Essay: Matthew

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Everything is an illusion. We live in the world of illusions. – Matthew

During my childhood, my mother was a devotee of self-proclaimed psychics and mystics like Uri Geller. She was part of the New Age movement in the seventies that saw signs in coincidences and spoke to spirits over Ouija boards. In this environment, it’s no surprise that I actually believed that I was psychic. A typical child, I was intuitive and good at guessing and saw things that adults missed because they were too busy looking. Whenever I had a psychic moment I would share it with my mother and she would beam with pride.

When I was twelve, my mother befriended Carla, a spiritual medium who lived in our neighbourhood in Chicago. On summer afternoons when I was off from school, my mother would suggest visiting Carla, in part because she had air-conditioning and we didn’t. I would have lemonade, my mother and Carla iced tea. We would talk about the latest films, pop music and the way clothes’ styles were changing. All of a sudden our chatter was interrupted – Carla’s voice would drop two octaves as her spirit guide, John, spoke through her. He used biblical language and advised us in ways that sounded to me suspiciously like the horoscope pages. ‘Worry not about the future for it is full of mystery. It is best to wait for things to come.’ That was one of John’s pearls of wisdom. My mother would nod profusely and thank John for talking to us. John would leave and Carla would go limp like a ragdoll and get back her energy with another iced tea and chocolate donut.

While I was out with friends, my mother would visit Carla on her own. I always learned about these meetings afterwards and, even though I had my doubts about John, I felt excluded. I was at that age where I needed to belong to one group or another.

By the end of that summer, I countered Carla’s John with Matthew – a name chosen to fit my mother’s Christian-spirituality phase. I would get an idea from one of her books or from a self-help coach on daytime television and attribute it to my spirit guide Matthew. Once he said, “The peoples of the world will have peace when they find inner peace.” And another time it was “All things are beautiful in themselves,” purloined from Kahlil Gibran. But I couldn’t bring myself to put on a fake baritone voice. I didn’t need to. Anytime I quoted Matthew, I became my mother’s best friend – mission accomplished.

Unlike my early childhood with psychic moments, I never believed that I was or could ever become a spiritual medium. By this time, Uri Geller had been debunked on national television when he couldn’t divine where objects were hidden or bend any spoons. And in sitcoms and films, the psychic charlatan became a stock character set up for mockery.

Within a year, I had grown up to appreciate my own friends more and the need to belong less. Feeling guilty for taking advantage of my mother’s gullibility, I gently phased Matthew out. I would tell her that I simply hadn’t heard from him as if he were an old friend who didn’t keep in touch.

Years later when I was in my thirties, visiting my mother, she asked if I was still psychic, like I was as a child. I explained that I was still intuitive and good at guessing, but that I didn’t see those things as psychic anymore – and there were plenty of times when my feelings and hunches proved terribly inaccurate.

I could tell that my response disappointed her.

“Have you heard from Matthew?”

“No,” was all I said.

Until the end of her life, my mother still consulted psychics and mystics – and believed her daughter once channelled a spirit named Matthew.

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