The Ecphorizer

Is There an Afterlife?
Ross A. Sheldon

Issue #61 (December 1986)


I am from Missouri. You DO have to show me.

I am also a member of Mensa. We are not the type to "believe" just because some rabbi, priest, preacher, or used-car salesman says he thinks we ought to.

I am also a 67-year-old retired dogface infantry soldier. I would not have survived even my first war if I was accustomed to judging the report of others based on "faith." I would have died young.

I'm with the hero of the "Dragnet" series. I just want the facts.

[quoteright'/>And shortly after the death of my much-loved wife of 36 years, I had them dumped on me. Not once. Not twice. But in a short "one-two- three" series which left me flabbergasted, completely shorn of my agnosticism and my belief that the idea of an afterlife was nothing more than the wishful thinking of those who hoped that the grave was not the end.

I must admit that this story did have an odd beginning, one going back about five years.

I had decided to change my part-time hobby of writing non-fiction, which sold, to writing fiction, which didn't. About every two or three months thereafter I would have an odd type of dream.

It was odd in that it would begin just before I awakened in the morning, then, instead of stopping abruptly when I awoke, it would continue as a mental "narration" in my head, as I lay staring dreamily at the ceiling. Instead of the broken pattern typical of dreams, with changing subject matter, it was more coherent, almost a complete story, usually set about the turn of the century. Facetiously I referred to my dream narrator as my "ghost writer."

Not a very good one perhaps, as I never could remember the story by the end of the day when I had time to write. Or, perhaps, I was just not a good fiction writer! I finally went back to writing non-fiction. The odd dreams then stopped.

The manner of my wife's death left me with the guilty conviction that I had contributed to it. Normal grief and depression turned acutely suicidal. I began wrapping up my affairs in preparation for following her.

On what was to be my last night, I sat on the edge of my bed and examined my pistol. A .25-caliber Belgian Browning I had picked up as a war souvenir in WWII, it seemed inadequate. I did not want a clumsy slip-up to leave me only a bedridden cripple. Unloading it, I ran through several dry runs in front of a mirror, before finally deciding that I had better wait for morning and buy a pistol of larger caliber.

I awoke the next morning in the middle of another one of those odd "story dreams." It was the first in over a year. When it ended, I started to get out of bed. Before I could roll over, the "narrator," like a preacher citing chapter and verse, or an author giving the source of a quote, continued with "Dimitri Mitropolous," 18?? to 19?? (there was a 6 in both dates, but I couldn't remember where it went, nor the second missing number). "Who's Who, New York, 1910."

"What's this?" I thought. Before I could react, he went on.

"Ross. Here is your wife." I froze as I had a distinct mental image of Miriam's presence. In the manner she would have used, she said:

"Ross. If you commit suicide, you cannot come here." I then sensed her turning sadly away.

Hastily, I grabbed a pencil and paper beside my bed and scribbled the name and the dates as best I remembered them. As soon as the local library opened, I phoned the reference desk:

"Can you tell me if there was a man named Dimitri Mitropolous, who was born in the late 1800's, died in the 1900's and was famous in New York? He may be a fiction author."

An hour or two later, the librarian phoned to say that no record of an author by that name could be found. So, it was just a crazy dream after all. But, it had seemed so real. (It didn't occur to me that the librarian only looked for his name in a reference book on authors).

The next day my Mensa Bulletin arrived. It listed a newsletter put out by Mensa librarians, and the address of a Greek-American Mensa member living near New York. On a hunch I wrote both and asked the same question.

Within a few weeks the answers started coming in:

"Dimitri Mitropolous, born 1896, died 1960. Composer, musical director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra." It was five years later before a music historian told me the significance of the year 1910 in the composer's life. That was the year he became 14, the age of puberty and young manhood in his native Greece, and entered the Athens Conservatory to study under a famous composer.

This was unreasonable! I had never lived near New York. Being a musically uncultured person, I knew nothing of classical music, nor of its composers and conductors, and cared less. Western, country, and pop music was all I ever listened to. In no way could I have dredged up this man's name from subconscious memory, complete with time of birth and death and where he was locally famous. I had never heard of him. Being an Anglo-Saxon from the midwest, it would be unlikely that I would have remembered a jawbreaking Greek name if I had heard it.

So, what can an intelligent person believe? That there really is a life beyond the grave? That those who have gone before know what we are doing here? That, in some circumstances, they can interfere and influence what we do?

If so, then Dimitri's role was what is referred to in military communications as an "authenticator." Giving me the name and data of someone I had never heard of, but could check on, was designed to prove that Miriam's message was not "just a dream," but was, in the words of a famous commercial, "the real thing."

That was Number One. Number Two came a few days later.

The shock of learning that some kind of afterlife existed, and that what one did here affected where we went there, did not erase the grief and guilt. On one Friday night I was so upset that, much to my surprise, I said aloud: "God, Help me!" I immediately felt foolish for being so corny and melodramatic, as if I expected some angel would burst through the ceiling with a healing balm. "Nice going," I muttered as I went to bed. "As if that appeal was to a real person." However I did notice, to my surprise, that I was feeling more calm and relaxed. I fell asleep immediately.

