Charyl Says

The Least of These: a Lesson in Kindness
January 28, 2014, 12:14 pm
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When Redrum showed up in my parents’ yard a couple of years ago (who can ever remember exactly when or how), he was a mangy, orange and white tomcat covered in battle scars and sporting a lame eye.  Strays have always seemed to find their way to this place–in fact it’s full to the brim with pets acquired by fate–so it wasn’t unusual to see a plate of cat food and a bowl of water casually left outside.  It became a daily ritual for Redrum to partake of a back-step meal–a ritual he probably carried out at a handful of other sympathetic households in the neighborhood as well.

Had he been receptive to the idea, my parents would have likely offered him shelter and love within the house now and then.  But while Redrum seemed to desire human companionship, he did so from a distance.  Getting close enough to get our attention–even meowing desperately at times–his instincts kicked in the moment anyone came within physical reach (even those who fed him numerous times and had never given him reason to fear).  If anyone dared breach his comfort zone, hissing and batting would precede the inevitable darting away to what he deemed to be a safe space.

Occasionally, they would bring him a special treat–a couple of spoonfuls of wet cat food.  You could see his guarded excitement at this culinary delight.  He would get a little closer… but not by much.  No matter what they did or how they tried to tempt the mangy cat, they were never able to get close enough to touch him.   By laying on his stomach and closing his eyes while offering food, my father was able to lure him within inches–but that seemed to be the extent of his trust.  (See the photo above, taken in 2012).

Redrum got his curious name from his maddening cries for attention at all hours of the day and night–usually just outside the living room window–reminiscent of a gravelly voice repeating the infamous line from “The Shining.”  He was also known to carry on a back-and-forth “conversation” with my parents–meowing his responses in composed form as if he truly understood their human language.  Clearly he had once been part of someone’s home; but somewhere along the line, for some incomprehensible reason, he had been severely abused–leaving deep wounds, visible and not.  He so badly wanted human companionship, but was unable to overcome those savage fears that reared up the moment the opportunity presented itself; a problem shared by abused animals and people alike it seems.

When the weather turned dangerously frigid this winter (even for the heartiest of animals), there was concern about Redrum’s safety outside.  A small, makeshift flap was fashioned over the cellar door in which the cat could come and go as he pleased.  A box with an old towel, and food and water bowls completed the amenities.  It wasn’t the kitty Hilton, but it was much better than trying to survive in below zero windchill and several inches of snow.  Redrum took advantage of his new settings for a few weeks.  At times our paths would cross as I toted my laundry downstairs to the unfinished basement.  He would meow at me longingly, but my “hello” and step toward him would inevitably be answered with a hiss from the shadows.

But then, there was a change.  It was subtle at first.  I noticed that instead of finding him out “catting” during the day or slinking around the dark corners of the basement at night–nearly every time I went downstairs he was curled up in his box, sleeping soundly, his stomach slowly rising and falling with each breath.  For days he lay sleeping–barely tasting his food or water, and only marginally acknowledging our presence when we approached close enough to touch.  What before would have gotten us a hiss, followed by a quick scramble–now was nothing more than a raise of the head and a barely-audible growl.

Finally one evening, he became unable to even lift himself from his bed to use his litterbox or take a bite of food–necessitating being manually moved (something he barely tolerated) as my mother changed his box and soiled towels, heating them to keep him warm and placing his food and water next to his head in case he felt like eating (which was doubtful).  Having no idea what was wrong with him (but suspecting he may have been poisoned by a neighbor), we weren’t sure if he would recover or not.  He never cried out, nor did he seem to be in pain.  He only slept.  The decision was made that, unless he showed distress, trying to take him to the vet–who would likely recommend he be euthanized anyway–would only further traumatize the wild cat.

As sun the rose on the frozen horizon the next morning, we found him motionless in his box–his breath permanently silenced.  This once loud and savage cat had slipped from this world into the Next with not so much as a whimper.

Redrum had spent much of his life as a ramblin’ old bastard–fighting, mating, and bumming off the kindness of strangers.  He smelled up the basement with the marking of “his” territory, his gravelly attempts at communication at all hours wasn’t pleasant, and feeding and cleaning up after him cost a little extra–all the while never offering anything of himself in return as most pets do.  Yet there was a sense of sadness at his loss and the silent way his life ended.  No longer would we see his scratched up face and bad eye staring at us from across the yard waiting for someone to set out his meal for the day or hear his feline response to our questions, as if we were addressing an old friend who had come for a visit.

But along with that sadness, there was joy–joy that this animal who had lived such a traumatic life no longer had to struggle.  The pain was over and he could feel love again.  There was a peace in knowing that this “unwanted” and “unlovable” cat did not die alone–freezing, starving and in pain–but warm, dry, with his basic needs met… and as close to humanity as he would allow.

