When I was a little girl living in my first house, I stood on the sidewalk to the right of the driveway with my mother, who was talking to another woman. In the way of small, curious children who desperately want to be included, I proudly told the woman, “I was born in December!”
Mom corrected me, “No, you were born in September.”
“Oh, right.” I was embarrassed.
The adults continued to talk and I stood there confused. I knew I was little Syndy and that my birthday was in September, and I was a Catholic born in Michigan. But, I also knew in my soul I was born in December in Florida, and that I was, in fact, Jewish. As far as I know, I had neither Jewish classmates nor neighbors. In regards to Florida, I had never been; all I knew was that Disney produced the movies I was allowed to occasionally watch. And yet, this scrap of memory is so vivid; the confusion still real: I didn’t know from where this bit of self-knowledge came but I knew it to be true. I was two people inhabiting the same body.
With wisdom garnered perhaps from a past life, I kept this bit of craziness to myself. Especially since several years later, I watched a program with my mother that portrayed reincarnation as the new in-thing. A conference showed hundreds of people dressed as who they believed themselves to be in a past life. Consequently, there were a lot of Cleopatras. No one dressed as a servant, slave, prostitute or laborer. The reporter was compassionate: in lives dreary and ordinary, people coped by connecting themselves to a more glorious past. My mother, however, was not so charitable. Her science mind blurted out, What a crock! Her religious one was actually offended. Heaven, Hell and Purgatory? Sure. But coming back as another person? No way.
So, I believed the same. Until adolescence when the dogma of my religion no longer comforted or meshed with what I was beginning to experience in my life and my science classes started to scare the hell out of me. The world was too big, too chaotic, and too humbling: after all, if God created the world, then who created God? Worse, if God were loving, how could he condemn to hell those who didn’t believe the way I was taught? How could God allow for the vile aspects of humanity? How could God put a child in danger and fill her life with trauma and loss? I wanted to believe in the God of my childhood but for me, God ceased to exist. God became a crock. A crutch. Just a way to feel worse, to feel punished and victimized. God, I decreed, was for stupid people who were too ignorant in the face of scientific truth.
Yet, deep inside, there was this yearning for connection. This sense of loss. God would never be the same for me but what if my definition of and relationship to God were to expand? What if I could set aside dogma and guilt and open my eyes, mind and heart to something greater? And in a sly way, it was actually science that brought me back to God. Not the white man in the sky sending sinners to hell God, but a God of energy, light and love. I found God in the Conservation of Mass and the Conservation of Energy. Mass and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. They can be changed from one form into another. While I know this is a simplistic explanation, it knitted together my questioning mind and a spirituality that never truly disappeared. It brought comfort and connection. More importantly, it allowed for possibilities beyond my own thoughts and dreams.
Including reincarnation. If mass and energy cannot be created or destroyed, but they can be transformed, then it just may be possible we’ve been here before in some other body in some other time. I just may have been the Jewish child born in Florida. Or I may have been someone else. Many someones. I wonder…
When I was in recovery from an outpatient surgery, I woke up crying. In seeing my pale white hands, I was filled with several minutes of unexplainable and inconsolable grief: I was so sure the color of my skin was actually dark brown.
When I was suffering from six months of writer’s block that nearly tore my soul out, I finally turned to a hypnotherapist. While under hypnosis, I talked about seeing myself as an infant in my nursery in my mother’s arms. But I didn’t stop there. Suddenly, I was a young black boy of six years old in the 1890’s, living with my mother who was light-skinned. She owned a boarding house and would let out rooms and provide extra “benefits” to some patrons. I remember lying in bed, with a curtain drawn in front of it and I could smell oatmeal. I opened the curtain and saw my beautiful mother in the kitchen. She smiled at me and I smiled at her. She loved me dearly. But then I saw myself grown to age twelve. And a white suitor of my mother’s did not want me around anymore; I was becoming a man. I saw myself in a white dressing gown being led outside by this white man into a forest. There was a sliver of moon. I looked up at the moon and felt the barrel of a gun at the nape of my neck. This man killed me; although I did not remember any pain. I only know I lingered in that spot waiting for my mother to catch up with me, to find me. She never did. And the last memory was being in an afterlife in which I kept to myself, studied and waited until my mother and I could be together again.
When I was dreaming four years ago, I was a young woman in India. I was crumpled on the ground. The Taj Mahal loomed in my view although I was not close to it. The sun was liquid white and blinding. I was there with a man who beat me and sold me into prostitution. In that moment, I knew this man would eventually kill me and it would be sooner rather than later. As this girl, I heard a voice telling me to pray to Ganesh. When I woke up from the dream, I looked up Ganesh. Ganesha, with the head of an elephant, is the Lord of Obstacles and Letters and Learning. He reflects wisdom and intelligence but he also throws up obstacles when a person needs them and removes the obstacles when the lesson is learned. While I do practice the physical aspects of yoga and have recently begun workouts based on Bhangra and Bollywood, I am woefully ignorant of India. And yet, I dreamed of a Hindu God.
Now, of course, all of this may be a crock. An active imagination. A desire to step out of the dreary aspects of this existence. Perhaps even metaphors created to help me overcome whatever was going on in my life at the time.
Or, reincarnation may be possible. And when my questioning mind has been deactivated and relaxed through anesthesia, hypnosis and dreams, perhaps that is when the truth and the memories are allowed to crawl in. I can’t say for sure. But I do know that when I allowed my understanding of God to expand, when I began to actually enjoy the mystery of it all, that is when I could see how the strands of possibility are braided together. That is when life finally made sense. How, even when I face trauma or pain or witness devastation, this is what I return to.
Of course, there’s a third option to consider. Perhaps this is a bit of craziness I should have just kept to myself!