Bill Philipps and Me
The gifted medium and psychic Bill Philipps asked me to write about my experience upon meeting him, first in front of an audience of three hundred and then in a private session. This retelling first appeared in his best selling book, Expect the Unexpected and since then, I would not be surprised if it was the most passed around story on the internet.
About two months after my husband of thirty-five years Dr. John Flowers passed, weighted by grief but trying to slowly step back into life, my friend Joy and I headed to the Apple store at the Irvine Spectrum, a massive outdoor mall.
Just so you know Joy: She used to be a high six-figure plus executive, but now runs a number of
charities. She is short, voluptuous, gorgeous, full of fun and spunk and lots of humor; one of my favorite people. Despite a very happy marriage, she is a skilled flirt; men of all ages are attracted to her. Even if she is out of their league, most men recognize a diversion when they see it.
It begins when I see a sign that reads: Bill Philips, Medium. The show starts in twenty minutes. Price tag? Twenty dollars.
“Let’s go,” I say on impulse.
“To see a…” Joy examines the poster. “A medium? Jen, are you kidding?” Joy is as skeptical as they come, but then so was I at this point.
Skepticism goes beyond disbelieving all things not nailed down by science and processed by a materialist view of the universe; it basically boils down to critical thinking skills. Though I could never declare atheism as an identity, connected as I have always been to the mystery of life, I am a world class pro at critical thinking.
Additionally, John and our son Jonpaul were both immersed in the literature of atheism: Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Sam Harris, Letters to a Christian Nation, (two of Jonpaul’s favorite scientists) Christopher Hitchins, God is Not Great. They both strongly believed that when you die, you go kaput; there is a period at the end of your sentence. John was even a card-carrying member of the Skeptical Inquirer.
Related side note here: We once met Michael Shermer, the debunker of all things that go bump in the night, at a convention where John was speaking. In an elevator. I have even conversed with the famous skeptic.
“Mr. Shermer, my husband and I are big fans.”
“Thank you,” he said politely.
Still, I feel as if I know Mr. Shermer; I’ve read a lot of his writings. His famous debate with Deepak Chopra on the reality of transcendence is deeply moving. I remember reading Mr. Shermer’s conclusion to this debate out loud to John and Jonpaul; it is an explication of the beauty, power, and magnificence of the universe and how this is transcendent enough for any thoughtful person. At this time I appreciated Mr. Shermer’s skilled discrediting of many New Age phenomena, especially mediums. People like Bill Philipps. I can honestly say I know every trick in the book.
Suddenly, inexplicably, I would like to witness this first hand, how the mediums manipulate people.
I knew how to bribe Joy. “I’ll buy you a martini.”
We rush to the Apple store and make it back just as the show is starting. Three hundred or so people crowd the space. Our martini arrives just as the announcer introduces the medium Bill Philipps. Joy and I exchange smug, knowing smiles.
Bill Philipps is not what I was expecting. Handsome, tall, thin, he is young and gay as all get out. He exudes a kindness at odds with the obvious showmanship; he manifests an exaggerated theatricality the moment he steps onto the stage.
Mr. Philipps first explains how the magic happens. “They are crowding in now…” and he is to convey what the ‘spirits’ are saying. “Please do not call out,” he repeats three or four times like a schoolteacher.
Joy and I are ready, mildly buzzed from the martinis.
First, he sets us up with a brief meditation exercise. Joy and I are serious yogis (who occasionally down martinis, grateful we have never had the need to attend twelve-step programs) and honor the request as best we can beneath our mild inebriation.
The lights go dim; the music New Age.
The audience greets his pause--one filled with what I imagine is a pretense of concentration--with utter silence. As if we too might hear the voices crowding in. “Ok… I’m getting a Steve…”
I snort knowingly, roll my eyes; Steve is one of the most common names. The miracle would be if no one knew a dead Steve.
“He’s young, nineteen. Who knows Steve?”
“My nephew! Steve! He was nineteen!”
Bill holds up his hand, stopping the middle aged woman from saying anything more.
“He’s telling me he passed three, maybe four months ago…”
“He’s telling me it was an overdose. He’s showing me a bottle of pills…”
“Yes! They rushed him to the hospital but… he didn’t make it.”
Another long pause against a silent, solemn background.
“She must be a plant, an actor,” I whisper.