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Nothing But Light

Note: I began writing this piece a few weeks ago. When I got several lines into the story, I started to realize that the subject matter seemed a bit cliche and the dialogue somewhat juvenile.  Normally, at that point I would abandon the project altogether–but something kept me working on it to the point that I finished it, typed and edited it, and arranged it in a public format.  I decided not to pursue normal publication, but felt (for whatever reason) that it still needed to be read… even though it isn’t up to the standards I set for myself and honestly just doesn’t feel “good enough.”  There’s a reason I was pushed to finish it and put it out there; so hopefully whoever needs to see this… will.

P.S.-The photograph at the end of the story was taken by yours truly earlier this year in the woods surrounding Serpent Mound in Ohio.

Nothing But Light
by Charyl Miller
I drove in a haze, inside and out.  Over the hills, around each bend—methodically.  The car hugged the road as if it were an extension of my body—difficult to discern where flesh ended and the metal and plastic of the car’s mechanics began; melded together in a fusion of steel and numb indifference. I let the road take me where it wanted me to be.
Somewhere along the journey I was overtaken by a forest.  Surrounded by trees, even the branches seemed to join together above—blocking out what little light existed that day.  Quite suddenly, something unusual gripped me, erupting from my chest and stealing my breath.  A wall of panic hit me, enveloping me in the wholly unpleasant sensations of suffocation and urgency.  I pulled my car off to the side, grinding to a halt in the weed-strewn gravel that lined the road. 
Like shedding my skin, I stepped out of the car onto the buckled pavement.  It was silent… incredibly so; the kind that drowns itself out with the overwhelmingly loud hum of blood rushing in your ears.  No birds, no insects.  I couldn’t remember when I had last witnessed another car passing by mine.  Where was I?  I’d driven on the rural roads outside of my hometown many times before—yet I couldn’t recall ever experiencing this dark passageway before.  The forest seemed endless and strangely cold, though it was the height of summer in the Midwest.
For a moment I stood outside of my car—watching and listening—nearly forgetting about the twin feelings of sadness and loneliness that had propelled me to drive vacantly for hours each day.  The creeping feeling that nothing existed Beyond—not God, not an afterlife, not even a soul—began to crush down on my life like an elephant that could no longer be ignored.  The trauma, the ongoing pain, seemed to prove as much.  Nothing in life (or after) was worth it anymore.  I couldn’t explain why I was still alive; why I had allowed myself to live to that point.  Maybe I felt that the more I took to the roads, the more likely statistics would prevail, and do the one thing for me that I somehow was unable to do for myself. 
The abrupt call of a single cardinal standing on the roadside within feet of my car startled me into the present.   We stared at one another.  I began to walk slowly toward him, expecting him to take flight and disappear into the treetops.  He did not.  Instead he nonchalantly turned and hopped on his delicate bird feet off the road and toward the woods; stopping only when I stopped and glancing back at me with his black-masked face as if to say, “You coming?”  Intrigued, and with nothing to lose, I pocketed my keys and cell phone and followed him into the woods.
I was taken aback to discover a partially-groomed path hidden just beyond the tree-line, barely visible in the all-encompassing darkness of the forest.  Upon turning to look for my new friend, I caught his bright red tail-end out of the corner of my eye as he seemed to silently dissolve into the murkiness.  The promise of what might be at the end of this mysterious path far exceeded my curiosity about the bird, so I stepped onto the walkway, leaving my red companion to his own devices in the woods. 
The path consisted of alternating grassy patches, bare spots of forest floor, and moss.  I carefully maneuvered my way over the uneven terrain, fearing the pain of exposure to the elements or eventual starvation if I happened to fall and injure myself.  It would likely be days before anyone noticed my absence—and even longer to actually locate my whereabouts here in this forgotten woodland.  Even with a death-wish, it wasn’t a chance I was willing to take.
I walked for about a quarter of a mile when the path abruptly opened up onto a hillside bathed in bright sunlight.  Funny, it had been quite overcast before I had driven into the woods several minutes earlier—but now it was beautiful… and warm.  When my eyes adjusted, I realized I was standing in an old graveyard.  Toppled and broken stones littered the open (but overgrown) field.  I hesitated to walk any farther into the weeds, fearful of what critters may be lurking underneath the tangled mess—but as I scanned the tranquil disarray before me, I noticed my little red friend perched on a leaning tombstone tucked away in the corner across the yard.  I gingerly took some steps forward, pressing into the tall grass.  My fears were realized within moments as a black, sinewy form jolted beneath my feet and quickly wound its way deeper into the tangle.  It seemed every other step I took a snake was laying in wait, just under the grass.  But the cardinal still sat atop the stone—staring at me expectedly—so I cautiously pushed forward. 
I got within arm’s length of the bird, my full attention on him.  As I slowly reached out my hand to touch him, he spread his wings and went aloft—a blaze of red disappearing into the deep, blue sky.  For a moment, I stared up in dismay, but as my attention returned to the ground below, I noticed a depression in the grass behind the crumbling tombstone.  Inching my way closer, I could see a mass of black shrouded in weeds.  I balanced with one hand on the stone, and with the other I pushed away as much of the unruly mess as possible. At first I wasn’t sure at what I was looking.  The realization hit me, creating a sickening pit in my stomach; five skeletal fingers covered in patches of leathery, black and weathered skin, rags of ripped and discolored clothing, tufts of golden hair poking up from a broken skull.  It was a body; lifeless and decomposing, that likely had been laying there for days—if not weeks.  Facedown, cradled by the grassy overgrowth, it was impossible to identify who this was at first inspection.  Gender, age, injuries—all concealed by the twin agonies of death and time. 
Despite the warm sun, a chill overcame me as I pulled my cell phone from my pocket.   Surprised that I had any cell reception at all, my hands shook as I attempted to dial 911 and describe to the dispatcher what I had found.  I couldn’t explain exactly where I was—only where I thought I might be and the appearance of the terrain around me.  She explained that they might be able to get a general idea where I was based on the pings off nearby cell towers, that it might take awhile to find the location, and requested that I stay put.  I took another look at my surroundings and reluctantly agreed.  After all, it wasn’t as if I had anywhere to be or anyone special to be with.  Placing the still-connected phone on top of the nearest tombstone, I found an old stump within feet of it—short enough to take a seat, tall enough to keep me up over the snake-infested grass.  I sat down and prepared for a long wait, thankful that the body had decomposed enough that it didn’t seem to be giving off much of an odor.
“Hello?” I heard a small voice say from behind me, beyond the tree-line.  Startled at first, I turned to find a young girl emerging from the darkness.  Maybe fifteen, she was quite lanky and had long, blonde hair and striking blue eyes.  She smiled and began to make her way over to me.