The next afternoon there came a knock at the door. Burly, amiable, Charlie Trenkle, a close friend of my son, had come to call. My wife had died while visiting my son and Charlie, who rented a room in the same house, had been the last to say goodnight to Miriam, and the first to discover her body the next morning.

"I just thought I'd stop by to see how you are doing," he said, as he headed unerringly for the refrigerator. Sitting around the table munching, and sipping coffee, we exchanged the usual pleasantries. When the conversation lagged, I remembered that he had been interested in a class in parapsychology I had taken, and in some of the odd psychic experiences I had told him about. When I told him about the Dimitri incident, he went straight to the heart of the problem:

"Why suicide?"

The circumstances surrounding my wife's death while I was overseas, and my logical reasoning as to my guilt, are too lengthy and irrelevant here. Charlie shot them all full of holes. He had been present when the coroner made his examination, and had talked to our family doctor.

"No way could you have done such a thing! Your doctor said he could have done nothing if it had happened in his office. Her 65 year old heart just gave out. She had not been ill, nor in low spirits. She went to bed happy about her plans for the next day, and died quietly in her sleep, without fear, without pain, without knowing. We should all be that lucky. Your being on a one year tour in Iran without her was not a factor. No way should you feel guilt." We then discussed the effects of her diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight, and lack of exercise, as we finished our coffee. Then Charlie leaned forward:

"Do you feel better now?"

His question startled me more for the tone of voice than for the words. It was the same tone a doctor making a call on an ailing patient would use in checking to see if the medication he had just administered had taken effect. As if he had known of my condition and made a special trip just for the purpose of straightening me out.

Looking down at my hands, I suddenly realized that for the first time since they had told me the news on that desert airstrip, they were unclenched. I was completely relaxed. In fact, I was in high good humor! I started laughing.

"I feel fine."

Actually, I felt wonderful, as if a leaden weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Tt wasn't until that night, while shaving to go out, that the light dawned. I had said "God Help me!" and the next day Charlie came to call! Staring at my shaving-cream-smeared face in the mirror, I blurted without thinking: "God, did you send that boy?" Then I burst out laughing. Partly at the thought of burly Charlie as an angel, and partly at a commercial which had been running on TV all week.

TV annoys me. But, for some reason, I had turned it on several times that week. Always the same commercial came on before I could turn it off. Consisting of a teenager looking at the camera and saying just two things: "God loves me," and "God loves you." I remembered that I had given the TV actors an amused, patronizing look as I reached to turn the TV off. "It's nice that some kids feel that way," was my reaction. "It's good for them."

"All week they have been trying to tell me!" I laughed so hard that an onlooker would have thought that I was off my rocker. I felt wonderful all week.

That was Number Two, Number Three came a month later, and it was enough.

Driving to church one Sunday morning, I absent-mindedly reached for my wife's hand. The depressing realization that never again would she be beside me started me off again. Knowing that I had to get my mind off this track, I turned on the car radio. I rarely have it on because I have ham and CB radios in the car, both tuned to emergency channels in case someone needs help. In particular, I never turn it on Sunday mornings because of my distaste for the simplistic cliches of the Southern fundamentalist preachers who dominate the radio stations at that time. When I heard the nasal "Ah take foh mah text, from the Book of —," I immediately reached for the knob to turn it off. I was in no mood for that.

Too late. The preacher read his text: "He who puts his hand to the plow and looks behind him is not fit for the company of heaven."

I sat stupefied for a moment, looking at the traffic, then burst out laughing.

"All right, all right, already! I'll be good! I've got the message!" I chuckled all the way to the church, and have been in a good humor ever since.

But, I've also been doing some serious thinking. This is one heck of a lot of trouble that someone is going to on my account. Why me? What difference does it make if I check out of life early? Is it because I would be upsetting someone's plan, in which I'm an important part? If so, what is expected of me? What things am I supposed to be doing while I am here? Could the churches, synagogues, mosques and temples of the world's religions be right when they claim that we are all part of a plan, and have some purpose, mission, or reason for being here?

"I guess," I thought humorously, "I should have been paying more attention to the preachers."

But, who would pay any MORE attention to my story?

Not magazine editors, certainly. This story has been rejected by 27 of them! I can't blame them. If someone told me this story, I wouldn't believe it either. It is not a story one can prove.

I can see three conclusions that readers can come to:
  1. I'm lying like hell.
  2. I'm nuttier than a fruit cake.
  3. I had a very unusual and illuminating experience.
As I'll cheerfully submit to either a lie detector or a shrink, provided someone else pays the bill, the third conclusion seems to be the most likely.

But, if you don't believe it, I can't blame you. Personally, I have to believe.

Because it happened to me. 

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Ross A. Sheldon




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