20 years later...
It was a sunny November afternoon in Florida. I was visiting a friend
at a nudist (clothing optional) resort, of all places.
Now before you get all carried away with visions of orgies and immorality,
a word please...
I had been led there...a very unlikely place for me...by a series of curious events.
First there was a dream which depicted all the elements that were about
to unfold in that direction.
Then I met a retired special needs teacher from Canada at a Reiki conference. She befriended me as soon as I arrived and within minutes invited me
to be her guest at the resort in a few months time.
Without thinking, I accepted the invitation.
Then I panicked! What had I done?
She tried to relieve my apprehensions. She and her late husband
in the movement for 17 yrs. No harm had come to them.
She would be my host and assured me that all would be well.
So when the time came to embark on my misadventure,
I packed the biggest pair of sunglasses I could find, along with
an enormous beach towel and an oversize men's oxford shirt.
I wasn't taking any chances!
After a walking tour of my new surroundings, I situated myself at the quiet end of the resort with a book. My friend had excused herself to run an errand.
I tried to relax in these unfamiliar surroundings.
I chose a chaise lounge by the pool. I needed to take this new experience
in small bite-size pieces.
A few minutes later a man entered the pool.
Thank goodness he was in up to his neck, I thought.
When I glanced sideways at him, I felt an unexpected jolt in my gut...
an instantaneous attraction.
That was not convenient!
He was nice looking but I would not be getting mixed up
with anyone from this place!
I tried to read, but I couldn't shake the feeling.
I was uncomfortably aware of him.
It felt like it might be mutual after a minute or two.
Good Lord! I wanted this to be simple and uncomplicated.
Just a little time to kick back in the Florida sun.
I could feel that he wanted to approach me.
I kept my nose in my book and prayed that if we were supposed to talk,
that he would approach me in a good way and if not,
that he would be kept far away.
A few minutes later, he swam over to me and asked a polite question or two.
That broke the tension.
I could sense what kind of person he was.
Safe...not a creep.
We exchanged a bit of information about where we were from...
just the usual things.
Then we somehow shifted into a quick recap of his personal story
and how he had come to winter in Florida for the last 22 yrs.
It was strange the way his very personal story tumbled out so quickly...
in the space of only 4-5 minutes.
As he shared his story, I felt myself becoming strangely excited...on edge.
It was almost as if a special atmosphere had enveloped us...
We were in our own bubble.
Out tumbled far more story than he had intended.
He was from northern Indiana...raised in a pretty conventional Christian home.
After graduation, he set up his own business, saved up enough money to buy his 1st house and proposed to his long-time girlfriend.
She grew up in the same church. They were a happy young couple about to embark on their life together.
She entered Bible college that fall, a typically naïve and trusting young woman. No one could have foreseen that their lives were about to come crashing down!
A few weeks into her first semester, his fiance' was raped by the founder's son.
The young woman was so damaged as a result of the rape that she was committed to a mental hospital...never to emerge.
Everyone involved was devastated.
Their engagement was broken off just weeks before their wedding.
The young man's father then suffered a massive stroke.
JT (not his real name) sold his house and moved back home to help care
for his dad.
Still in shock, he tried to pick up the pieces of his shattered life.
Not very successfully...
He lost his religion and his life took a hard left.
He never married.
He became deeply cynical. Nothing mattered anymore.
Over the years, he drifted downward into every kind of vice.
My heart was racing by now! And NOW I knew why!
I blurted out "I KNOW that guy!!!"
We compared details...Lester Sumrall's Bible school...his rapist son!!
Yes! Yes! All there...
The same Bible college Susie had attended...
The same son that feigned a spiritual interest in them before attacking them.
The same threats, intimidation, lies and cover-ups.
We were set up to meet alright!
What were the odds that 2 people would meet over an experience like this?!
And so began an unlikely friendship...
Under the bad-boy exterior there was a wounded soul.
As I listened to him, I knew there was a good person in there...
maybe even a diamond in the rough.
But the chasm between the two was wide.
I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing in his life,
but we kind of fell in together, taking walks, playing tennis.
More long talks followed.
Under normal circumstances, he would be the kind of person I would run
from for so many reasons, but day by day I had what I could only call
'a peculiar grace' in dealing with him.
I followed that grace...even though
it was sometimes hard on my reputation and my sensibilities.
We were at opposite ends of the spectrum morally.
He was a swinger, voyeur and a sex addict.
More by default, perhaps, than anything.
He figured he was a lost cause spiritually, but I saw him as wounded
Over a year and a half of spending time with him, he began to heal
the rift between himself and God.
He slowly, but steadily emerged from the low place he was in.
He left the lifestyle, moved outside of the nudist resort and even began
to attend a good church.
He came a long way...a diamond in the rough, for real.
He began to trust again and open his heart.
He was ready for a real relationship along healthier lines now.
He also provided safety for me in the nudist experience,
as well as an education that I was going to need in the near future
though I could not have foreseen that at the time.
Now, as I said, this story has legs...
One morning, as we sat across from each other at our favorite breakfast place,
I looked up at him, my vision shifted and I saw something quite unexpected.
Suddenly I saw heavy burgundy drapes behind him...like old velvet theater curtains.
I blinked but they didn't go away.
