There's what I think I want, and then there's what the Universe has in mind for me...
or, in other parlance...
If God has never interrupted your plans, then you have probably not made His acquaintance...
Esther handed me the keys to her upstairs apartment with a twinkle in her eye and a sardonic "Happy landing, kid!"
Old Esther would prove a source of many surprises over the span of my time with her.
I had just arrived at Camp Chesterfield, one of America's last remaining Spiritualist communities. I had given myself a writing assignment.
My plan was to interview some of the older women who were purported
to have been born healers.
It felt important to actually live on-site among the various psychics,
healers and mediums to get an authentic feel for the place.
Esther had a quaint 3 room bedsit for rent above her living quarters.
I negotiated the lease period with her. I was pretty sure I could meet
my goals in a month or less...3 weeks ideally.
Esther seemed keen to have me stay for 3 months, however.
It was a small matter to me, so I went along with the arrangement,
knowing I would be leaving much sooner.
She would be welcome to the rest of the rent money.
I wrote out the check for the full amount and handed it to her.
Esther studied the check for a moment.
When she looked up, she did so with a discerning eye.
In a few succinct sentences, Esther went on to describe my relationship
with my mother in considerable detail.
Given the complexity of said relationship, that was quite a feat!
I was to discover later that Esther was an accomplished handwriting analyst...
Esther had married into Spiritualism. Her husband passed into spirit soon
after they wed, leaving her childless and in possession of a house on the grounds of Camp Chesterfield.
She lived into her 90's, content with her state as a widow.
Indeed, it left her free to pursue her metaphysical studies.
She was broad-minded in her understanding of the world and cultivated
many like-minded friends.
I always appreciated a Sunday invitation to her book-lined parlor.
There I would find a gathering of farmers, retirees and the like...
a Sunday salon of highly self-educated people.
Modest in appearance, but impressive in mind and spirit.
I was to find that these homely Midwesterners had put to the best use
the advantage of time and few distractions that the heartland affords.
They cultivated their minds as well as their fields.
Never again would I look down on these humble-appearing folks.
An afternoon discussion might range from metallurgy to meditation, comparative religion, archaeology, ancient near east history, meteorology
and political analysis...along with great stories.
It was a lively gathering of explorers in many realms.
I marveled at their accumulated knowledge and wisdom...
Esther was a free thinker, by nature a studious person.
Though she made no claim to psychic abilities or gifts, she was a keen observer of life, which may be half the ability in itself.
She was deeply attuned to her surroundings. She lived her life at a pace
that made perception of subtle influences a natural occurrence.
I had chosen Camp Chesterfield for its history.
There was a period of heightened spiritual activity in the mid to late 1800s
that has always fascinated me. The 'Great Awakening' was a move of Spirit
throughout the English-speaking world.
Places like Camp Chesterfield, Lily Dale, N.Y. and Cassadaga, Fl. were born
in the era of those colorful and compelling experiences.
The few remaining communities from that era were places of inquiry, development and practice of the principles of Spiritualism.
By the time I arrived on the scene, many of the legendary personalities
had passed, but a remnant remained...eyewitnesses to the phenomena,
fellow seekers themselves, who had seen the movement in its modern heyday.
Though I had an inkling that I would find a tarnished version of the original,
Esther knew the full extent of what was to come...
hence, the "Happy landing, kid!" in her welcome.
Making the most of my time among these people was paramount.
There were a lot of stories...living history...that needed telling.
I would attend classes and services, make friends, gathering
all the experience and knowledge I could.
I'd had such experiences for decades.
The pace had picked up in recent years with Kundalini awakening,
healing and other mystical experiences.
I hoped to find like-minded people to work with.
Three weeks should do the trick, I thought...
A couple of days after I arrived, I had a little sense that I might be there
a bit longer than planned. It was springtime. I could stay till fall, if necessary.
'I don't do winter,' I thought emphatically.
With that in mind, I ventured into town to check things out and pick up
a couple of things for the apartment.
I was in Walmart, when I noticed a woman with thick eyeglasses staring at me from a couple of aisles away. Thinking that she had mistaken me for someone she knew.
I turned away, intent on my shopping.
A few minutes later, I turned to find her standing right in front of me.
She stepped close and peered at me through her thick glasses for a long minute.
Not a word was spoken.
Then she suddenly stepped back, put her hands on her hips and declared
in a gruff voice "You're a massage therapist, ain't ya?!"
I jumped back startled, and answered "Well yes...sort of...kind of..."
She wasted no time. She got up in my face a second time and peered into my eyes
for another long minute. When she stepped back the second time, her whole demeanor had changed.
She spoke in a refined voice, tinged with authority.
"It's time for you to go to work now."
With that, she turned and walked away.
I stood there stunned. 'How would she know THAT about me!?'
I was recently retired from day trading in the stock market.
I was travelling and writing now.
Thai massage had been an avocation...one of my off-beat pursuits.
I had given it away for 10 years just to keep my hand in.
People in America weren't ready for Thai massage back then.
I left it in the background of my life...an avocation.
So who was this stranger fairly accosting me in Walmart?
And why wouldn't her words go away?
They stuck in me like a barb...
When I got back to Camp, I tried to put the incident out of my mind.
Welcome distraction came in the form of old Milo, the camp carpenter
who had become my unofficial guide to the place.
He could be counted on to clue me in regarding who was genuine
and who was a fraud.
He sidled up to me, speaking in a conspiratorial tone,
"Debbie, I know you're disappointed with what you're finding here,
but we want you to know that Spiritualism is real. Why don't you come out
to the farm tomorrow and we'll do some table-tipping?"
Table-tipping? Where had I heard of that before? Childhood!