“Was there sexual confusion?” Bill asks. “Was he gay?”
I whisper, “Of course, it is a gay ghost!”
“The law of attraction,” Joy nods, smiling.
“I don’t know,” Steve’s aunt is saying. “We always thought he might be…”
“He was really struggling with his sexuality and his parents. He felt rejected by his parents, and he didn’t see any way out.”
The woman is nodding. I see her up front. Her arms are crossed over her heart, her mouth is open, she looks, frankly, dumbfounded, amazed. Excellent acting skills, I think, probably a professional out of work actress.
“It was his time. He didn’t realize how much his mom and you love him. He knows that now. He wants you to know he is very happy… He’s sending you and his mom love…”
Then, it gets really weird.
“Do you drive a red convertible?”
The lady nods. “Yes…”
“Is it a Mustang? He’s showing me a red convertible Mustang.”
“Yes, a 2003.”
“He loves that car. He’s telling me you let him drive it once.”
“Oh! On his birthday two years ago. We went to his favorite restaurant and I let him drive…”
Bill nods sagely. “Are you remodeling your kitchen? He’s showing me boxes and, well, construction in your kitchen. It looks like one big mess.”
The audience laughs with Steve’s embarrassed aunt.
“You’re painting the living room, too.”
“He doesn’t like the color you picked. A pale yellow?”
The woman tries to justify the yellow paint choice, which, of course, is impossible.
My thoughts tumble in confusion. Why would a ‘spirit’ mention this? What about the spirit world? Is he with anyone? Are there billions of spirits there? Are they grouped according to geology? Family? Religion? Would there be like a Catholic heaven, a Muslim one, a Native American Great Spirit co-op? Do dead Mormons get that infamous personalized planet to play on? Has Steve seen God? If so, don’t we want these details?
Steve fades as soon as his aunt has squared her remodeling plans with him. Bill starts listening to other spirits.
“Lyle… Does anyone know a Lyle?”
“My husband!” another middle-aged lady calls out. “That’s my husband.”
“He’s telling me he died… I’m getting a hospital bed and some kind spinal injury, something to do with his spine?”
“He had a spinal tumor—”
“He’s showing me May 12th? Does that mean anything?”
“That’s his birthday!”
“And what happened in January? I’m getting January 4th?”
“That’s the day he died! He was in the hospital… and—”
“He’s showing me a beach where you and he got married…”
“Yes, yes. We were married in Hawaii.”
“Joy,” I say her name as a plea for help.
Joy smiles. “He’s pretty good.”
“Are they all actors?” I whisper, confused by the specifics of the information. According to all the books, the ‘medium’ is supposed to ask twenty questions rapid fire before they get a hit, and then zero in on that information, creating the illusion of clairvoyance.
“Lyle is telling me he saw you fall the other day? You were… dancing?”
Lyle’s wife laughs. “I was wearing high heels, I’m too old, and well, Vegas…”
“A recipe for disaster,” Bill laughs, the sound light and infectious. “He’s showing me earrings? Have you got new earrings?”
The lady fingers her earrings, telling the audience the details of this most recent splurge.
I am thinking the Improv’s employees must have fed Bill’s assistants audience members’ names on credit cards and he has an accomplice back there, Facebooking people to obtain personal information. Or perhaps actors are littered throughout the audience. Joy and I and a few other people are the only ones not in on the game. We paid; the other people are paid.
I know one of the bouncers working. Tall, black, handsome man. He recognizes me from a while ago when I talked to him about giving Jonpaul a job there. A brown almost black belt, Jonpaul is six-four, two hundred pounds and he doesn’t drink but he loves comedy—it seemed a perfect fit.. I slip away and find Mike in the back.
“I don’t get it? How is Bill Philipps doing this? Are you people feeding him our credit card information?”
He laughs. “We would never do that!”
“Then is it actors? Does he plant actors in the audience?”
“No, no. He’s the real deal. I had a grandma who had the talent.” His face softens, his tone fills with love. “She was amazing! Used to read for the whole town. There are people with the gift, people who channel folks who have passed. Bill Philipps is one of them.”
I return to my seat. I share the exchange with Joy.
“Maybe John will come through,” she now says.
Strangely, the idea never occurred to me. John would never condescend to show up at sideshow entertainment of this caliber. In fact, if John were still present in any form, a big if, he would be mightily amused that I am here, watching.