Then I watched as a finger lifted the drape and a face peeked out
from behind the curtain for a brief moment.
It was a man's face with dark eyes and a little Cheshire cat grin...
Then he lowered the curtain.
Not a word was spoken, but there was a message in this apparition.
Moments later my vision returned to normal.
It was my father's face! My deceased father's face!
What a shock! In a burst of understanding, I got the picture!
Those two were so alike!
My father, who I couldn't help...the man that made my young life a hell...
was just like JT. Of course, he was the kind of man I would run from.
He was everything I couldn't be around.
Suddenly I understood the 'peculiar grace'.
From the very beginning, I had a curious kind of compassion for JT.
Day by day, there was insight and understanding that got me through
I somehow knew everything. I had been guided and shown what to say,
when to say it, when to button my lip.
It was eerie how I knew everything day by day.
I was made patient and kind in ways that were way beyond my capacity.
I had been helped...
My dad who I couldn't help was helping me help JT...from the other side!
It was like he was doing community service work from the other side.
A story needs to be inserted here...
My dad was a difficult man... He was angry, combative, bigoted.
We were beaten with his belt most days.
He was a sex addict married to my frigid mother.
Unfortunately he turned his attention to me. She looked the other way.
His obsession was a torment from grade school to graduation.
Though there weren't full sexual relations, much damage was done.
I spent much of the next 2 decades trying to heal and have a normal life.
Having gone through the various stages of healing, I finally distilled everything down to a single wish.
In the end, I just wanted him to say he was sorry.
But that was NEVER going to happen.
He was unyielding, defiant, too proud to even consider such a thing.
In the intervening years, we would exchange a phone call or two each year.
Our contact was obligatory and superficial.
Every call followed the same pattern: a 20 minute racist rant
followed by his news and a brief minute to ask what was going on with me.
Finally, after many years, I very gently said "Dad, I'm glad you called,
but could we just skip over this first part? How are YOU doing?"
I just couldn't listen to the hate speech one more time.
There was a shocked silence.
Then I heard the irritation in his voice as he caught me up on his life
and hurried to end the call.
He voted with his feet that day. We never spoke again...
So for the last 5 years of his life, I had no idea where he was
or what was happening.
A long silence.
One afternoon, 5 years later, I was sitting on my houseboat quietly reading
my first spiritualist book, "The Eagle and the Rose" by Rosemary Altea.
That day there was no TV or radio. It was uncharacteristically quiet.
I was totally absorbed in the story when suddenly I felt dad's presence
float into the room!
It was the first time that I experienced anything like this!
He floated in and hovered above me to the left, just beyond reach
in the low-ceiling room.
I could not see him but I perceived him.
He was about the size and shape of a pillow...a form like a dense cloud.
I felt his personality so clearly.
There was no mistaking his dark angry eyes! There was no one like him...
I was shocked as I realized he had died!
In the next moment, I somehow perceived him to be standing in a brilliant
light...a searchlight in which nothing could be hidden.
It was a kind of burning experience.
There was now no place to run, no place to hide, no possibility of escape
or denial of all that he had done in his lifetime.
He was being forced to see everything he had done...all of the damage.
But not only the damage, but the ripple effect the damage would have throughout each person's life.
He saw the pain and suffering that would result from his terrible actions.
It was beyond agonizing...
He experienced the awful reality of what he had done.
This was a kind of hell beyond what is described to us by those
who might only imagine what goes on.
He was shocked out of his denial and thrust into the reality.
As he stood there taking it all in, I perceived the torment and anguish
he was in.
Then something so unexpected happened...
He cried out "I am SOOO sorry!!!"
The words he would never say...
I heard it. I felt it. Finally...after all these years.
I 'knew' that this would never happen.
I certainly didn't expect these words to be uttered from the other side
of the grave!
Soon after, I heard him ask "Can you ever forgive me?"
I had a sense of free will. It was up to me.
I was not being rushed into an answer.
This was real...not a matter of sentimentality.
I took time. I considered everything carefully.
In a curious interlude, I briefly re-experienced all of our history.
I understood everything so differently from this new perspective.
My requirements had been met.
I felt that justice had been served.
I answered "Yes...I forgive you."
Communication after death is telepathic...mind to mind...heart to heart.
I felt/heard him say "I love you."
It was the first time he'd ever said those words to me. It was genuine.
Everything was somehow easier, lighter. I said "I love you, too, dad."
And then a few minutes passed in quietness and then he was gone...
vanished...as cleanly as he had appeared.
Looking back on it, in the space of about 20 minutes, I went through
the shock of his passing, we did business, we exchanged love and I mourned.
Could it have really been so easy...?
Three days later, I opened the mailbox and found an envelope
that contained a newspaper clipping of dad's obituary.
In the weeks and months that followed, I kept checking myself to see
if I was really ok.
Was there any residue of suffering or anger regarding what he had done?
Was the slate really wiped clean?
These things can't possibly be resolved so easily and quickly...
But, try as I might, I could find nothing but peace where all that pain had been.
No effort...no wishful thinking. It was real...
I felt him around me from time to time over the next few weeks.
It was healing...a comfort. And then I didn't feel him anymore.
I accepted that he had moved on, perhaps.
He made his next appearance a few years later...quite literally.
The man behind the curtain...