17 July 2007

If I don't understand it myself, how can I explain it to you?

"So," says a friend on the telephone yesterday, "How was Lily Dale?"

"Really interesting,"I tell her. "It is a very strange little place."

And then I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to explain how I felt while I was there. There are places on this earth that have a certain feel to them, I can't explain it any other way. When I was a kid, we would spend summers in a small place in the Manistee National Forest, in Michigan. A cottage, a lake, a sailboat, a motorboat, a rowboat, and not much else was there. We would swim, sail, waterski, lounge about in the sun, have evening bonfires where we would make s'mores, and rarely did we leave the cottage. It was as if the place cast a spell on you, that once there, you didn't want to leave. When our time there was up, at the end of every summer, there would be tears as we took our leave of the place. Returning the following year always felt like coming home, even though it never was home, never could be occupied in the winter; the place had little insulation and no furnace, so you'd freeze to death.

Lily Dale felt a bit like that to me, as if it was a place I'd come 'home' to. I spent a lot of time sitting on the porch of the Maplewood Hotel in a rocking chair and reading, time walking around the unusual settlement, some small amount of time taking pictures with my real-film camera. I found it soothing. Very soothing. I spent time in contemplation, took a class on meditation, participated in a Native American sweat lodge ceremony. (Which was awesome.) I did not want to leave. Places like our summer retreat and Lily Dale make me feel like the rest of the world, outside of those communities, does not exist. As if the whole wide world is comprised of this spot, and this spot alone.

Lily Dale is a Spiritualist community. Spiritualism is a religion, widely practiced in the late 1800s. Like other fads, its popularity faded, and Spiritualist communities these days tend to be small. But these folks believe hard. From Lily Dale's website, here's a definition of a Spiritualist.
One who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the continuity of life and in individual responsibility. Some, but not all, Spiritualists are Mediums and/or Healers. Spiritualists endeavor to find the truth in all things and to live their lives in accordance therewith. Sounds all right, not too kooky. I mean, yeah, Mediums, all right, not so sure about that part, but religions outside of my own Catholic experience fascinate me.

There are several books about Lily Dale, I picked up Lily Dale; the True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead at my local bookstore before I went there. Many Mediums are Christian, but identify primarily as Spiritualist. Lily Dale has daily free "readings" twice a day, given by both members of the community and visiting Mediums, as well as student Mediums from time to time. Curiosity is either one of my greatest strengths or one of my big weaknesses, depending on what I allow it to lead me to, so I went to two of the daily readings just to see what it was like.

And it was weird. The Mediums either identify a particular person in the crowd and ask them, "May I come to you?" for which the proper response is NOT a head nod, but a spoken, "Thank you." Or they begin to describe a person that they "see" and wait for someone in the crowd to identify that spirit as someone they knew, who has passed on. Could be mother, aunt, cousin, whatever.

I have a belief in the supernatural, (obviously, witness the fangirl stuff) in that which is beyond our daily perception. Ghosts? Possible. Telepathy? Maybe. Telekinesis? I wish! Teleportation? Wouldn't that be cool! Vampires, ghouls, all of that, as Sam and Dean point out each week, every culture in the world has some lore for each creature. Do I truly think it is all real? Not really. I tend to believe that which is tangible, that which I can touch, see, smell, and hear all on my own. But I do believe that there are folks who have psychic abilities. I don't really count myself among their number, but things do happen to me that I can't explain.

So watching these public sessions with the mediums was both hilarious and hair-raising, by turns. In general, the Mediums who approach a particular person and begin telling them things that the Medium could never just "know" were far more credible to my mind than those who stood at the front of the crowd and began random descriptions.

One of those random descriptions went like this, (I took notes, of course) verbatim.

"I'm seeing a woman in a hospital bed, long illness that she died from. Long time in hospital, in hospice. Older."

And from that very, very vague description, a woman directly in front of me began waving her hand wildly. "That's MY mother!" she nearly shouted. "She had cancer."

The Medium's face lit up and she said, I shit you not, "Oh, wonderful. Lots of love from her to you."

It was all I could do to not crack up. If YOUR dearly departed mother was to appear to a Medium, wouldn't love be the first thing she expressed? The Medium went on to say that the mother was no longer hurting, no longer in pain, she was out of that hospital bed and dancing. Now, isn't that precisely what you would WANT to hear about your mother who died of cancer after suffering for a long time? It seemed to me that so many people were so desperate to be comforted, to believe, that they took the most vague things and turned them in to meaningful messages.

You can also sign yourself up to visit any one of the town's 45 or so "registered" Mediums, a private session, for a fee. I resisted the temptation. I have been to see a psychic, once, about 6/7 years ago, and she scared the shit out of me. She used ordinary playing cards to tell me all kinds of things that I have no idea how she could have known any of. I refused to tell her my name, I refused to tell her how old I was, any identifying details. I left there shaken, and frightened. She knew things that I never, ever, ever talk about, that I've never told anyone. She wrote notes, I still have them. They're a bit rambling, but most of it? She was dead on. It happened. One thing that she was 100% right about? She told me that I should start writing. That I had it in me to be a writer. I did not begin writing until several years after I saw her, but I remembered her prediction with a jolt when I was accepted to write for FitFare.

If I go back to Lily Dale, and I think I will, I might sign up to see one of them. But my natural skepticism just might prevent me from taking any of it as anything more than entertainment and bull.


Dawna said...

Next time you go, can you kidnap me and stuff me in your suitcase?

Lucy Arin said...

Glad to. I think that a small group of us will go back, possibly later in the summer, for just 2-3 days. You'd be more than welcome to join us! Room rates are unbelievably cheap....think about it!

MotherMe said...

I didn't know you went to LilyDale !!! Well, that explains the post about meditating in the labyrinth. I was wondering where you might have found one of those around here!


Lucy Arin said...

I think that one of the older Catholic churches might have one, but I couldn't swear to it. The Cathedral, maybe. I'll have to call the diocese and ask.

I was trying to figure out WTH to DO with my life, and although I didn't solve any mysteries, I think I will prolly go again, next time w/more ppl. Want to plan it?

MotherMe said...

Count me in!