Friday, September 07, 2007

Good night sweet prince: and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest

Today marks ten years since the death of Earl Rich in a motorcycle crash. And I still haven't finished the online tribute I began for him nine years ago.

Earl Rich was a magical person. He was beautiful and charming and athletic and popular - but he was also well-read and sympathetic and open-minded. The emails that I included in my "Long Essay on a Brief Life" give a small taste of his many-layered personality.

I will take this moment to mention the strange phenomena I experienced the day he died, which will surely prevent me from ever getting a membership in CSICOP.

But I've been working on an adaptation of Jane Eyre, which also has its own paranormal occurance. I'll let Jane describe it - she begins by quoting her beloved, Edward Rochester:
"I was in my own room, and sitting by the window, which was open: it soothed me to feel the balmy night-air; though I could see no stars and only by a vague, luminous haze, knew the presence of a moon. I longed for thee, Janet! Oh, I longed for thee both with soul and flesh! I asked of God, at once in anguish and humility, if I had not been long enough desolate, afflicted, tormented; and might not soon taste bliss and peace once more. That I merited all I endured, I acknowledged--that I could scarcely endure more, I pleaded; and the alpha and omega of my heart's wishes broke involuntarily from my lips in the words--'Jane! Jane!Jane!'"

"Did you speak these words aloud?"

"I did, Jane. If any listener had heard me, he would have thought me mad: I pronounced them with such frantic energy."

"And it was last Monday night, somewhere near midnight?"

"Yes; but the time is of no consequence: what followed is the strange point. You will think me superstitious,--some superstition I have in my blood, and always had: nevertheless, this is true--true at least it is that I heard what I now relate.

"As I exclaimed 'Jane! Jane! Jane!' a voice--I cannot tell whence the voice came, but I know whose voice it was--replied, 'I am coming: wait for me;' and a moment after, went whispering on the wind the words--'Where are you?'

"I'll tell you, if I can, the idea, the picture these words opened to my mind: yet it is difficult to express what I want to express. Ferndean is buried, as you see, in a heavy wood, where sound falls dull, and dies unreverberating. 'Where are you?' seemed spoken amongst mountains; for I heard a hill-sent echo repeat the words. Cooler and fresher at the moment the gale seemed to visit my brow: I could have deemed that in some wild, lone scene, I and Jane were meeting. In spirit, I believe we must have met. You no doubt were, at that hour, in unconscious sleep, Jane: perhaps your soul wandered from its cell to comfort mine; for those were your accents--as certain as I live--they were yours!"

Reader, it was on Monday night--near midnight--that I too had received the mysterious summons: those were the very words by which I replied to it. I listened to Mr. Rochester's narrative, but made no disclosure in return. The coincidence struck me as too awful and inexplicable to be communicated or discussed. If I told anything, my tale would be such as must necessarily make a profound impression on the mind of my hearer: and that mind, yet from its sufferings too prone to gloom, needed not the deeper shade of the supernatural. I kept these things then, and pondered them in my heart.

In spite of the fact that Jane is making a Biblical allusion with the last sentence, she actually does NOT claim that the incident of extra-sensory perception was from God, but rather earlier in the novel, attributes it to Nature:
"Down superstition!" I commented, as that spectre rose up black by the black yew at the gate. "This is not thy deception, nor thy witchcraft: it is the work of nature. She was roused, and did--no miracle--but her best."
And strangely, I may even have Carl Sagan in my corner, for as he said in his book "The Demon Haunted World: Science is a Candle in the Dark", published in March 1997:
Perhaps one percent of the time, someone who has an idea that smells, feels, and looks indistinguishable from the usual run of pseudoscience will turn out to be right. Maybe some undiscovered reptile left over from the Cretaceous period will indeed be found in Loch Ness or the Congo Republic; or we will find artifacts of an advanced, non-human species elsewhere in the Solar System. At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study:
(1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers;
(2) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation;
(3) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images "projected" at them.
I pick these claims not because I think they're likely to be valid (I don't), but as examples of contentions that might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.
Kurt Vonnegut, in "Breakfast of Champions" suggests something along the same lines - even closer to what I experienced:
Like all Earthlings at the point of death, Mary Young sent faint reminders of herself to those who had known her. She released a small cloud of telepathic butterflies, and one of these brushed the cheek of Dwayne Hoover, nine miles away.

Dwayne heard a tired voice from somewhere behind his head, even though no one was back there. It said this to Dwayne: "Oh my oh my."
I was about 43 miles from Earl Rich on Sunday morning, September 7, 1997. I was reading, or just daydreaming, sitting on the sofa in my living room. Behind me was a window looking out on the neighbors yard across the street. The neighbors had kids and often they could be noisy. I suddenly became aware of someone calling "Nancy.... Nancy... good-bye." I thought it was odd that one of the kids across the street would be calling my name, but I actually turned to look out and see if any kids were looking in the direction of my house. They were playing, not paying the least attention to me. I sort of shrugged, and thought of "Breakfast of Champions" and idly speculated about messages from people on the edge of death.

I was fairly absorbed the rest of the day. I was going to first rehearsals of the first play of mine to be given a full production. My play NEW RULES was to be part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. But driving into Philadelphia from Pennsauken, I had this really odd sense of melancholy, and I couldn't figure out why. That night I had a dream that someone was trying to tell me something.

The next day, Monday, I was going to lunch with some co-workers. Just as we were about to enter the restaurant I remembered my dream. I almost mentioned the dream to my friend Rebecca, but then thought - "how silly - who wants to hear about a dream about someone trying to tell you something?" So I didn't say anything. An hour or so later, I received a phone call from my friend Lorraine, who still worked at the company Earl worked at, and where I used to work.

She said that Earl had died in a motorcycle crash on Sunday morning.

I went into the bathroom and dry heaved, then went home. Only days later did I remember the odd sensations I had had the day he died.

I wrote this email to him on February 7, 1997, when I was about to take a new job and end my time as Earl's coworker:
No matter what else I feel about PTS, I'll always be glad I took the job, because I met so many wonderful pepole, and of course the ineffable, amazing, incomparable Earl Nelson Rich III. I've never met anyone like you, nor I guess ever will - a guy who gets along with raunchy, party-hearty dudes, yet who reads Nabakov and Pushkin. A guy who watches sports so he can talk to his dad. A guy who has the savoir-faire and charm of a social butterfly, yet blushes and looks faint when he's in a room with many women... a guy who's very democratic and unpretentious, and yet who has impeccable taste in clothing and accoutraments. You're so good at bolstering an ego, and so pleasant to be near, and give such good advice about both literary and personal issues (even though I didn't always take your advice!) I'll always think of you as the smart, beautiful, supportive older brother I never had (No need to dwell on the occasional bothersome incestuous urges!) I know I idealize you to an extent, but it's difficult not to sometimes. Maybe if we had continued to share an office we would've ended up getting on each other's nerves and I would've stopped idealizing you long ago,but who knows? You are capable of getting along with anyone. I hope I will always know you, somehow, even if only through occasional e-mails. The thought of you reminds me that the universe is capable of serendipitous sweetness. And truly, with all temerarious, unconsummatable, and rapturous folly, I do love you.

Your penpal