After some pretty specific, very strange readings, Bill asks the audience if there are any questions.
My arm shoots into the air.
He moves towards us in the back. A microphone appears in front of me.
“I am wondering why the, ah, ‘spirits’ are interested in such mundane aspects of our lives?”
The whole audience turns to stare unkindly at me. All three hundred of them.
This question, I realize too late, is a major psychic show faux pas.
Indeed all kindness disappears from Bill’s face. “You. Think. This. Is. Mundane???” He throws his arms up in exaggerated disgust and turns away. The whole audience continues to glare at us. “I have nothing to say to you!”
Joy and I shrink behind our martini glass.
The story is later repeated at our book club. We laughed and laughed, but my mind goes over and over what we witnessed. How did Bill Philipps do it? He knew exact dates! He knew names and how people died; it wasn’t heart attacks or cancer, the most common causes of death, which is what they warn you about in the debunking the medium books. Nor, did he ask twenty questions before he got a hit. He hit and hit, again and again. I try to convince myself there were multiple actors in the audience, but he would need at least a dozen actors to have pulled it off.
The possibility of something else begins to unsettle me.
I turn it over in my mind. I discuss it with Jonpaul who finds the subject amusing from the start. “Mom, mom…” He directs me to read this book: The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland. I read the book, but I know all this. I try desperately to see the show through the familiar tricks outlined in the book, but none of them apply. None of it explains what I witnessed. Rather, it conveys only what Mr. Rowland imagines happened.
There is a fascinating book Supernormal by Dean Radin, which reviews the arresting history of psychic research, but most scientists dismiss the thousands of scientific journal articles proving psychic phenomena as ‘statistical anomalies’, even well done meta analysis. After reviewing the accumulated research, one mathematician commented, there is something wrong with our statistics.”) Like Mr. Rowland and so many others, scientists begin with the assumption psychic phenomena is not true and then armed with absolutely (I hesitate to say perverse) certainty, they go to work from there.
John always explained that our human imagination creates reality. If there were a tape of the event, it would differ significantly from my memory. I remind myself I am indeed an imaginative person.
Still, something is set in motion. Doubt does not belong only on one side of this issue. Fueled by an examination of many psychic incidents populating my life, a universal experience, I find myself suddenly looking at my experiences with wonder.
Since losing John, at times I sense John’s love protectively descending over me. This too is a near universal occurrence after losing someone you love. The powerful experience feels as real as the time, enjoying a long distance swim in the ocean, a baby gray whale swam under us and I reached out and gently brushed her side with my fingertips.
My perspective shifted by these hints that there might be more to this material world and perhaps a good deal more. I continued experiencing John’s love pouring over me; it was becoming harder to imagine that I was imagining this. Pieces kept falling to earth; even though John and I love classical music, every time I heard the Cindy Lauper’s song, Time After Time and the words, if you’re lost you can look and you will find me…If you fall, I will help you, tears wet my eyes as if I heard him speaking to me.
All this was to prepare me for the tsunami that followed.
Our son Jonpaul died months later of MRSA.
I could write a book about what I went through losing first my husband and then eleven months later our son Jonpaul, the two brightest lights in my life and I will not try. I trust my readers to understand without exposition and it can be summed up with these three words: I knew grief. A mother's grief, which is a universal and familiar story. This grief persists without interruption month after month, year after year starting from the day Jonpaul died. It had the power to drop me to my knees in tears right there in the middle of the supermarket or at the DMV; it made me wonder if a person could become dehydrated from crying, it changed me forever. I was a broken person.
Suffice to say this greif, deep and profound, busted my heart wide open.
Let's just zoom ahead to my session with Bill Philipps.
In many ways Bill Philipps saved me. That first encounter with him at the Irvine Spectrum presented the idea that John and Jonpaul were not really gone. The idea of transcendence, if not dismissed, had been set aside as unknowable—the understanding that we live in the material world, but there exists a spiritual realm interacting with our world in meaningful ways. As I walked through the whirlwind of grief, as my family and friends gathered around me to hold me up with the wealth of their love, things started happening to me. I felt Jonpaul’s love coming through. I felt he was attempting to communicate with me.
So, I made an appointment with Bill Philipps.