My mother, who was interested in all things metaphysical,
had dabbled in that with a neighbor when we were little.
She would love for me to try it. I was game...
The next afternoon, I met Milo and his wife at their farm.
A tall, elegant older woman arrived, bearing a small folding card table
from the 1930s that had been reserved for this use.
We gathered around and placed our hands on the table.
Soon a vibration could be felt across its surface.
The vibration grew in intensity until the entire table was shaking.
I didn't know what was animating the table, but I was certain that
there was no trickery in this simple setting.
It was quite eerie to me, but my companions were well-practiced
in these things.
When the table began to rock back and forth, my host surprised me with
"Ok, Debbie...ask it a question!"
I blanched. I froze. I wasn't mentally prepared to ask a table a question!
I deferred, unwilling to participate.
The table rocked more vigorously.
They all encouraged me to try, but I just couldn't do it.
I tried to force myself. They were doing this for my benefit, after all.
But I froze even more, my mind confused and stalled out.
They continued to encourage me .
I realized that I did have a question...only one...but it was one I didn't want to confront...
'Was I supposed to listen to the woman from Walmart?'
Ridiculous! Unthinkable. But it was still stuck in my mind...
I was at an impasse. I couldn't utter a word, no matter how hard I tried,
but my question was clear.
I started to 'think' the question, as though rehearsing it in my mind.
What happened next was a complete shock!
The very moment I began to 'think' the question, the table started to buck wildly. Everyone's hands flew off the table. It had a life of its own!
The table rotated until one leg of the table was planted between my feet
while the other 3 legs rose high in the air, pinning me against the wall!
"That's a YES!" my new friends cried exultantly...as if this was the most normal event in the world!
"Make it stop!" I cried in response...having finally found my voice.
The up-ended table lowered itself back to the floor with a clatter.
The demonstration had proved successful.
I began to realize that this 'stuff' is real!
No doubt, no trickery.
'I'm supposed to listen to the woman from Walmart!?'
I was incredulous!
Surely the gods jest! Not here! Not now! I have other plans!
'I am too good to be doing massage for a living!
After all...I am a world traveler! I am retired!'
'I am a THIS!...and a THAT!' I sputtered on...
'This can't be!!!'
I was dogged by the thought night and day.
I decided that I would not simply accept the assignment
on the basis of those 2 events.
I would put things to the test in my own way.
I set up a fleece*...and a second one.
The answers came clearly...and in the affirmative... Unbelievable...
The question of how to implement the direction followed next.
I was resisting all the way...
"Get a job." I heard.
"But," I whined, "I've been self-employed since I was 22!
I don't even know HOW to get a job."
"You'll figure it out." came the dry response.
The first place I walked into hired me on the spot!
I was not pleased...
To make matters worse they asked me to start later that day.
Everything was happening way too fast!
I asked for a few days to consider the offer and left.
They called begging me to come to work that afternoon.
Scarcely two hours later, I reported for work, wondering if I even
remembered how to give a proper Swedish massage
(I had trained in Thailand with a brief stint in the US for my personal edification).
As I started to put my hands on the first client, something unexpected happened...
I felt the ceiling above me open in a wide arc.
A substance...something very warm and wonderful flowed down
over my head, on down my arms and out of my hands.
It was beyond description.
The sheer power of it took my breath away...
In that moment I surrendered finally.
'Oh my God!' I thought, with the first glimmer of understanding.
'This must be the time...and this must be the place!'
With that, I began to do the work...
I knew in that moment that a gift had been poured in...
The unexpected calling was confirmed.
It would be weeks before I could articulate what I experienced that day.
I had felt warm oil being poured over me...a literal anointing.
The pieces of the puzzle began to fall in place...
I began to think about my unique and profound experiences
in Thai massage. The same was true of hands-on healing.
I had given the work away for 10 years out of love,
knowing what it had done for me.
There was a darkly humorous moment when I recalled
my graduation from US training some years before.
I had looked heavenward and said, "I'm pretty sure you'll never
call me to this work, BUT, if you do, don't call me before I'm 50!"-
the inference being that I wouldn't tolerate the kind of disrespect
that massage therapists often get when they're young and pretty.
The declaration was immediately forgotten- there was no chance
I would choose that vocation.
This was the year I turned 50...
The 2nd woman I met that day had a daughter who was wheelchair-bound
after a bad accident. She had been through so much.
I could not get that child out of my mind.
I knew that I had a piece of her puzzle in the Thai massage.
A few weeks later, I made the call to the family.
"Could I work on your daughter for little or nothing?"
I had rented a studio and fixed it up so I would have a place to work
off the clock. I needed time with this one.
I left the job a few days later so I would be free to give people
the level of care that was needed.
I was finding my way...
I still hoped that my stay would be temporary...just a few months more.
But after I got the girl out of her wheelchair, word of mouth spread
and I never left.
So many things had conspired to keep me here.
I had come to study Spiritualism and to explore human potential.
As Esther and Milo knew from hard experience, Camp Chesterfield
would have little to offer, but in the unexpected revealing of destiny,
my work became my teacher.
*The concept of “putting out a fleece” comes from the story of Gideon
(Judges 6). When God directed him to gather the Israelite troops to defeat
the Midianite invaders, Gideon wanted to be sure it was really God’s voice
he heard. He asked for a sign. He put out a piece of wool overnight and asked God to make it wet while keeping the surrounding dirt dry. In the morning,
the fleece was wet enough to produce a bowl of water when it was wrung out. Gideon’s faith was weak, so he asked for a 2nd sign-this time to keep a fleece dry while making the surrounding dirt wet. God answered and Gideon was finally convinced of God's direction.