Maggie Van Ostrand
only is Halloween right around the October corner, but this week has
a Friday the 13th in it. If that's not enough to get your hackles
raised, it's time to reconsider the Bridey Murphy Syndrome.
Way back in the mid-1950s, one of the most famous celebrities in the
world was Bridey Murphy. She could not, however, appear on Oprah,
20/20, or Dateline. She couldn't even be interviewed by Barbara Walters.
Why? Because she was of the undead -- the not alive, not of this world,
not flesh and blood. She was a supernatural creature who surfaced
when a Colorado woman named Virginia Tighe, who was alive, underwent
When Bridey came out of Virginia on the hypnotist's couch, we learned
that she had been born in 1798, lived in Cork, Ireland, and died in
1864, never having lived anywhere else. Virginia herself had never
even been to Ireland, at least not in this life. Skeptics tried to
debunk Bridey, but a book about her life, which may or may not have
been a "life" as we know it, became a best seller and was made into
a hit movie starring Academy Award-winning actress, Teresa Wright.
Everyone wanted to believe that Virginia truly had been Bridey back
in the 18th century, thereby proving reincarnation to be a reality,
validating our own immortality, and providing the hope that death
was impermanent. What a concept! Those of us who live in ghettos now
might end up in a Beverly Hills mansion next time around. Or better
yet, Harry Truman will come back to the White House; dead or alive,
he'd be welcome. Nationwide discussions ensued about who we thought
we might've once been.
In the 1980s, another Academy Award-winning actress, Shirley MacLaine,
had otherworldly experiences which convinced her that, in another
time and in another body, she had an affair with the grizzly bearded
emperor Charlemagne (768-814). "Three quarters of the Earth's people,"
says MacLaine, "believe they have lived before and will live again;
thereby enabling their Soul's journey a continuous learning experience."
Well, yeah, that certainly makes the thought of dying less scary.
While I choose to go along with both Virginia and Shirley because
it's more comforting to stick with the spirit or soul or whatever
it is inside us that's not quite of us, than believing when it's over,
it's over, I cannot agree with Carl Jung, who's considered the founder
of analytical psychology. I beg to differ with his comment, "As a
rule, reincarnation means rebirth in a human body." Why do I beg to
differ? Because my dog used to be my mom.
Moppet isn't even a human being, let alone a female, but he's mom
all over again just the same. When we go for a drive, he sticks one
arm out the open window just as she did. I find myself wordlessly
consulting Moppet, "Is this a good place to stop?" and "Are you too
tired to walk some more?" and "Want to eat now?" I can ask those things
without speaking, just as mom could telegraph her thoughts by a look
or a gesture. Moppet can't quite put his hands on his hips, as she
did, but he can roll his eyes, shake his head in disagreement, and
knit his brows. All very momlike. Of course, he also occasionally
flings slobber which mom never did, at least not when she was sober.
That's okay, raising kids doesn't entitle you to sainthood. One of
the few differences between them is that mom was Catholic, and Moppet's
a Born-Again Eunuch.
When I make a decision he doesn't agree with, he can give a look that's
just like hers: a frown above pursed lips. I may be looking at Moppet's
face, but she's the one telling me I should think it through. She
gets as many of her opinions across to me as a member of the undead
as she did when she was right in front of me.
Mom was an avid knitter; Moppet wears a hand-knitted red sweater when
it's cold enough outside to snow. Moppet's also extremely patient,
waiting for his daily walk until I'm good and ready. Mom was the same
way, except on school days when her patience would thin out with each
passing moment I dawdled.
Mom had a sense of humor and would occasionally impersonate popular
performers of the day, while Moppet did a mean impression of Elvis's
sneer that time I took him to Graceland and the left side of his upper
lip got caught on his tooth. You can't kid me, mom, I know you're
If Carl Jung were alive today, I could prove to him with these facts
that mom's inside of Moppet, plus the best proof of all: mom didn't
smoke and neither does Moppet.
Instead of reincarnation, I'd prefer preincarnation; I'd like to know
who I'm going to be more than who I used to be. In that way, I could
plan ahead. How much better it would've been for Bridey Murphy to
know that, one day, she'd be leaving Ireland for America and become
Virginia Tighe, and for Charlemagne to understand why his mistress
was always lustily singing "If My Friends Could See Me Now."
As for Carl Jung, he never met my mom in her sling-back jack boots,
so he wouldn't recognize her in Moppet. But next Friday, the 13th,
when superstition rules the night, I'm going to treat him well by
taking him for a long walk.
I'll be very careful not to step on any cracks.
Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
10, 2006 column