Please note, dear reader, I am pretty much transcribing from a recorded conversation. And, not being stupid, it is a blind reading. I provided a fake email address and a fake name. I paid with a money order, and I gave my friend Steve’s untraceable phone number.
First though, this happened: Two days before the appointed time, missing Jonpaul fiercely, I visit Jonpaul’s Facebook page, which I had only done twice before. I post this message: I would give my life to throw my arms around you one last time.
While I typed these words, I notice something strange on his Facebook page. Jaime had posted our favorite picture of Jonpaul there. It was taken by our lovely neighbors, Adrianne and Tammy, both LA Times photo editors at the time. He is three years old and wearing his sister’s baseball mitt. This is one of the few pictures that hang in our home; I am intimately familiar with it.
Right off I notice the Facebook picture is different than the original. There is a bright light surrounding him, shooting out from his form. Looks like… wings. I study it intensely. The light confuses me; I don’t understand how it got there.
I am suddenly awash in emotion; I am missing him to the depth of my soul and yet I feel a powerful emotional current. I start crying. My mom and Joni, my oldest friend who is living with us to help me during this time, rush into the office. They examine the Facebook picture. We look at the original. The light is missing.
“Wait,” Joni cautions, remembering. “Jaime took the picture for his Facebook page from the original. The light came from this.”
The explanation makes perfect sense.
Later, with I discover the rest of the story.
Bill Philipps’s office is in the middle of the industrial part of Costa Mesa, just west of South Coast Plaza. I arrived five minutes early, parked and got out of the car. The modest building is populated mostly with tax accountants. My destination is at the far end of the hall.
Bill Philipps is waiting for me in the hallway, standing there, reading his phone. He wears board shorts and a tee shirt, flip-flops. I am wearing worn Levis and a silky red sweatshirt, and flip-flops. He greets me with a smile, and we shake hands. I am struck by two things. He is much larger, and taller than I remember. He exudes a warmth that translates to kindness in my mind.
“Come in, come in.”
We step into his office and he closes the door. It is about fourteen by fourteen feet, not a large space. His couch enfolds me in comfort. Candles and books sit atop the coffee table. Bill sits in a chair, directly across from me. The light is dim; there is soothing elevator type music playing.
“Now Jane isn’t your real name, is it?”
“No, it’s not.” A good guess, I think. “It’s Jennifer.”
“Jennifer, okay. Did you have trouble finding me?”
“No, google maps are a modern life saver.” Nervously, I explain: “I hope you don’t mind giving a blind reading?”
“Oh, no, of course not. I actually prefer it. People usually give me too much information and it interferes with the reading.”
This is a surprise. Can it be true? My plan is to not speak at all. I have decided to confirm any hit with a nod, but that is all. “Good.” I smile. “It will help me, I think, if it is a blind reading.”
“Would you like to record this?”
Bill appears distracted, as if, literally, he is hearing things.
“Can I?” This too, surprised me.
“Of course. Sometimes I say things that won’t make sense, but later you understand what they mean.”
I am thinking: yes, this is what happens. Later people’s minds have had time to generate patterns that don’t actually exist. This is one of the exact tricks mentioned by debunkers.
I take out my phone, turn on the recording app and set it close to him on the coffee table.
The rest of the conversation is transcribed from the recorder.
“Okay, Jennifer. Right off I am getting three men. Masculine energy. All three are Js. You have a lot of J’s around you!”
In fact we do. James, my father, John, Jaime (after my dad) and Jonpaul, but I do not offer this information.
“First. An older man. He passed maybe twenty years ago. He’s above you, meaning, a father? Yes, he is your father… Did your father pass?” When I nod, he adds, “J…James, was his name James?”
Again, I nod, but James is probably the second most popular male name beginning with a J, after John. It could be a good guess.
“And he passed twenty years ago or so?”
“Twenty-three years ago.” So accustomed to the give and take of conversation, I forgot not to speak, to add any information. I renew my determination not to provide him with any more details.
Bill nods distantly; it seems very much as if he is listening to something I don’t hear.
“He had heart trouble. He’s showing me his chest region.”
This is one of the common tricks, I know. Most likely cause of death: heart disease or cancer, but, it also happens to be true in my dad’s case.
I nod. “He died of a heart attack.”
“Okay. He’s showing me a shovel, and gold, something with a shovel and gold, like gold mining?” He seemed confused by this. “Yes, something like gold mining? Does that mean anything to you?”