“Careful!  Snakes all over in here!”  I cautioned her.  Brushing me off, she continued into the old cemetery

“There’s also a dead body,” I added, almost as an afterthought.  I pointed to the grass next to me.

“This is a cemetery,” she stated.  “There are lots of dead bodies!”

“No,” I said, a bit exasperated.  “A body that isn’t buried; that’s been dumped.”

“Oh,” she responded, looking at the blackened pieces sticking out of the grass in front of her.  I was a bit surprised at her unusually composed reaction, considering the circumstances.

“I called 911 awhile ago.  They’re trying to locate us,” I explained.

“Good,” she replied, climbing up onto one of the more stable gravestones.

“You look a little young to be hanging out in the middle of nowhere by yourself,” I ventured.  “Is there a reason you’re here?  Do you live nearby?”

“Someone dropped me off and left,” she replied.  “I was waiting for you to come by.”

“Well, I can give you a ride home once the police arrive,” I offered.

“Sure,” she replied.

There was silence for a moment as I searched my brain for the appropriate small talk.  She spoke before I could.

“That’s really a shame,” she said, staring at the remains below us.  I nodded my head in reply.

“Where do you think that person is right now?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I said, hoping she wasn’t about to go down a pointless metaphysical or religious road.

“Her soul… her spirit,” the girl insisted.  I almost rolled my eyes, but thought better of it.  If God was just a comfort for the masses, now was the time—if any—for Him to do His job.

“Where do you think she is?” I asked, wondering why we had both silently agreed that this unidentifiable mass of decaying flesh was female.  Playing with the metal cross pendant that hung from her neck, she thought for a moment, and then smiled.

“I think she’s in another dimension… right here, one on top of this one,” she mused.

“If that’s true, why can’t we see her?” I challenged.

“Each dimension vibrates at a different frequency and is on a different wavelength… like a radio,” she explained.

“Hmm,” I replied, unsure if what she had said had any real scientific validity or was just an attempt to rationalize what couldn’t be rationalized.  “So you don’t think she’s in Heaven?”

“Maybe Heaven isn’t some far off place in the cosmos,” she speculated.  “Maybe it’s right here… it just can’t be seen through the physical eyes of a soul in a body that isn’t vibrating at the right frequency.  I mean, scientists have observed that different kinds of matter vibrate at different rates depending on how solid they are… so it shouldn’t be that hard to believe.”

I stared at her, trying to judge if she was as educated as she seemed; or if she was just spouting off nonsense she’d heard from some pseudo-scientist.

“Heaven or Hell is what you make it… what you create it to be based on your own personality and beliefs,” she added.

“So is there room for a Higher Power in all this?” I ventured.

“How do you think it all got here in the first place?” she asked.

“Yeah… but how do you know He… She… It is still around, caring individually for each of the billions—if not trillions—of us in this universe?”

She thought for a moment.

“Perhaps God isn’t one separate entity, like everyone imagines,” she replied.  “It might be more like an intelligent energy field that permeates us all… everything.”

“And the age-old question… why do bad things happen to good people?” I prodded.

