Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Friend the Medium, Installment 3

Mary on a Visit to Canada
If you’ve been following my blog, you remember that I met Mary, who said she was a medium, and suddenly I enjoyed great prospects as a writer—far greater opportunities than I could have dreamed of having! The well-known literary agent Ruth Aley, up in years but still going strong, had invited me to visit her in Manhattan. I took the elevator to her luxury apartment, which boasted stunning views of the city. Surrounded by Egyptian antiquities, Ruth patted the cushions of a sofa by way of saying, “Let’s sit here.” She was as slender as a willow leaf and as refined as a cup of tea. Her hair was exquisitely white. I took an instant liking to her. Nearly the first words from Ruth were that my trilogy of novels was the best fiction she had read in twenty years and that she wanted to add the trilogy to her list. I was flabbergasted! How could such incredibly good fortune be happening to me?

We spent the hour discussing the terms. When I emerged from the elevator at street level, I kicked up my heels on the sidewalk and hailed a cab. I felt lighter than air.

When I shared my surprising news with Mary, she was elated, and, when I returned, we celebrated!

Months passed, and I heard nothing. One day, Ruth Aley’s secretary called to say that Ruth had been ill. A week or two passed, and the secretary called again, this time to express her sorrow that Ruth had passed away. The secretary said that Ruth’s son would be assessing Ruth’s business contacts and that I should call him. After a time of mourning, I spoke briefly with him. He was not interested in pursuing publication of my trilogy.

Despite this tragic setback, I had hope. I felt that Ruth Aley’s commendation meant that my trilogy would soon find another agent. I applied and I applied. After a year, I had queried well over a hundred agents, not one of whom wanted to accept my novels.

Recently, I found them in a storage box. They are nearly thirty years old now and will never be published. They are mere artifacts of an earlier time in my life.

Many years would elapse before I would publish fiction. Meanwhile, I decided to revisit the spiritual community to try to discover what was blocking my progress as a writer. Mary had commitments that prevented her from going with me, so I went on my own. As I had never attended a séance, I registered for one. With ample time before the séance, I enjoyed perusing the books and art objects in the bookstore and gift shop, and I had a reading by the medium that Mary and I liked.

Just before the séance, I saw the man who was to lead it talking to three of the mediums. He was scribbling in a notebook.

Those of us who had signed up for the séance took our seats in a large, square room. I glanced at the ceiling and saw hooks everywhere. When the séance began, the room was in complete darkness. Luminous objects floated, but I was not impressed. I knew they were suspended from the hooks. The man leading the séance assumed the voices of spirits that wanted to talk to each of us. When it was my turn to hear from a spirit, the voice shared the same information that the medium had told me earlier that afternoon. I was underwhelmed. I knew that the details had been inscribed in the séance leader’s notebook.

Back home, I expressed my disappointment to Mary. My faith in everything I had read about spiritual dimensions beyond what our senses apprehend—and my confidence in all Mary had told me—were shaken to their foundations. Mary cried. Through me, she experienced deep doubts.

We entered a time of fear. We entered a time when relatively few events turned out well. We began to expect disaster around every corner, and disaster certainly obliged! Among the dismaying events was the death of my mother, whose heart finally gave out.

Mary and I decided we needed a trip to cheer us up. Quebec City and Mary’s friends there beckoned, and we set aside time in May to drive to Canada.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Friend the Medium, Installment 2

Mary lived up to the promise to be my friend. I couldn’t have asked for a better one. We shared many meals, and her pork chops were delicious. She taught me the secret to slow-cooking them, and I make pork chops the same way today. From my previous blog, you know that Mary professed to be a medium. I suppose that mediums are a middle-class phenomenon. Mary came from a staunchly middle-class background, as did I, and her friends who were mediums were all from the middle of American society. Mary felt a deeply patriotic commitment to the country (as I still do), even though she had lived for a large portion of her life in Canada. When she thought of pain anywhere in the world, she cried. She could not understand why a merciful God would permit the suffering of innocent people.

Mary was also a friend to her students in the program for which she was an instructor and mentor at the university. Her students were homemakers that were striving to reenter the work force while juggling mind-boggling responsibilities of debt, children, government programs, and part-time jobs. Her students couldn’t get enough of her. Mary had instantaneous rapport with her classes, who turned to her for advice they could trust.

At the end of her workday, which often involved evening courses, Mary kicked back to discuss world events with me and maybe to channel a deceased loved one’s reassurance or a spiritual entity’s advice. Years earlier, she had set aside the Ouija board that had introduced her to FGH, her guide in spirit; she had quickly discovered that she could “hear” FGH while meditating. Mary had an extensive library of books about mediums and related topics ranging from healing to popular psychology. As my field, literature, is not devoid of metaphysics, I found it easy to read her books and to discuss their contents with her. I often felt I was trying to learn a craft from a master. While I had no talent and handled the “tools” clumsily, I appreciated her mastery of the vast and complicated subject of spirituality.

Mary in 1939 High School Yearbook
Mary had been raised a Catholic, and she never really left the church. She translated tenets of religious belief into her own terms, which were expansive enough to include the expressions of many religions and philosophies. To her way of thinking, guardian angels were spiritual guides, and FGH was her guardian angel.

