Looks like I'm going to be sticking with an "old stuff about Paula" theme for a day or two while my mind and heart enjoy playing with my friend Linda. Tonight is our main event: The Book of Mormon, with kick-ass fourth row center seats I purchased two years ago just a few days after I saw the thing the first time.
Today's mantra is another one I have loved and believed in for a very long time. I have no doubts about being guided. My only issue is tuning in, keeping my internal air and waters clear enough of mud and debris to be receptive. Oh, and one more thing, that teensy little issue of following the guidance. That thing.
We interrupt this program to bring you late-breaking news of this morning's Instagram post by my daughter Katie that featured a photo of a book cover with the title "The Heart's Code" and this message:
I first heard about this book in 2009. I remember exactly where I was (waiting for the Blue line in Boston) and I made a mental note that I wanted to read it. In 2014, I completed a course and it was on the recommended reading list, so I finally bought it. It sat on my shelf for 3 more years. Last night, I wanted to sit outside with a book but all the ones I'm in the middle of reading felt like homework or a chore. This one jumped out at me, so I picked it up. I'd been thinking about a guy named Matt off and on all day. Someone I dated briefly. It wasn't a sad thing, just that I had been listening to a podcast we both love so he was on my mind. Ok, so I chose this book and apparently, I'm supposed to be reading it. The first few pages had me in tears. All this to say that our hearts will guide us if we let them.
(The hand-scrawled dedication inside the book said, "Dear Matt, You already have a good heart but this book just proves it is the best way to approach it. Take Care, love, Kathryn.
And if you don't have chills yet, there's more. Katie's text that told me about this mentioned something her Instagram post did not, that the name Kathryn looks exactly like my handwriting.)
With that in-the-moment jewel still glistening, we go back—far far back—to the days when Maggy was still Margaret and the ultimate serendipitous moment of her young and tumultous 20-something life was about to catch fire...
Even in the early ‘70s when names like Chopra and Dyer had yet to legitimize the world of metaphysics, word about gifted psychics traveled through the grapevine. People are fascinated by someone who seems to know the unknowable. And I admit to being impressed by the stories about a woman named Paula. Her uncanny accuracy and wisdom, the way she referred an exhausted, hopeless young couple with a deaf toddler to the one specialist who could treat the child’s rare condition.
Still, psychic was a hair’s breadth from psycho in my dictionary. I passed her name on to others but I had no curiosity to invest in that world. Then came the morning a co-worker called in a frenzy, begging me to cancel her appointment with Paula. Apparently, Paula had been so abrupt with her on the phone that she no longer wanted to go and couldn't even bring herself to talk to her—ever again. The words I fired back felt like they were coming from someone standing next to me: “Don’t worry. No need for any phone calls, I'll go instead.”
The struggle across town through rush-hour traffic gave me scores of reasons to regret that insanely primal response. Anxiety rose in waves like heat from the pavement. Even after I arrived, I sat paralyzed in my parked car, staring over at her house, palms sweating with dread, still gripping the wheel. The thought of bolting crossed my mind, but in that silent space, an inaudible voice spoke calmly, clearly, distinctly, “It was meant for you.” Not a sensation I was accustomed to having. At least 14 ranting, arguing maniacs lived inside my head, but I knew all of those voices.
Of course, I missed seeing the weather-worn paper sign that directed visitors to the side door. So the same scowl that greeted me at the wrong door was waiting for me around the corner. No acknowledging grunts, much less a smile. What a scary, intimidating bitch. She was an older woman of with Tammy Faye eyes, her round face crowned by dyed red, upswept hair. She moved slowly, as often happens when someone carries too much weight. Rhinestones embellished her oversized glasses, and the riot of colors on her flowing print dress gave her a gypsy aura.
She directed me to a chair, tossing paper and pencil into my lap, “Write your questions and give me birthdates of anyone you want to ask me about.” Then she disappeared, leaving me to wallow in bewilderment.