“How would you know what good is without bad?  How would you grow if everything that happened to everyone was good?” she replied.

“Good question,” I said, contemplatively.  I was nowhere near believing in anything supernatural, but the girl’s ideas had given me cause for thought.  I wanted to inquire of her belief in a variety of concepts such as angels, ghosts, demons, Jesus, prophets, religion, soulmates, and on and on—but I could hear sirens approaching.

“They’re here,” I said, jumping off my stump, my mind instantly clearing of any abstract thought.

Soon officers (uniformed and otherwise) began to filter into the open field, slowed only by the tall grass and hidden serpents.

“Over here!” I yelled, waving an arm emphatically.  For a moment there was a sense of confusion until one of the men appeared to catch on, leading the others to us and the remains.  I began to rattle off what had led to my discovery, but the investigators seemed more concerned with the task at hand.

“Maybe we better step back and let them do their job,” my metaphysically-minded young friend suggested.  I reluctantly followed her lead, watching as the group meticulously documented and photographed the body as it lay.

It wasn’t until they began to carefully turn and lift the decaying remains that something seemed not quite right (other than the fact we were in the presence of a body that had possibly been murdered and dumped).  A hint of light from the corpse’s chest caught my eye for a fraction of a second.  There was a glint of something shiny and metal in the sun.  I leaned over and peeked in closer at the remains as they were being zipped into the thick, dark body bag.  It was a necklace.  A cross.  The realization hit me slowly.  I looked up at the girl standing across from me.  She stared back at me expectedly.  My attention focused to the pendant hanging just under her exposed collarbone.  Except for the tangle of rotting flesh and dirt… it was the same cross.  I began to speak, but didn’t know what to say.  She spoke for me.

“It’s me.”

“What?”  I replied, unable to truly process the scene before me.

“The body—it’s me,” she restated.

“Oh, ha ha,” I answered, sarcastically.  “You’re standing here in front of me, solid as anything.”

“So are you.”

“So, what?”  Are you claiming you’re a ghost?”  I responded, a mix of confusion and irritation in my voice.  “Sweetheart, you’re nuts and your joke is in incredibly poor taste.  I’m leaving.  You can grab a ride with the cops.”

With that, I picked up my cell phone, put it in my pocket, and defiantly made my way back across the overgrown graveyard.  The temperature difference between the warm, sunny field and the cool forest gave me pause, but I trudged on until I was halfway down the path; my car coming into sight through the darkened woods.

I had every intention of getting into my car, speeding off, and somehow finding my way out of this godforsaken forest.  I just wanted to go home and shake off this odd and nightmarish day; but then behind me I heard one of the investigators yell out, “We’ve got another one here!”

I stopped in my tracks.  Something made me turn and retrace my steps.  I reached the blinding sunlight of the cemetery and watched at the tree-line for a moment.  Indeed, they were clearing the weeds away from what appeared to be a second body.  I inched back into the open field, cautious of the hissing chorus.  The young woman was nowhere to be found.

My heart sank as I watched the crew circle the second corpse, documenting it as meticulously as they had the first.  Others began fanning out into the grass, searching for more victims.  A call for a lawn mower was placed via police radio.

As they manipulated the second, half-skeletal body into the bag just feet away from me, I heard a slight jingling noise and a barely-perceptible thud, as if something had hit the ground.  I watched as an officer carefully picked it up off the ground with gloved fingertips.  It was a small, thin black object.  Even with the weathering it had endured, I could identify it immediately.  It was a cell phone.  He reached over one more time and picked up a second object—a dirty set of keys.  This might not have been an unusual find on a dumped corpse, except dangling from that set of keys was a very peculiar keychain… a string of colorful wooden beads.  It had been made and given to me by a co-worker’s child a couple of years ago.  She claimed it was a one-of-kind creation.  My fingers had rubbed along those vibrant beads a thousand times over the months during moments of anxiety and contemplation.  I knew it well.

I patted my side.  My keys and phone were right there in my pocket; yet somehow also in the officer’s hands just feet in front of me.  I didn’t know what to say.  This had to have been some odd cosmic coincidence.

“It’s you.  You know that, don’t you?” came a voice from behind me.  I turned.  There she was—the girl wearing the cross.

“This has got to be a joke,” I said, exasperated.

“Well, if so, it’s an awfully extensive one… not to mention morbid; and for what reason?” she asked.

I drew a blank.

The investigators continued to work as the others started the clumsy job of heading across the field with the two body bags.  Brushing her off, I turned and followed them.  It occurred to me that none of them had acknowledged my presence—or that of the young woman’s; though it was obvious (at least to anyone who could see us) we were the ones who had discovered the remains and thereby essential to the investigation.

“Hey!” I shouted out to them.  No response.  “Hey!”  Not so much as a glance as they continued trying to maneuver the body bags around the old gravestones and through the tall grass, occasionally tripping over a startled snake.  I watched them disappear past the tree-line and into the dark wood.  The girl walked up behind me.