This gives me a huge pause; I decide to share this bit of information, “My dad’s favorite vacation was panning for gold; we often went panning for gold.”
“That’s it,” Bill laughs. He appears tickled by the connection. “I couldn’t tell what he was showing me….”
I am thinking that it is a pretty darn good coincidence. Not completely impossible, but…
“Okay, he’s telling me he loves you very much. He’s telling me he couldn’t always express it…”
My dad? Not once in my life did we part without him saying, “I love you, darlin’.” My dad’s love was a tangible force in my life; we were very close. “No, he was always telling me he loved me.”
I realize at once that this was not from my dad. This was what Bill told other people, mostly because many fathers, maybe most fathers, have difficulty expressing love. It would also come as a sweet comfort for many people to hear this after someone passed away.
My suspicions are confirmed. I am probably wasting my time.
“Oh, okay… Well,” Bill attempts to recover. “He’s saying he didn’t express it enough.”
Really, not at all true; the opposite is true.
A long pause follows.
“He’s telling me he is with a woman. She is on your mother’s side? Older, maybe a grandmother? Her name starts with a M, M E R… Do you know who this is?”
“My mom’s mom, my grandmother, was named Merle.”
“Yes! He is with her, on your mother’s side.”
At this point my thoughts are spinning crazily. Ridiculously, I say, as if needing to correct him, “My dad wouldn’t be with my grandma. He never even liked my grandma.”
“Jennifer,” Bill chuckles, as if I were a very young child. “It is not like that there. It is different in the spiritual realm. There’s no animosity, no dislikes. Besides, they were both gamblers, right?”
That is an excellent guess! My grandmother, like my Dad, was a pretty serious gambler. Keno, Bingo, slots, she lived for it, played every day she could, would go to incredible lengths to get to Reno where she commanded four or five of the ridiculous one armed bandits.
“Has your mom passed?”
I shake my head.
“Is she getting ready to pass?”
“Ohmygod!” My hands cross over my heart. “Don’t say that.”
My panic cautions him. Holding up his hand, Bill quickly switches gears. “Okay, Jennifer, I’m getting the other two. It is kind of confusing, separating them. One is also a J. I’m getting a John. He is older. He’s… is he your husband?”
“Is his name John?”
I slowly nod.
“He died… he is showing me April 10th. Does that mean anything to you?”
My heart leaps to greet this auspicious date. I can’t describe what happens at this moment, but adrenaline shoots into my body and as if preparing for danger, all senses go to high alert. “He died on April 10th.”
“He was seventy-four?”
I am slowly nodding again.
“He’s showing me his chest region, too. Was it his heart? Did he have a heart attack?”
“He’s telling me he was a teacher… A university? He was somewhere… different when he passed. In another city? He was doing something important… It was something he cared about, something important. I can’t make out what?”
He was with his students, presenting papers at a convention in New Orleans, but I do not offer information he does not have.
“He loves you. Oh, yes, lady,” Bill laughs, “You are surrounded by his love.”
Tears manifest in my eyes; I am moving towards being overwhelmed, but I realize I am waiting for Jonpaul. Almost impatiently, I am on the emotional edge of my seat.
“Okay… I’m getting something… I’m a little confused.” Bill lets out a huge sigh before pausing for a long minute. “The other one is younger, much younger.”
Blood rushes to my head; I cannot speak.
“He’s younger. A John too? No, like John but different somehow…”
His name bursts out of me. “Jonpaul.”
“Oh… Jonpaul. He is young. He died… was he twenty?”
I shake my head.
Bill seems to ignore this. “He was in his early twenties then?”
I am nodding.
“He died recently. I’m getting March 11th. This year? Does that mean anything to you?”
“Yes,” I say in a whisper of emotion.
“Who is he to you… he is family?”
“My son. Our son. John and my son.”
“Oh, I am so sorry… Okay, okay, now I get it. That’s what’s going on. They are together. John and Jonpaul.”
My hand covers my mouth. I cannot see through my tears. The idea that Jonpaul is here, with John, that they are together. My heart cannot bare it. Literally, I am afraid of the emotions surging through me; it is like waking from a nightmare to find yourself in an unexpected landscape, one where you are safe.