At Mary’s suggestion, I read more than a hundred books. Well-written or not, the books informed our discussions. Among them were new books about chakras, and Mary wanted to know more. She discovered that a spiritual community was offering a week-long workshop in using crystals to align the chakras, and she enrolled. She found the colony so exciting that she later recommended I visit it with her. I drove us there.

Quiet outdoor areas were equipped with benches. A bookstore beckoned with sparkling stones, art, and the latest titles on every spiritual topic imaginable. Mediums performed readings throughout the day. I reserved my own half hour with Mary’s favorite medium, and I will admit I was amazed. The medium appeared to know several details about me that she could not have known through any means that I could discover. She might have been adept at extracting clues that I volunteered without realizing how much I was revealing. I might well have been gullible.

Mary and I made the community our destination perhaps twice a year, and, on each trip, I experienced another session with the medium whose talents I perceived as extraordinary.

Throughout the years of reading, discussing, and communing, I began to feel charged with enthusiasm. I thought I was beginning to comprehend a world that had seemed only harsh and paradoxical. I thought I was starting to perceive an order to everything: an order that was benevolent and peaceful. Compassion and charity, I believed, were meant to make the world a better place.

It was at about this time that a student at the university lost his life in a tragic automobile accident. I began to write the story of what he did after his death. Within a few months, I had written a novel. During the next two years, I expanded the novel into a trilogy. Seeking to be published, I wrote to Ruth Aley, a well-known literary agent in New York. When she invited me to meet with her at her apartment in Manhattan, I could hardly believe my good fortune! I spent my meager savings on airfare to New York. I hoped to persuade Ruth to represent my trilogy to publishers. I was convinced that the happy upswing in my writing life resulted from my interaction with Mary.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

My Friend the Medium, Installment 1

I still don’t know what to think about this, so I’ll just put it out there to let others decide. Back in 1985, I met Mary. She had a framed photograph of herself in bright 50s clothing. In the photo, she was dancing, tossing her head back over one shoulder, smiling, and clutching a long-stemmed red rose between her teeth. I still remember her like that, even though she was 65 years of age when I met her and only 35 years old in the photo. I was 31 when we met. Mary smiled better than anyone!

How I met her was so convoluted that I shudder to think how to condense it for you. Let’s just say a mutual friend said I should tell her about a job opportunity at the university where I worked, not far from where she was born. Living in Louisville at the time, she applied, was interviewed, was hired, and moved. Before long, I had the joy of daily visits with her at her apartment near where I lived.

She soon confided in me that she was a medium. Many years before, she and her husband were living and working in Quebec City. She was cleaning the basement of their home, and she reached far back on a high shelf behind the bar. She felt something there. It turned out to be a Ouija board in its original box. She read the instructions. Not expecting anything to happen, she set the board on the bar and touched the planchette. It moved! “Who are you?” she asked. The planchette spelled only the central letters, FGH. “Okay,” she said. “Is that your name?” Again, the planchette spelled FGH. Suddenly, the planchette moved for a long time, spelling “You are to life as FGH is to love.”

From that moment, Mary looked forward to coming home from work each day (She managed the English-speaking radio station in Quebec City.) so that she could spend an hour or two with the board and with FGH, whom she perceived as a male spirit. Now and then she met people she thought would be open to hearing about FGH or, at least, not quick to condemn her for believing she was in touch with a spiritual entity. They gradually formed a group wanting to know more. They read books, shared ideas, and conferred about such topics as mediumship and clairvoyance.
Robert T. Rhode, Photo by Teresa

Mary’s husband took a job in Omaha, and they moved to Nebraska. Within a year or two, he died unexpectedly. Mary worked for Boys Town, the charitable village, to pay her bills. In the relatively short time that she spent in Nebraska, she built another group interested in exploring spiritual topics through her emerging abilities as a medium.

Confronting the reality that she could not keep struggling to meet her mortgage obligations, she accepted her brother’s invitation to move to Louisville, where he lived. I have already sketched how she came to return to where she had grown up in the 1920s.

Mary told me that, throughout the downward spiral of her life after leaving Quebec City, FGH had guided her. Once, he told her to “go to the bank and talk to the nice man.” Her finances had gone so far south that she was not sure where the next meal was coming from. Considering FGH’s advice potentially ridiculous, she drove to the bank and was ushered into an office where she was miraculously given a loan that sustained her for several months.

I hardly knew what to believe about Mary’s confidence in her communication with FGH, but I quickly identified her as a real friend. My mother was in and out of hospitals from heart attacks. Once, for fun, I put Mary on the phone with Mom. The two had a lively conversation. My mother told her that I needed a good friend like Mary.

Whenever I was in Mary’s presence, I felt I was in a happy and carefree place full of possibilities. She was genuinely cheerful. Her faith in unseen worlds peopled by angels, guides, ancestors, and deceased human beings was rock solid, and she believed that, with a little practice, people could learn to shape their futures in positive ways. I began to permit myself to dream about publishing books.

I plan to continue this blog for several installments. What I have said here is only the beginning of an arc that stretches across the end of Mary’s life and the beginning of mine as a writer.