“Do you believe me now?” she asked, quietly.

“No.  No, I don’t believe it.  I can’t.  There has to be some other explanation.  Maybe I’m dreaming,” I insisted.

“In a manner of speaking, you are,” she said. “Only it’s taking place outside your head… not inside.”

“But how?  How could I have driven here in my car, used my cell phone, have my keys in my pocket—or for that matter have clothes on at all?” I demanded.  “How is it that you have a necklace on that’s actually with your dead body?  I just saw my car still parked on the side of the road a few minutes ago.  How could it be there?  How can I touch this?  Speak?  Hear?” I asked, putting my hand on a nearby gravestone, feeling its cool, rough exterior.  I looked her directly in the eyes.

“How can I see you… or you see me… if neither of us have a body with eyes?  How is any of this possible if we’re nothing but blobs of energy floating around in the physical world now?” I ranted, tears of confusion and trepidation welling up in my eyes as my companion stood in place—watching and listening.

“Even in life we make up our world as we go along.  We see what we want to see and create what we need to—unconsciously—never questioning why.  More so in death—especially in the in-between dimensions, where you’re not quite here and you’re not quite there.  It’s almost as if you exist in a dream world—malleable and indistinct.    The challenge is either walking up and learning to control it, or moving on to the next.  You felt you should have been alive in the physical world—and you were—or so it seemed.  You created the illusion of having a physical body and all its accoutrements and abilities.  But in this world—except under certain circumstances or with certain individuals—no one would have been able to see you, your car, your clothes, or anything else you created.  Perhaps they would have been able to sense your energy field and emotional state—but that would have been the extent.”

“In reality you were murdered and then dumped here in this graveyard several weeks ago—as was I.  You’ve been drifting in and out of time and space, driving endlessly.  Your beliefs kept you from acknowledging the truth.  I, on the other hand, have been waiting here for you; waiting for a disruption in the cycle to draw you to me so we could both move on together,” she calmly explained.

“But if this true, how was I able to call 911, talk to the dispatcher, and report the bodies?” I questioned, my head over-flowing with thought.

“It’s fairly easy for those in-between to alter electrical and other fields invisible to those existing on the physical plane.  You unwittingly manipulated those fields in order to place a call and speak to the person on the other end,” she replied.  A mischievous smile crossed her face as she continued, “I’m sure that department is going to have a story to tell for years to come about how they received a 911 call from a dead person that led them to the body… and from that person’s own phone no less!”

“So… what do we do now?” I asked, ignoring her attempt to humor me.  “How do we move on?  Should we move on?  There’s a murderer out there.  He took our lives.  Shouldn’t we stay and try to help find him—to protect others and get justice for what was taken from us?”

“No,” she replied, emphatically.  “You called the investigators here.  That’s enough.  We’ve done all we can do in a place we no longer belong.  Let the living take care of the living, and the dead take care of the dead.”

At that moment a red flash streaked by me, landing in front of us on the path at the tree-line.  As before, the bird looked at us expectedly.

“Maybe we should follow him,” she suggested.  And so we did.

The cardinal took flight the moment we passed into the forest.  We watched him soar down the path, just a few feet above the ground—before disappearing into the shadows.  The second we lost sight of him, a point of light appeared in the distance—like a single, lonely star shining in the cold darkness of the space.  Suddenly it exploded, showering the entire forest in a blanket of bright, white light.  The trees disappeared—as did the road, my car, and the emergency vehicles.  There was nothing but a vast, bright field before us.

And then, we were nothing but Light.

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The Joy of Cemeteries: visiting the Graves of Annie Oakley, Edgar Lee Masters, and Ann Rutledge

There’s something profound about visiting the grave of a legend–no matter what kind of legend he or she may be.  It’s incredible to consider that the remains of what used to be his or her body–the flesh and blood body that breathed life into and lived through what inspired historic events–lies just below your feet.  Those closest to that individual (and the many others who came after) stood where you stand; touching the stone that you touch.  Recently I made two such trips–one to the gravesite of Annie Oakley (“Little Sureshot”) and the other to the final resting place of Ann Rutledge (said to be Abraham Lincoln’s first sweetheart).

Phoebe Moses–or Annie Oakley, as she was known to the public– is buried in a small, country graveyard called Brock Cemetery just north of Greenville Ohio–the area where she lived much of her life.  Born in 1860, she died in 1926 of complications from anemia.  (Note: If you are unfamiliar with Annie’s notoriety, visit this link: )


It was a beautiful May afternoon when I pulled into the cemetery and parked alongside her gravestone, flanked by a State of Ohio historical marker.  Surrounded by fields dotted by the occasional farmhouse and patch of woods, the brilliant blue of the sky gave way to the greens and browns of the earth below.  I stood alone in the graveyard taking in the scenery, watching the leaves and grass sway gently in the breeze.  Closing my eyes for  a moment, I listened to the birds and breathed in the heady air.  In its simplicity it was as beautiful of a resting place (if not more) as any dark and extravagant mausoleum.

