Last weekend, by the convergence of some very strange forces and circumstances, I ended up at a group reading with the Long Island Medium, Teresa Caputo, along with a co-worker, a roomful of strangers, and a camera crew. It was 8:30 in the morning on a Sunday, and I’d barely had enough coffee to be able to stand, which added to the strangeness of it all. My co-worker Julie put together a brunch and the Long Island Medium was to show up as a surprise. I hadn’t seen the show before, so when Julie invited me, first I had to say yes (because I no longer turn down social plans that I find scary) and then I binge-watched the first season in a day.
Though I knew what the surprise was, when Teresa walked in, my gasp at seeing this bleach-blonde, larger-than-life TV personality with nails like porcelain claws and covered from head to toe in leather was genuine. After the screams subsided and TV crew set up, I sat in a semi-circle with these people I’d never met while this woman who claims to talk to the dead began to “read” us. With this kind of psychic stuff, I’m equal parts believer and skeptic—I constantly flip-flop between buying it and rolling my eyes, but how many times in life does someone get an opportunity like this, right? So I went into it with a somewhat open mind.
She dove in quickly with the opposite side of the room, and I learned about the pain of strangers that day. Everyone there had been touched by loss in very profound ways, and every story moved me. These people that I was terrified of when my introverted self first walked into the room, felt an enormous sense of closeness and compassion for each of them as she ticked down the line.
I prayed to God that time would run out and she wouldn’t get to me. My prayer, however, was not answered. This woman has one of those intense, uncomfortable gazes that make you feel ashamed because she’s seeing every secret buried in your dirty, dirty soul. That gaze looked my way, and I got nervous. My grandmother came up first. “Who’s the mother figure that passed on this side of the room? Could have been a grandmother.” This followed with some other details that made me speak up despite myself. “You feel some guilt about not spending more time with her before she passed. Your grandmother says to let that go.” Commence the first round of tears. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s before she died of pancreatic cancer. The Alzheimer’s scared me, and my weekly calls turned into bi sometimes tri weekly calls because I was scared of what I was going to hear on the other side of the line. I always felt like a coward because of that, and given the chance to do it over, would have called every day, if not two or three times.
But here comes the kicker. She’s talking to someone else and pauses. “Who’s the father that passed? Name of Frank? Or Philip?” Before I could stop myself, I spoke up again, “That’s my dad.” That laser focus, like Sauron’s Eye in a studded leather dress, rolled back toward me. “He apologizes for not being there,” she said. “He’s learned an important lesson on the other side, and he takes ownership for the mistake he made by not being there for you.” My skeptic vanished in that moment. I rarely ever talk about my dad; I hardly ever think about him. But this was touching something deep, and as this roomful of strangers watched, with a camera firmly planted on my face, and a very large microphone at my feet, I lost the fight to hold back sobs. She told me that he’s also sorry for the residue that this left behind; “does that make sense to you?” she asked. I said it did, I felt it did, but in the days after, I understood it much better. It’s this orphan feeling I carry around with me—no mom, no dad, no one to rely on if things go wrong, it’s profound loneliness. It’s always been there, and it’s forced me to make decisions based on safety rather than happiness; it’s put me in relationships I didn’t want because I just needed to be liked. That’s the residue. “He’s sorry for it; he takes responsibility for it. He says you can let it go, and he’s proud of the man you’ve become.”
OK, so it’s going to take more than an apology from a brassy medium to forgive a man who truly defined the term “dead beat dad,” (sorry for the pun), but it helped in some way. I’m still not entirely sure if I believe she talks to the dead. To be honest, I don’t really care. I do know that she’s enormously intuitive and perceptive, and that I got something valuable from it—permission to let that crap go. Something was quietly profound about it, and I think I’m still digesting it all. But I realized that the intention of this happiness work that I’ve been doing has all been about cleaning up this residue. And with her laser-like intuition, a TV medium opened up another layer to this work.
Julie, if you’re reading this, I am grateful to you and for letting me take part in the most surreal brunch I’ve ever attended. It was a random act of kindness on your part, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to gain a little more insight. My 4th decade is starting off with quite a bang — it’s a strange bang, but a bang nonetheless. Now back on that bike!
21 weeks until the ride, but it’s only 1 week until a much more terrible and daunting event. Exactly one week from today, I turn 40. I know, I know. When I hear people complaining about turning 30, I think, “Poor you, asshole. Quit your crying!” But these changes in decades feel big, and despite meditation and acts of kindness, my brain keeps taking it to a dark place. In fact, the darkest of places—an incredibly harsh evaluation of all life decisions to date. Yes, my internal voice (which incidentally speaks like Julia Child now because I binge-watched the first season of her show) keeps running on a recorded tape loop about how little I’ve done in my 40 years, how much I’ve failed, how stuck I am, and that pretty much (no, every) life decision has been the wrong one. The 5 tasks take me out of it momentarily, but Julia’s voice steps right back in, whisking new terrible ingredients into this soufflé of regret.
But in the spirit of this blog and in this work that I more and more realize requires constant vigilance, you are going to witness the transformation. Right now, as I type this, I am vowing to throw the regret soufflé on top of the compost heap piled high with all the other items of self-hatred that I’ve worked so hard to throw out these past few months. Instead, Julia’s going to talk me through something less delicate than a soufflé—something more sturdy, like one of those weird, hard loafs of German bread that are shaped like bricks and just as hard. And instead of honing in on 40 years of mistakes, I’m going to focus on this last year—the year when I clawed myself out of a self-imposed grave to finally get to some sunshine, when I got some articles published, when I made some new friends, when I made some changes to better myself. And I’m going to focus on the year coming up—the year I dedicate myself to a crazy fitness goal, the year when I have the chance to make new decisions, do new things. Damn it, 40 is going to be the year of hope! 40 is going to be the year where I look forward instead of constantly back. No, scratch that, it’s going to be the year when I am grateful for every present moment and realize the hope in every second!
OK, that last part is just crazy. That’s too lofty a goal. Sorry, the Julia Child in my head got really carried away—you know how she gets (have you ever seen someone get so worked up about omelets? Jeez!) But there’s some truth there. I can be grateful for what I have, I can choose to think differently, see differently. And now we have our hopeful German bread. Thanks for bearing with me as I work through that.
I went for a bike ride this Saturday that was a little longer than the ones I’ve done in the past, and for some reason it was a particularly hard one for me. At one point, while climbing an especially long and seemingly never-ending hill, I really wanted to give up, but I was many miles away from home so there was no other option but to keep going. And as much as I didn’t want to, as much as it hurt, I had to keep pedaling. And it wasn’t so bad. No, I’m lying. It hurt like hell. But I got to the top of the hill and had the amazing pleasure of coasting down the other side. I don’t mean to get all cliché with the life is like hills and valleys thing, but this fear of 40 brings that moment to mind. I think that’s a better way of looking at my 40s, at any decade that I might have the privilege of entering—just keep pedaling and you’ll get there. And with that, I’ll see you when I’m 40.