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  Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

The Undead

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Not only is Halloween right around the October corner, but this week has a Friday the 13th in it. If that's not enough to get your hackles raised, it's time to reconsider the Bridey Murphy Syndrome.

Way back in the mid-1950s, one of the most famous celebrities in the world was Bridey Murphy. She could not, however, appear on Oprah, 20/20, or Dateline. She couldn't even be interviewed by Barbara Walters. Why? Because she was of the undead -- the not alive, not of this world, not flesh and blood. She was a supernatural creature who surfaced when a Colorado woman named Virginia Tighe, who was alive, underwent hypnosis.

When Bridey came out of Virginia on the hypnotist's couch, we learned that she had been born in 1798, lived in Cork, Ireland, and died in 1864, never having lived anywhere else. Virginia herself had never even been to Ireland, at least not in this life. Skeptics tried to debunk Bridey, but a book about her life, which may or may not have been a "life" as we know it, became a best seller and was made into a hit movie starring Academy Award-winning actress, Teresa Wright. Everyone wanted to believe that Virginia truly had been Bridey back in the 18th century, thereby proving reincarnation to be a reality, validating our own immortality, and providing the hope that death was impermanent. What a concept! Those of us who live in ghettos now might end up in a Beverly Hills mansion next time around. Or better yet, Harry Truman will come back to the White House; dead or alive, he'd be welcome. Nationwide discussions ensued about who we thought we might've once been.

In the 1980s, another Academy Award-winning actress, Shirley MacLaine, had otherworldly experiences which convinced her that, in another time and in another body, she had an affair with the grizzly bearded emperor Charlemagne (768-814). "Three quarters of the Earth's people," says MacLaine, "believe they have lived before and will live again; thereby enabling their Soul's journey a continuous learning experience." Well, yeah, that certainly makes the thought of dying less scary.

While I choose to go along with both Virginia and Shirley because it's more comforting to stick with the spirit or soul or whatever it is inside us that's not quite of us, than believing when it's over, it's over, I cannot agree with Carl Jung, who's considered the founder of analytical psychology. I beg to differ with his comment, "As a rule, reincarnation means rebirth in a human body." Why do I beg to differ? Because my dog used to be my mom.

Moppet isn't even a human being, let alone a female, but he's mom all over again just the same. When we go for a drive, he sticks one arm out the open window just as she did. I find myself wordlessly consulting Moppet, "Is this a good place to stop?" and "Are you too tired to walk some more?" and "Want to eat now?" I can ask those things without speaking, just as mom could telegraph her thoughts by a look or a gesture. Moppet can't quite put his hands on his hips, as she did, but he can roll his eyes, shake his head in disagreement, and knit his brows. All very momlike. Of course, he also occasionally flings slobber which mom never did, at least not when she was sober. That's okay, raising kids doesn't entitle you to sainthood. One of the few differences between them is that mom was Catholic, and Moppet's a Born-Again Eunuch.

When I make a decision he doesn't agree with, he can give a look that's just like hers: a frown above pursed lips. I may be looking at Moppet's face, but she's the one telling me I should think it through. She gets as many of her opinions across to me as a member of the undead as she did when she was right in front of me.

Mom was an avid knitter; Moppet wears a hand-knitted red sweater when it's cold enough outside to snow. Moppet's also extremely patient, waiting for his daily walk until I'm good and ready. Mom was the same way, except on school days when her patience would thin out with each passing moment I dawdled.

Mom had a sense of humor and would occasionally impersonate popular performers of the day, while Moppet did a mean impression of Elvis's sneer that time I took him to Graceland and the left side of his upper lip got caught on his tooth. You can't kid me, mom, I know you're in there.

If Carl Jung were alive today, I could prove to him with these facts that mom's inside of Moppet, plus the best proof of all: mom didn't smoke and neither does Moppet.

Instead of reincarnation, I'd prefer preincarnation; I'd like to know who I'm going to be more than who I used to be. In that way, I could plan ahead. How much better it would've been for Bridey Murphy to know that, one day, she'd be leaving Ireland for America and become Virginia Tighe, and for Charlemagne to understand why his mistress was always lustily singing "If My Friends Could See Me Now."

As for Carl Jung, he never met my mom in her sling-back jack boots, so he wouldn't recognize her in Moppet. But next Friday, the 13th, when superstition rules the night, I'm going to treat him well by taking him for a long walk.

I'll be very careful not to step on any cracks.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" >
October 10, 2006 column
Email: maggie@maggievanostrand.com
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