Approaching her gravestone, I slowly placed my hand on its rocky, mottled surface.  For a moment, I talked to her out loud–speaking in general pleasantries, introducing myself.  Concentrating a little more deeply I reached back in time, ferreting out Annie’s personality–her soul–feeling it quicken with life inside me.  Suddenly, it was as if that energy–that essence of her spirit–existed outside of myself, standing behind my left shoulder, observing.  The only communication between us was that of emotion; imparting her wisdom and expressing to me more than words could ever say.

After a few minutes, I wished Annie well and calmly (almost begrudgingly)  walked away from her resting place.  Yet she didn’t seem quite ready to let me go, as I felt her following me closely as I browsed her neighbor’s gravestones.  Thankfully,  as I headed back to my car I sensed whatever piece of her that had joined me dissolve back into the web of time and space.  I felt a pang of regret as I pulled away, wishing I had the time to whip out my lawn chair and sit a spell with “Little Sureshot.”  Alas, the day was drawing to a close and loved ones waited for my arrival home–so I tipped my metaphorical hat to Annie and went on my way.


Not long after my visit with Annie, I decided to look into the gravesite of another historic woman who intrigues me–that of Ann Rutledge, the alleged first real sweetheart of Abraham Lincoln.  (More info about her here:  Some scholars disagree about the seriousness of their relationship and how much truth there is to the story.  A few things are certain: She lived in New Salem Illinois the same time Lincoln did, she was the daughter of a prominent inn-keeper in the town, the locals claim to have frequently seen them together, and Lincoln fell into a deep depression when she died (possibly of typhoid) in 1835 at the age of 22.  A reaction like that doesn’t happen with just any fellow townsperson.  I like to imagine that the grief caused by her death, helped propel him to change his life–spurring him on to Springfield and Vandalia as a lawyer/politician and eventually onto the presidency.  Who knows if this is the truth, but it’s certainly an intriguing thought.

After an afternoon of visiting the historic New Salem village, I set out to hunt down Ann’s grave in nearby Petersburg Illinois in the Oakland Cemetery.  Oddly enough, I first ran across the grave of poet/author, Edgar Lee Masters (–who I soon realized had written the epitaph on Ann’s stone.


After paying my respects to Edgar, I discovered Ann’s grave only a few feet away, right on the corner. A large, chiseled  stone surrounded by an old metal enclosure bore Edgar’s words:


A much smaller and older stone–barely more than a smooth river rock–had been placed inside the enclosure.  Assuming it to be her original grave marker, I ran my fingertips over the engraved name and dates–picturing generations of others (perhaps even Lincoln) doing the same.  A stranger had placed a bouquet of flowers on her grave.



I decided to walk for a bit and explore some nearby markers.  The cemetery was of a moderate size, with new and older stones.  Rolling hills were dotted with towering oaks (the largest of which had been named in Ann’s honor) that nicely shaded the grassy burial grounds. For whatever reason I kept being pulled back to the peacefulness of Ann’s resting place.  I took in the beauty for a moment more then returned to my car to briefly sit and rest.  I closed my eyes and listened to the insects chirping in the trees and the leaves rustling all around me.  The sound of tractor hummed in a distant field.  A gentle breeze moved the warm summer air.

I lost myself as (eyes still closed) I daydreamed back in time–picturing Ann’s family dressed in black mourning attire and gathered around her stone.  I pictured a young and tousled Abraham Lincoln weeping over her buried remains–his energy becoming one with the very grass, trees, and air around him.  I saw him bent over, kneeling.  I heard his voice lilting, alone–speaking to her in an urgent and mournful tone.

Opening my eyes I was back in present day, sitting in my car.  I reached down to pick up my camera phone to take a picture of the site before heading home.  To my shock, in that few moments of meditation, my phone had gone from 80% charged to 0, and had completely turned itself off–something that this particular phone has never done before.  Battery drainage is typical of paranormal phenomena and investigation.  It made me wonder if I had unwittingly drained my own battery, using its energy to mentally (or perhaps astrally) transcend time; or if I had been joined by another soul using that energy in an attempt to manifest.  Maybe it was just a coincidence.  In any case, it struck me as odd.

It occurred to me that somewhere in my research I had read that Ann’s body had been exhumed from her original resting place and re-interred in this cemetery decades ago.  A quick search revealed her original grave to be in a small, old cemetery called Old Concord burial grounds outside of town in the middle of farmland.  I felt drawn to the area–feeling strongly I needed to explore it and wanting so badly to soak up the residual energy that may still exist on a spot where Lincoln wept over the grave of his beloved (that is, before Mary came along).

