I was about six or seven years old. He was in a black robe with a hood. I don’t remember if there was a scythe. Either way, the identification was apparent. Batman doesn’t become any less identifiable without his cape, and Superman certainly can’t be disguised simply by putting on a pair of glas … oh. Right. Well, still. you get my point.
I knew it was just the shadow of some clothes hung on the bedpost (probably). It didn’t matter, though. It wasn’t the figure, but the meaning, and that meaning was true regardless of whether I was looking at a mythical personification of mortality or a pile of dirty laundry: I was going to die. It was inevitable. From then on, this knowledge was never far from my mind. What was the point to life when it inevitably ended in defeat? Years later, while reading the Dragonlance novels, I felt a deep kinship with the character of Raistlin, a mage who who saw only death whenever he looked at people.
The other incident of import was when my mother blew her hand off. (Don’t worry. She got better.)
It was around the same time, probably the same year. Flo — my mother — was lighting firecrackers on our front yard (it would have been either Dominion Day or Victoria Day) when one blew up in her hand.
Several days later, we were on the front porch. I was colouring on a colouring roll — which was like a colouring book, except it wasn’t a book, it was a roll of paper with pictures on it like a colouring book. Flo and her mother were discussing the incident, wondering whether the firecracker had been upside down, or if the fuse had simply been too short. After a few minutes of desultory conversation about it, my grandmother said, “Well, I guess we’ll never know.”
And that’s when the black hole opened up.
There were some things I desperately needed to know, and prime among them was whether there was more to life than our physical existence, because (as the careful reader may remember) I was going to die!
These two events shaped pretty well everything in my life from that point on.
Rather naturally I took an interest in the occult, but unlike virtually everyone else I met with similar interests, I was after absolute proof. I had no desire to fool myself with false “evidence” just to make myself feel better — I wanted something incontrovertible. “Weird” or “uncanny” simply wouldn’t do. I was after “smoking guns.”
For instance. While I was in high school, I joined The Process. Every weekend Ian and I would go into Toronto from Malton to help out with whatever needed doing. As we were leaving to go home one night, we discovered we didn’t have the money for transit fare, which meant we’d be hitchhiking. Not unusual. We did it a lot. We mentioned this to Brother Cyrus as we were leaving. He stood there for a moment and then said: “You will go up to Bloor Street and turn right. You will get picked up by the third car. After that you’ll get a ride in the fourth car that passes, which will take you home.”
We told him he was wrong because if we were hitchhiking home, we’d be going up to Bloor Street and turning left, not right. Nevertheless, Cyrus remained adamant about his “prediction.”
On our way up Yonge, however, we discovered that we had missed some change in our pockets, and it turned out we had enough for the subway. When we got to Bloor we turned right to go to the subway station and made a joke about it. When the train arrived we realised we were entering the third car. At the end of the line, we had to start hitchhiking because all the buses had stopped running. With Cyrus’s prediction in mind we counted the cars — not very frequent at that time of night. As the fourth car zoomed past we laughed, determined that when we saw Cyrus again we’d kid him on being wrong.
And then the car stopped, backed up, and the driver asked if we wanted a lift. We were actually relieved when it turned out he was only going half-way to Malton, since it would finally disprove Cyrus’s prediction. Except, just as he was getting to his turn off he said, “Oh, what the hell, I may as well take you the rest of the way.”
And so it turned out that everything Cyrus had told us was correct.
My point is that as strange as this incident may have been, it was most certainly not a “smoking gun.” Too many variables. Too much room for interpretation and coincidence.
Here’s another one.
Still in high school, during the summer, I was at a friend’s place in his swimming pool. Ian was there, along with George and a couple of others. All of a sudden I got the strongest feeling that my mother needed to talk to me. I got out of the pool, and they asked where I was going. “Flo wants to talk to me,” I told them. “I have to call her.” They followed me into the house to watch me make the call. As soon as she came on the line, Flo said, “Oh, I was just trying to figure out how to get in touch with you.” I no longer remember what the message was, neither does she, but that incident became part of our group legend.
Again– although odd, and perhaps even evocative, it is far too subject to coincidence. It was not incontrovertible evidence. (The same is true, incidentally, of the Zombie incident.)
In short, it was not a smoking gun.
I have only three of those, but because of their nature, they have at least shown me that any belief concerning a purely materialistic determinism is insufficient as an explanation of life.
And that’s what the next three posts will be about: my three smoking guns.
They’ll also be much shorter.