Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Do Dead People Watch You Shower?



Do Dead People Watch You Shower? And Other Questions You’ve Been All But Dying To Ask A Medium
By Concetta Bertoldi
Harper Collins, $13.95 paper
ISBN 978-0-06-135122-8


Okay, I’ll admit it. I was walking through my local Barnes and Noble when I spied Concetta Bertoldi’s book on a table marked “New in Paperback.” I do not believe in mediums or speaking with the dead, but I am intrigued by the mystery. So I picked up the book and began to thumb through it.

“When we cross over is there really a ‘God’ to meet?” she writes, in her question and answer format. “There is, absolutely a God and we do meet Him…God is all and when we cross we go from being a piece of God to being one with God…God is pure loving energy.” All of a sudden, I am hearing echoes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Oversoul or Atman, the principles of Transcendentalism. So I bought the book.

The reality is that this book is not really a book, but more of a transcription of common questions Bartoldi is asked when she makes appearances, followed by her answers. There are no chapters. Her case for talking to the dead is laid out in the question and answer format. And she does not just steal from Transcendentalism. It turns out that Bartoldi cribs from a number of religious and philosophical ideas.

In her particular dimension, there is a God. He or she loves us, and joining the afterlife is a pleasurable experience, a chance to bathe in the pure light of divinity. “When we cross,” she writes, “we are no gender. We are pure energy and one with God.” This does not stray too far from my Catholic school religion lessons.

“…[W]hen we die we leave either through our feet or the top of the head,” she continues. “And we know and understand what our purpose was in this lifetime…There’s a period of transition, a time we get to reflect on our lives…For many there may be a necessary period of healing any physical or emotional issues, especially forgiving ourselves for anything we did while living that we don’t feel proud of, that may have hurt someone, before we are able to interact with this side, the living, again” In this testament, Bartoldi seems grounded in the Judeo-Christian traditions.

When she writes about rejoining God, reuniting our little piece of him with the greater mass of divinity, I hear the echoes of Hinduism. In her insistence on reincarnation, I sense the precepts of Buddhism. She also includes animals in the afterlife, something that always bothered me in Catholicism—they do not believe animals have souls. “…[A]ny living creation is the energy of God, that God created and that goes back to God,” she writes. So animals, imbued with the spirit of divinity, return to rejoin God as do human beings.

Murderers, she tells us, are not invited into the realm of God. She even names specific murderers like Charles Manson, Adolph Hitler, and Ted Bundy. And though he was found not guilty by a jury of his peers, O.J. Simpson will not escape punishment either. He will have a “reckoning,” Bartoldi tells us.

In addition, she believes there is such a thing as pure evil in the world. Surprisingly, this is not all that difficult to believe when looking at history. “What we call the devil, or an evil spirit, really does exist. Just as there is positive, there is also negative—this is a world of duality and you can’t have one without the other.” Of course the idea of a world in balance, the yin and the yang, the dark side and the light, good and evil, have all been subjects of numerous philosophies in all ages. Christians have long struggled with the question, if God created good, did he also create evil? Theologians believe he had to be the architect of evil; how else would we know and value goodness?

Bartoldi keeps her views simple. She does not stretch to discuss philosophy or theology. She simply presents what she knows from her conversations with the Other Side. Like James Van Praagh and John Edward, she claims her ability is just like any other talent in a human being. She shies away from calling it a gift as she finds such designations “pretentious.” Bartoldi tries very hard throughout the book to portray herself as a normal human being, someone who has issues with her in-laws, and suffers the slings, arrows, as well as the successes, of marriage.

Having seen mediums and psychics on talk shows, I was familiar with their proclaimed abilities. I found some of what I’ve seen to be interesting and intriguing, but far from concrete and believable. I feel the same way about Bartoldi’s book. It is interesting to read something like this and see the connections between the psychic and religion and philosophy, to hear the overlays of medicine and psychology, and explore a description of the realm of the dead.

Ultimately, though, I was left unsatisfied by the book. I felt it told me nothing new. Having studied Emerson’s writing and the Transcendentalist philosophy as well as other views, I felt more deeply engaged by those works than Bartoldi’s alleged communications with the dead. The most startling revelation I discovered here is that knowing what the dead have to say to us, the living, ruins the mystery. I would much rather contemplate a world where the dead may, or may not be all around us. I can feel that there are aspects of this world that we can perceive only intuitively, and that in these situations, our senses may be useless. That is where things get interesting. I am too afraid that the dead might be just as ordinary in the afterlife as they were on this side. Better to only get a hint of them, a wisp of smoke on the staircase, and wonder.