I located it on my GPS and headed out, only to find myself parked in the drive of a farmhouse where no one seemed to be home and two large dogs barked at me from the yard.  I looked out over the fields marked off with fences, where in the distance I could see a patch of land that clearly indicated an old cemetery.  One could almost see a young Lincoln standing tall on that hillside–but unless I was willing to trespass on this farmer’s land–navigating the rough field, climbing the fences, while being mauled by a couple of dogs–it didn’t look as if I’d be having my sought-after experience anytime soon.  Like so many other things in my life… it was within sight, but just out of reach.


Some scouting along an old road called the Lincoln Trail revealed that a long, overgrown grassy swath between the fields might have provided a back way into the cemetery.  Unfortunately being alone, without the proper attire, and knowing the day was coming to an end soon (especially since I was over an hour’s drive away from where I was staying in Illinois at the time)–I thought it best to not attempt the trek until conditions were more favorable, I had more time, and a possible partner could be rounded up to accompany me.  You can be sure that once I experience it, I will post an update.

Regardless of my ability to see everything that I set out to on my daytrip, I left the Petersburg area that day with a sense that I had indeed touched the past–and that another adventure awaited me in the near future.  A good day, by any means.

And now you know one of the (many) reasons why I enjoy visiting cemeteries, burial grounds, and historic sites.  Far from being morbid places of death, sadness, and monotony (that is, if you can get over the fact that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of skeletons and decaying corpses mere feet below you)–cemeteries are alive with energy, history, beauty, and adventure, free for anyone to experience…  if only you’re willing to look just a little deeper!

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Ever Have an Experience Involving a Cemetery? Please Share…

For several months I’ve been considering starting a certain new writing project.  One of the things I need to do to accomplish this is compile stories related to experiences in cemeteries.

That being said, I’m looking for people who are willing to pass along any significant experiences they’ve had in a cemetery (this includes traditional cemeteries, Native American burial grounds, mass battlefield graves, churchyards, private graves, cemeteries in North America and overseas, ancient and modern, etc.).

While I am accepting straight-up paranormal stories–I am also looking for cemetery experiences involving synchronicity, history, connections with loved ones, dreams, celebrity grave-sites, restoration, photography, personal revelations, unique gravestones, particular cemeteries people are drawn to, genealogy stories–anything significant you’ve experienced in connection to a cemetery.

By submitting something to me I am going to assume that it is a truthful and accurate account, and that you don’t mind if it eventually is included in a publication (please let me know if you’d like names changed).  Please try to include as much detail as possible, such as the year it happened, who was with you, the name of the cemetery (or the general location), etc.

Submit any stories to my e-mail: (be sure to double-check the spelling of my e-mail address)  — As well, if you know of someone who may be able to furnish a story, please forward them the link to this post.

There are no promises here… but if you’re willing to help me out by sharing your story, I’d greatly appreciate it!

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Lord, In Your Mercy…
August 9, 2012, 11:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Consider Matthew 6: 25-26…

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (NIV)

This is a verse meant to stir feelings of comfort and security in Christians. On the surface, it certainly does appear to bring a great deal of relief to some. After all, just getting the basics of survival can be very difficult for many people (even in the great U.S. of A.)—a fact of life I’m learning the hard way more and more every day lately.

Now take a good look at the picture below and read the accompanying explanation:

Multiply this circumstance times a billion—for innocent and helpless humans and for mistreated pets/animals. How can a believer reconcile this? How can one believe in a just and loving God—the God Jesus describes in the Scriptures—yet still view photographs and stories such as the above and NOT become an atheist, or at the very least agnostic? I admit, while harboring a deep spiritual side, these doubts and obvious contradictions have crept in over the years—quietly and insidiously destroying the foundation of my belief. I just cannot buy into some people’s beliefs that these innocents suffer and die because God is punishing them (or the group to which they belong) for some perceived sin. I also cannot accept that God allows these helpless people and animals to suffer because they don’t “know Jesus,” pray correctly, or pray to the “right” god. If this is something you believe, ask yourself why you choose to worship a god that would let innocent creatures suffer over such petty and dogmatic reasons that are many times due to circumstances of which they are unaware or that are beyond their control.

It also begs the question—what use is prayer (assuming that God actually exists… and I’ve seen too much in life to believe that some kind of involved Higher Power doesn’t exist)? If God is unwilling to give a completely helpless and innocent child such as the one pictured any real assistance and help him be healthy enough to survive without being in agony… why would anyone in our privileged world dare to believe that prayers to God for a friend’s healing or to find a good job or to help your child do well on a test will be answered in favor? Why even bother with prayer requests?

In particularly low moments over the last few years these doubts have gnawed at my gut; causing me to wonder why life is even worth living at all if it contains such random and seemingly meaningless suffering—such as the picture of the starving child clearly in pain (a vulture hovering nearby waiting to devour what little is available of his body). Death by abuse, starvation, and/or dehydration is slow and extremely painful. Being assaulted daily by the media of images of suffering and mistreated animals—the innocent of the innocent—does nothing to help this feeling of despair for life in general.

