible there are folks out there with special gifts that don’t fit the day-to-day regulations the rest of us know so well. Of course, there’s plenty of room for fraud – and with John Edward and others, there has been cause for healthy skepticism. However, rather than automatically closing off the whole realm as hocus-pocus, I prefer to at least be open to it and see what’s there.
Because, the truth is, you just never know.
My recommendation this week is The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. I loved Monk Kidd’s book, Secret Life of Bees.
Also set in South Carolina, the book starts with the story of the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter — almost always a topic worth of a book.
If you liked Secret Life of Bees, you should definitely read The Mermaid Chair.
It’s all small potatoes when you’re just grateful that your house is still standing. All sources say it could take a while to get the tree moved. For now, it’s one of the local tourist attractions.