John and Jonpaul are together…
Bill hands me a Kleenex. Then there are no pauses with Bill’s words:
Jonpaul wants you to know he is happy, very, very happy. He’s trying to help you; he’s been trying to help you. Ohmygod Jennifer. He loves you so much. He’s showing me how he died. Something to do with blood. His blood… an infection? Did he have a blood infection?”
“MRSA,” I manage to say the word.
“MRSA?” Bill repeats. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what that is?”
“It’s an antibiotic resistant infection that went into his blood. It formed pockets around his heart valve and well, he didn’t make it.”
Bill falls silent, staring off at the floor, deep in concentration. Several minutes pass. “He wasn’t supposed to leave yet; it was before his time, maybe two years, I’m getting. Okay, is there some guilt surrounding his passing?”
I am unable to answer this.
“He wants you to know there is nothing you could have done. You really need to know this. He wanted to leave. He was never going to be here long. He and John are very, very close. I’m getting, okay, the three of you have had many lives together. John and Jonpaul always leave together in every life…”
I hear these words. I do not think of these many lives we have had together; I am unsure if I can even believe this at this point. The idea is too startling and in a meaningful way, inconsequential to me. The thought that seizes my mind is that they always leave together.
I swear to God, I am thinking, What about me? Why do they always get to leave together? Bill is unaware of the ridiculous regression of my sensibilities; he continues pretty much unabated:
“Okay, he loves you. Wow. You are very close.”
“We were very close,” I repeat. “John, Jonpaul, Jaime and I…”
Bill nods. “Wow…” His hand goes through his hair; he stares off to the side. “Okay. They’re telling me you’re a writer?”
I am nodding, but I don’t care about this. I only want to know why they would go together and leave me behind. How could they? It seems so unfair, so selfish of them.
Bill offers me an interested smile. “That’s exciting. What is it you write?”
By rote: “Most of my published novels are historical romance novels, but also children’s novels and screenplays and two plays.”
“O! Yes, yes…”
Another long pause. “They really like what you’re writing right now. Something about them? You’re writing a book about them? Your memories?”
It is, in fact, this text, which will be book someday, I hope.
“They really want you to finish this. There is someone else with them. An older woman on John’s side. Another M name. Mar… I’m getting a Mar…”
“Marion, John’s mom.”
“Yes! She is sending pictures of ladybugs. Does that mean anything to you?”
John's mom collected ladybug pins. I thought it was such a goofy, endearing quirk. I kept one after she died; it is in my jewelry box at home.
I am perched on the emotional edge of hysteria at this point. This is so not expected. My dad, my ornery old grandmother, John, Jonpaul, Marion. Here. Now. Bill connects to them: Bill is speaking for them.
I am witnessing a miracle.
“Someone else too. Another M name. A male. He is with Jonpaul. Max, I’m getting a Max?”
Can I be blunt? Here is what happens when I hear this: It is an intrusion on my reverie, the astonishing, incredible, heart lifting idea that John and Jonpaul are, well, not kaput! They are still with me! For a long minute, maybe more, I am so dumbstruck, I cannot think long enough to wonder who Max is. I honestly do not care.
I try to catch up. With effort: “Jonpaul had a lot of friends,” I manage, but my thoughts are spinning so hard and fast, I can barely breathe, let alone form coherent thoughts. “I don’t know a Max.”
(Later, about the third time I listen to the recording, I suddenly wonder if this is the Max who had the famous debate in high school with Jonpaul: Jonpaul argued that love is no more than a chemical reaction in the brain, while Max, deeply religious, argued that love is a gift from God. This debate was made even more famous one week later when the beautiful young man Max died in a car accident. Max’s death had haunted John, Jonpaul and I for almost a year, before I fictionalize the story and wrote a play, The Weight of God. One of the themes of this story is a mother’s grief, as if I needed to prepare myself for what was to happen. Now, this story I wrote begins to resonate with even more layers of meaning. )
“Jonpaul is coming in loud. Humm…”
I wait on the edge of my seat.
“He is telling me he sent you a story a while ago. You were driving in the rain. You were thinking about him and something, I’m getting rainbows? A children’s story? Something about death and rainbows? Does this mean anything to you?”
Bill laugh is one of the most delightful. He is triumphant, pleased. “Jonpaul sent that to you. He also telling me that something happened yesterday or the day before, I can’t tell which. You were looking at your computer… his Facebook page? It was pretty intense. Did something happen?”