Several days ago, this issue came to the forefront of my mind and for some reason, I decided to throw caution to the wind and directly ask God “why?” I can certainly understand the depression, guilt, and irreconcilable issues that plagued the photographer and contributed to his suicide shortly after taking the photograph above—but perhaps this is where Mr. Carter and I diverged. Moments after I poised the question to God (not really expecting any kind of answer or relief from the issue that gnawed at my heart and mind), an incredible feeling/knowing swept through me instantaneously. Though this concept had been vaguely floating around in the back of my mind for years, it suddenly became clear to me… and hopefully I will be able to make my revelation just as clear to you:

There are some souls who come into a life specifically knowing that they will suffer greatly. Why would anyone do that? Yes, there are hardships in life; and how else can we “try our souls” but by living through those occasional adversities. But why agree to spend an entire life (however short) riddled with almost continuous severe problems and pain—with issues that no one (including God and the person affected) seems to be able to solve—even unto death?

The answer is very simple: for others. Those fearless souls give the rest of humanity a chance to prove themselves. How else could one learn how much compassion he or she has in his/her being without the chance to act upon the seemingly tragic? Of course God could step in at any moment and end the suffering—but that would only rend pointless these souls’ missions on Earth. If the person or animal in question continues to suffer or dies (regardless of how, including suicide), it is only because we as a whole failed to show compassion. We failed to do whatever it is in our power to do and act upon the tragedy. The end result has no bearing on what happens to the soul of that martyr; living with the aftermath is only a consequence of our fear, apathy, and indifference, urging us to do better next time we encounter such a soul.

Perhaps some brave souls also seem to meaninglessly suffer (and even perish) from an extreme hardship—regardless of how much people try to help that soul—for the specific reason of opening others’ eyes. One good example (though laced with fictional overtones) comes from the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose. While no one could truly understand why God had allowed this girl to be overtaken and suffer to the point of death from possession, “Emily Rose” knew, writing: “People say that God is dead. But how can they think that if I show them the devil?”

Praying and asking for intervention for a person is a wonderful way to let God and the person involved know we’re thinking about them, but sometimes it’s only done to assuage our own guilt. Sometimes God wants us to do more; to do whatever is in our power—no matter how small—to help. YOU may be the answer to someone else’s prayer!  What good is it for you to merely put in another request to God, when God put YOU there to actually do something to help?

Once we’ve physically done all in our power to help another in need (or if there is nothing that we can do to help), there is yet another option I believe many people overlook or just plain find weird, dismissing it entirely: sending healing energy and/or visualizing “White Light” surrounding the individual in question. This isn’t necessarily asking God to intervene, but calling upon and directing Universal forces and energy to proactively help another being.

Now I’ll let you in on a secret… over the last several years, if I’ve ever told you I was praying for you, it likely wasn’t the kind of prayer you wanted me to pray to God. When I pray directly to God it is either just to have someone to talk to, to give thanks, or for God’s Will to be done—no matter what that may be—for the ultimate good of all. I may also ask that any comfort that can be given to the individual and those affected, be given. After all it isn’t as if God is going to say, “Well, it looks like X number of people badly want this to happen, so maybe I was wrong.” Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in instances of divine intervention, miracles, and in angels—but somehow I don’t believe the Universe is a democracy and that things happen solely on the premise of the number or intensity of people “voting” with their prayers. They may happen—but they happen for far more profound and personal reasons than begging God.

When I say I am thinking about/praying for you, it is more likely an exercise in drawing up/directing energy and surrounding you with Light. Regardless of the outcome, positive or negative, I know there was a reason for what happened… either as a lesson for myself or for others. This is also why one should never shun another who seems to always have too many problems, seems too negative, and/or nothing you do or say seems to help them. You don’t need to get mired in their negativity—but at the same time, God put him or her in your life for a reason… and that reason usually isn’t to ignore them until they leave or “get better,” or to cut them out entirely in order for you to have a slightly more happy life.  That doesn’t mean passively taking someone’s physical or emotional abuse; it is only meant to discourage spiritual abandonment of another.

Now some reading may think I’m downplaying people’s suffering (as if they brought it on themselves) or even shifting blame—particularly from God or from people who don’t do enough to take responsibility for their own lives. There are so many factors involved; so many intricate workings in life to be able to say who has truly been sent here in order to give others a chance to flex their compassionate muscles and teach the hard lessons of life—and those who just need a swift kick in the ass. Some may even say I’m rationalizing—reaching to give meaning to a meaningless, godless world. Who knows the Ultimate Truth? But I’ve always been one who tends to go with the most simple and elegant solution—yet contains the most profound truths, those usually hidden in plain sight. Regardless of my beliefs there is something with which we all can agree, summed up most beautifully in this simple photo:

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