Mid March 2017, an odd pattern of ‘coincidence’ and synchronism came together. I found myself ‘invited to attend’ two presentations themed around ‘Death and Grief’. I know the invite has come directly from the disincarnate.
At first all I see is the word ‘Death’ and think this will be an easy and interesting ask.
It’s a long cold and wet drive to the venue. I know no one else going and once I get there, I recognise no one present. Anonymity is reassuring. The audience is mainly women. They greet each other warmly, and wave at each other across the space. Others kick their shoes off and sit on the floor, some fossick for comfortable cushions while animated groups disperse and recollect themselves in twosomes and threesomes. As I watched these small human plays form and disband, I think the dead are no different.
Just before the speaker comes out, I smell a familiar scent. I am confused. The demonic are here? I carefully scan the room. Yep – they’re present and moving around the space. However, I soon forget this moment listening to the gentle Canadian cadence and rhythm of the speaker’s message and stories.
As the night goes on, I realise this is a function focused on the living. I feel puzzled about being there. My uncertainty gradually turns to frustration that only the voices of the living are part of the proceedings. It feels like the dead have been ignored. I hear mumbling among them – What about us?
The speaker offers advice about the dying. Instead I hear it as advice about the disincarnate. He says:
“Lean in and listen. They are ready to talk. They want to be the elders. They want to contribute.”
By the end of the evening, I leave a room of 80 people oblivious to their unseen company. On the 90 minute drive home, I reflect on the content of the evening, and find many more questions than I started.
Two days later I nearly opt out of attending the second session.
It’s another cold night pouring with rain. Just as I park, the rain stops long enough to arrive dry at the venue.
Unexpectedly, minutes before the speaker comes out, the same familiar scent. This time I pay more attention. This time the venue is a mainstream church. This time I I know exactly where the demonic are located and I am surprised to notice even more disincarnate in the space before it starts.
I suddenly want to smile and gaze around the room like a Ward 23B inmate and call out happy hellos enthusiastically. Instead I restrain myself. I rearrange my jacket and turn my phone off.
The speaker comes on and once again I am swept into the familiar cadence and stories. Reeled softly in – lulled. I wonder if Agares is a death demonic and why the blond woman directly across from me has stared intensely in my direction five separate times now. She doesn’t look familiar at all.
About twenty minutes in, the speaker weaves in a topic of ‘angels’. At first I am cynical. I defiantly think, ‘yeah sure. What would a presentation focused on the dying and death be without angels?‘
Except somehow he’s started talking about Demons.
He’s defining demons. He says we have demonised them. He says we have misunderstood them and they wait patiently with messages for the living. I am astonished. An unexpected left hand turn.
This tiny world has taken a silent tilt on the axis. Here in this church with this mainstream crowd, this gentle bard speaking subversive words about demons and darkness. He tells the audience it is the demons who wait patiently with faithful devotion despite our derision and abuse. I am transfixed. Does he consciously know what he’s doing?
I don’t care. I don’t know where this is going and close to tears, I am in a moment precisely where I am meant to be. Tonight. In this place. I suddenly realise if I traced my journey back to when I first came to Sydney in 1991. This was where it all started.
And now his co-presenter is crooning a tune about calling in a demon, here in this place which is suddenly all the more sacred than ten minutes ago. I glance back at the carnate crowd and notice the disincarnate outnumber them. This breathing Angel of Death spinning a spell over the entire audience of carnate and disincarnate in these crossroads, encourages me in this unexpected convergence. An Exorcist casting out fear and trepidation. Embracing the demons.
Death-work takes all forms.
In the face of the call to death-work, I have been so focused on questions of function, qualification and reason. What, how and why. I’ve been saying,
‘Give me these and I can proceed.’
Here in the most unlikely of venues, the impacts reach my soul so deeply that I leave abruptly, and forget my jacket. I’m forced to retrace my steps in the drenching rain to get it. The demonic have the last word.
You’ll proceed in our time. Don’t ignore us or ‘forget’ us. We’ll drive you back as often as you need.
I sleep ten hours straight for the first time in months.
18 March 2017