I manage to tell him what happened.
Bill nods. “He was there. He was with you.”
“They’re showing me San Francisco. I’m seeing San Francisco… Like, they want you to move there or—”
“I am from San Francisco.”
“Yes, that must be it… They’re also telling me there is someone else… a female. Another J name. My god, there’s a lot of Js around you! Who is this? Do you have a daughter?”
“Yes,” I manage to nod. “Jaime, our daughter, Jonpaul’s sister.”
“They’re showing me September 9th. Does that mean anything to you?”
“It’s Jaime’s birthday!”
“You were walking with her the other day? I’m getting something about a medical career. Is she thinking about medical school, becoming a doctor?”
“She’s a school psychologist. Right now she’s getting her Ph.D. while she works in a high school. It’s a great job, but well, the other day, while we were hiking, she started wondering if she should go to medical school. She wants to help people, kids. Just switch careers.”
“They were there; they were listening. Jonpaul is telling me Jaime has something in her car… something that connects her to him? Like… something that belongs to him? No… I can’t tell what this is… I’m not getting it… Do you know what this is?”
I shake my head.
“He’s telling me it is very meaningful to him. He wants her to know he is there when it happens.”
(Hours later, as I am telling Jaime, I ask her: “Do you have anything in your car that belongs to Jonpaul?”
After a thoughtful pause, she says, “You know me. I’m like you. I don’t keep knick-knacks.”
“Humm,” I say. “That’s what I thought.” I proceed to ramble on when she interrupts me:
"Wait. There is something. Oh, mom. I don’t know. I’ve been playing this game while I drive to work. I think of him as I listen to the radio. I ask him to choose the next song. Then, when the song comes on, I try to find meaning in the song. It makes me cry when I do this, because every song is about love and loss…”)
Back to Bill:
“Also, does she surf? Jonpaul is showing me her on a board in the ocean? What does that mean?”
“She does surf, but she paddleboards all the time. It’s her favorite thing…”
“Yes, he is with her when she does this. He is watching over her, keeping her safe…”
I hold up my hand to stop. My mind is spinning.
But Bill ignores this as he does the clock that says our hour is up. “Jonpaul is telling me something else. Something happened. You were in another city… New York? He was trying to connect to you. I’m seeing an old lady and…”
There seems no point in holding back now.
Through my heightened state and tears, I manage to tell Bill what happened in New York at the ballet. Along with thousands of other people, I was watching the New York City ballet Firebird. Right from the beginning, I sensed Jonpaul's presence. It overwhelmed me and made me silently weep while the Firebird played out on stage. I was thinking, unfairly, how could you do this to me? How could you leave me like this?
Simultaneously, there was a very loud electric buzz. So pervasive and loud and unrelenting, it was ruining the ballet for everyone. People complained, of course. Sound engineers eventually arrived. No one could determine the cause, until during the intermission this little old lady rose and left for the restroom and the buzzing followed her. Apparently, her hearing aid somehow amplified the speakers electricity.
The old lady returned to her seat. The problem was fixed, but this being New York, people were spitting mad. I admired the diminutive creature's courage, when suddenly, she stood up again and turned all the way around. There are hundreds of people surrounding us, but she is looking straight at at me. She crosses her hands over her heart and mouths the words, I am so sorry.
Chills raced through me. People turn to stare at me, like, what the heck does she have to do with it? But I knew it was Jonpaul speaking through this old woman and eyes wet with tears, I mouthed the words, "You didn't mean too. I know, I know..."
And then she shot me the most beautiful smile I have ever witnessed.
Bill goes silent for a long time after I share this story. "You don’t need me, Jennifer. You three are very close; you’re very connected. They are surrounding you with their love.” Bill radiates kindness and love. “Jennifer, you don’t know how lucky you are.”
My world has just changed and I know, even in this moment, that it is not going to be a small change. I am unable to speak; my brain feels on fire, as if fueled by high octane information.
Still crying, hands over heart, I finally get up to leave. “Bill,” I confess, “you don’t know how hard this was. You don’t know John and Jonpaul. They were hard core empiricist, atheists—”
“Not anymore,” he says with a smile. “You were meant to come here, to teach you to connect to spirit. They are right there, surrounding you with love. You meditate, right? You need to use it, and your writing. It will… well, it will not just help you. That’s what I am getting.” Then, as if he knows, “Jennifer, may I hug you?”
