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The other day as I was mindlessly flipping through the TV channels — most of which I find to be useless — looking for who knows what, I ran across something called “The Long Island Medium.”

Here was an exotic looking blonde-haired woman who claimed to be in touch with the dead, and who finds in her contacts voices of comfort, goodwill and forgiveness. Nobody who had died had anything negative to report. Loved ones from “the other side” had only pleasant things to report through this TV channeler. Pardon my skepticism, but I put this this bit of hokum in the bag with Ouija boards and horoscopes.

I have friends who really believe they have had honest contacts with those who have died, and I am more than hesitant to judge anyone’s private experiences. What is true for someone is his or her honest reality. But this TV character had my tongue buried deep in my cheek.

Nevertheless, I am more than occasionally surprised by old memories that come unexpected and are not just conjured by some strange electrical happenings in my brain. From time to time someone I haven’t seen for decades and who has run across my column writes, and I am flooded with memories — some difficult, some beautiful.

Among contemporary sacred rules is “live in the moment.” I think I understand the wisdom inherent in paying attention to what is happening at any instant. I have been helped by following this wisdom when I have needed to pay total attention to someone with whom I am having a conversation and found myself looking over their shoulder at someone across the room. And I admit that there have been occasions when Wendy has accurately said, “Charles, are you listening to what I am saying?”

However, my life is the product of nine decades, and my memories are a critical part of who I am. So much of me lives in the past. Encounters with those from my distant history are particularly precious. 

I get an email from one of my daughter’s teenage friends, and Carol, who died two years ago at 65, appears in my mind, and I hear her voice. 

I get a letter from a former president of my denomination, the Disciples of Christ, and flooding back are the voices of J.J Van Boskirk, Garnett Day, Barton Hunter, Harvey Lord and a host of others I have known in the national church. 

I look at the photo on the wall over this desk and hear the voices of Chuck, Carol, Phil, Judy, Martyn and Woodie, great old friends, all of whom are still alive, and I relive our spirited conversations in the kitchen of the Italian farmhouse we shared years ago.

I look in my files and find a picture of my father, and we hold the conversation we never had before he died. 

When my son, John, would come back from Asia or wherever the ship he worked on took him, he would bring trinkets for our small kids. When I gently caress one of these treasures, John, who died decades ago, bounds into the room.

A neighbor returns from her summer in Maine, and I see again the John Mark, our Penobscot Bay sailboat — and 10 minutes later I see my watercolor painting of that craft recently hung in the hallway by a neighbor.

I hear a dog barking in the courtyard, and over in the corner I see my little dog, Mattie, who died three years ago and about whom I had a recent dream.

It is not all positive, and something will occasionally evoke one of my failures, or I hear the voice of someone I have hurt. If I take too seriously what it means to live in the present, much of my life stays hidden. But then I am reminded that my life is the product of all that has happened in these nine decades. And I worry that age will do something to my memory and I will lose most of who I am. 

So I will pay attention to what it means to live in the present, even as I listen to the voices of all those I have known during all these years. The Long Island Medium may deal in hokum, but being visited by the dead is, for most of us, a precious encounter.

Charles Bayer

Charles Bayer is a somewhat retired theological professor and congregational pastor. 

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