There are two kinds of people in the world: believers and skeptics. George Bernard Shaw said: "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.
Sober or not, I fall pretty comfortably into the skeptical category, though I'm not quite as jaded as my mother. She can't even watch a magician without saying: "It's a trick."
"Of course it's a trick," my dad says, "but the illusion is fun."
"It's just a trick," says my mother.
Her sister, my aunt, reads her horoscope pretty regularly. When my mother says that she doesn't believe in horoscopes, my aunt says: "Of course you don't. You're a Capricorn."
On the Zodiacal chart, I'm Virgo, often described as: perfectionistic, anxious, hardworking, self-sacrificing, reliable, logical, observant, helpful, precise, interfering. I am all of those things.
Virgo is also described as cold, fussy, inflexible, introverted, fastidious, health conscious, fit, and emotionally secretive. I am none of those things.
If I am sitting in a doctor's office and if there is no good celebrity gossip to read, I will glance at my horoscope. Sometimes I agree, somethings I don't. But do I believe? No. Nor do I believe a single word that tarot card reader told me at that party last summer.
In fact, the older I get, the less I believe in much of anything. The folly of youth seems to be to believe that things will simultaneously change completely (for the better) and yet never change. Experience shows that fashion and technology change, but that human nature does not.
The belief systems of the world's religions have never seemed particularly helpful to me. I worry enough about this lifetime to spend much energy worrying about the next. I'd like to believe, as many ancient cultures do, that everything has a spirit, but I don't really care whether a rock has an inner life and I don't want to have to worry about the soul of that mosquito I just snuffed. One of the big reasons that Judaism appeals to me is that it offers more questions than answers. That seems right. Answers are elusive, maybe even irrelevant. It's the questions that count.
On the other hand, some things aren't even worth questioning. They just … are. And despite a pervasive skepticism, I do believe in a few unbelievable things. Like most parents, I know for a fact that my babies are miracles. Life itself — the spark of it — is miraculous, even if it is just a random accident rather than divine design.
Part of this miracle that it is finite. Our lives are limited and unpredictable, and most belief systems seem to stem from our need to answer the answerable: where do we come from, how long will we be here, where do we go? I don't believe that anyone really knows, at least not for sure.
I don't believe in ghosts, either, but I do know that my grandmother came to say goodbye to me when she passed away 12 years ago. She was in Michigan when she died, and I was at home in bed in Chicago. She came to my room and told me not to worry, that everything was fine and that she loved me. I saw her standing there, by the door. She didn't speak, yet I heard her clear as day. My inner skeptic didn't even question it.
You don't have to believe me. It doesn't matter whether you do or not. If you need proof, however, I did wake my husband to tell him. He patted my hand and told me to go back to sleep. When my mother called at 6:30 in the morning to tell me the news, my husband was wide-eyed and my mother had no idea what I meant when I told her I already knew.
This week, my father's sister passed away. I was lucky to get to visit her one last time a few weeks ago. As sick as she was, it was still a shock to hear that she had died so soon after our visit. I'm glad I got to see her in person, because she did not visit me when she died.
I've been lucky — my direct experience with death has been limited primarily to elderly relatives who have lived long lives. Perhaps that is why I haven't looked for further explanations.
I know people who have experienced traumatic or unexpected loss — through illness, accident or senseless violence. They often seem to want answers, or at least reasons. I have one friend who lost so many family members in such a short time, that when they moved to a new town, the first thing her son wanted to see was the cemetery. I have another friend who lost her dear husband of more than 60 years, but talks to him regularly … and he talks back. I have no doubt that she hears him.
My friend and fellow writer Shari Brady recently wrote about her belief in the paranormal, and how she uses it as inspiration for her fiction. In many ways, I think fiction writers are all trying to work out our control issues. Through writing, we have the power of life and death. Even better, we can write an entire life and then change it in rewrite.
Maybe it's a Virgo thing, since there have been many famous Virgo writers including (to name just a few): William Rice Burroughs, Taylor Caldwell, Agatha Christie, Craig Claiborne, Eldridge Cleaver, George Fenimore Cooper, Roald Dahl, Robertson Davies, Theodore Dreiser, Johann von Goethe, O. Henry, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ken Kesey, Stephen King, D. H. Lawrence, H.L. Menken, William Saroyan, Mary Godwin Shelley, Edith Sitwell, Upton Sinclair, Leo Tolstoy, H.G. Wells, William Carlos Williams and Richard Wright.
And lest we forget that other Virgo writer, Robert Benchley, who capsulized the whole two kinds of people belief system in his Law of Distinction:
"There are two kinds of people in the world,
those who believe there are two kinds of people
and those who don't."
and those who don't."
My Aunt Phyllis was a Libra. Although I don't know if she followed her horoscope, I do know she held deep religious convictions and I hope they brought her comfort. I also know she was loved and will be missed.
Please share your own beliefs or close encounters with the other side here.
Image credit: Virgo by ~Miss--Dee at deviantart.com.