I am nodding, but something else slips into my awareness. Bill is almost as tall as Jonpaul. He has the same broad shoulders. He does not seem that much older.
I step into Bill’s embrace. His arms come around me. I feel his love, but just for a second before it becomes something much more, an answer to my most fervent wish: I would give my life to throw my arms around you one last time…
I suddenly cannot let go…
And then I stumble out into the bright light of a Southern California sun.
I am still trying to make sense of these experiences; I know I always will.
Transmigration of the soul. Reincarnation. I had always felt it had to be a product of our human imagination. Transmigration of the soul into a mysterious spiritual realm, a realm that exists outside of the material world and yet interacts with it in meaningful ways. This seemed too fantastic to be true. I thought if humans were to create the perfect system of belief to mitigate the awesome nothingness of the end, one that was both psychologically and spiritually satisfying, we would come up with reincarnation. Yet, this is the world presented to me now. These are the keys John and Jonpaul dropped for me, keys that unlock the mystical experience at the heart of our being.
Imagination, George Bernard Shaw wisely said, is how God speaks to us.
I read a dozen books describing reincarnation events, but the stories, while often extremely compelling and sometimes convincing, could be products of the imagination. Like millions of others, this search led me to the work of Dr. Michael Newton. His books Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls expose decades of adventures into the past lives of his many clients. Dr. Newton’s story started as he was a practicing psychologist like John, but he also employed hypnotism to help with anxiety problems. Occasionally a client would ask if he would do a past life regression, but he politely explained that he didn’t believe in this. Then, one time a client, in deep hypnosis, began describing a past life where he was apparently an ice delivery person in New York in the late nineteenth century. In this past life he died in a violent accident. Dr. Newton was so startled by the picture his client painted, he investigated and was able to verify many of the pertinent details. This sent Dr. Newton on his own journey investigating people’s past lives. He collected hundreds of past life stories. Whenever possible, he was able to verify historical details through records. He finds valuable therapeutic connections between past lives and current problems and uses this with reputed success in therapy.
Here’s where it gets interesting. At some point Mr. Newton has pretty much heard it all: Roman peasant, Chinese shop owner, French farmer, African slave—you name it and Dr. Newton has probably been there with a client. He suddenly starts wondering: what about the time in between past lives? What is the spiritual realm?
He began regressing people here, to the spiritual realm, the time and place between lives on earth.
These books describe his clients’ reporting of this place.
It is a fantastic portrait.
Is it real? I don’t know, I don’t know how I would know.
John, when he was alive, would say this: There is no proof. The strange and fanciful world described my Dr. Newton could be the equivalent of a fantasy novel. He is right. There is no scientifically verified proof, because the experience, even of millions of people, does not qualify as proof.
Yet, this does not make the experience of the spiritual realm less, because to experience the transcendent in life is to make us infinitely richer. Even many hard-core atheists understand this. If people, like me, who struggle between information and imagination, empiricism and the brushes with a transcendent reality, if we just shift our perspective slightly and first find peace with the mystery enfolded in being alive, then we are able to live our lives in celebration of it.
The awakening to the reality of the spiritual realm deepens when Jonpaul’s story is viewed as a whole: That kid’s unusual character, the startling messages leading up to his passing; the deeper ones arriving afterwards. My whole life now seems like a collection of these pieces falling to earth, and each one is a manifestation of the great mystery of our lives.
The mystery is infused with meaning and beauty.
The pieces keep falling and my busted wide heart lets me catch them. Daily. Miracles that surprise and delight and fill me with what can only be described as mystery at the center of our lives here. Often John and Jonpaul appear in dreams. The dreams, full of symbolism, inform my consciousness in strange and unexpected ways, but sometimes the dreams just fill me with love and happiness: John and I will be laughing and waltzing, flying over a dance floor until our feet no longer touch the ground. Jonpaul and I will be moving together through a star filled space. I am too embarrassed to describe how, in this dream world, we will stop to listen, hand in hand, to the pulsating universe and experience a powerful transcendence that resonates days afterwards. In ‘real’ life, I have learned how to experience their love in meditation, pulling it from the spiritual realm and sending it back to them, a connection best described as a velvet bridge.
I no longer ask myself if it is real.