Questions? As in What the hell am I doing here? I barely managed to scribble a few lines by the time she returned and settled into the chair across from mine. As abruptly as she had done everything else, she took my paper without a glance, folded it twice, and held it in her hand as she began speaking. No eye contact, no recognition of my presence. Her gaze was far away, as if she caught sight of a movie playing in the distance.
“You have a wall inside of you that is holding back your happiness.” The immediate thought flashing across my mind was: That describes every man I ever fell in love with, not me.
“But that wall will come down and the sun will shine.” Her gears shifted slightly. “You’ve been on thin emotional ice for some time now, and you’ve just passed through an extremely difficult period.”
Coping with a sudden surge of adrenaline, memories of recent events, and a flush of blood rushing to my face, I sat in a silent stupor, waiting for the next line. For the first time, she locked her eyes into mine and asked with mild irritation, “Is that right?” I have no idea if I choked out a yes or just shook my head, but she relaxed and returned to her distant gaze. “Very difficult time,” she mumbled as if to herself. “Very difficult.”
So on we traveled through the caverns of my soul, her holding the lantern, me following. Into the very depths of the sea where creatures resembling alien life forms have no need for eyes. And there in that blackest of places, in the absence of all light, I could feel the presence of an ancient, hidden wound—something too terrible to touch, much less to reveal. The unspoken, the unforgivable.
Listening to Paula talk of the future, I realized that beneath all my hopes and dreams lived the darkest of all beliefs: None of it would ever come true. Not for me. I would always be held in the grip of a faceless, nameless despair, longing for things that would never be mine. It was there, in that most hopeless and unredeemable of places, that Paula left behind a gift of sure promise. She gently scooped up the battered children of my dreams and kissed away their tears, whispering that they were wrong about nothing ever changing. And they believed her.
Paula gave me what she called a Life Reading that day. She asked me about the trauma at age 10 but I had no answer except “I broke my arm broad jumping on roller skates.” Silence hung between us. And then out came something so odd, so inexplicable: “That was the beginning of my sexual problems.” Of which I had none at age 10—beyond being racked with shame for even having genitals thanks to my Catholic education. As baffling as that answer was to me, it animated Paula. “That’s exactly right, and those problems are still with you. You are still working through them.”
She spoke of my parents having a very unhappy union—a statement I had never consciously considered much less uttered out loud. Yet my heart knew it was true. Depression, Unhappiness, Quiet Desperation, Emptiness, and Emotional Isolation had been hanging around the house from my earliest memories. I had no images or experiences of anything brighter, happier, warmer, safer—more emotionally nurturing. What I did have at an early age were romantic fantasies, visions of being swept away and loved beyond my wildest notions of love. My journals were little more than desperate cries to be loved, to be cherished. Relief came in the writing but reading it later was unbearable. Pathetically embarrassing. I burned them all.
With no hot romantic interest in my life on that May afternoon, I had scribbled the birthdates of a couple of fellows from the past. One was still lingering on the sidelines, never moving in closer. The other was history, tossed out as a trap to expose her fallibility. If she read this fellow incorrectly, she could be wrong about anything. The man was a serial heartbreaker with intelligence and charm oozing from every pore. So great was his terror of living alone that his eggs had to be spread over five or six baskets. Including the mother of his five kids, the long-suffering wife who still hoped he might move back home after five years of separation.
Paula did not disappoint. “The first one is a very good man but the attraction between you is mental. The compatibility of your minds is far greater than your ability to meet each other’s emotional needs. That’s why the tension builds when you try to get close to each other.”
I was still assimilating the poignant truth behind those simple words, but she was on to Bachelor Number Two. Her gruff demeanor returned in full force and the blood vessels in her neck stuck out the way mine did at the mere mention of his name: “Are you still seeing this man?” I reassured her that I was just curious about her impressions.
“Everything this man thinks, says and does is solely to protect his own interests. He’s a genius at convincing others that he has their best interests at heart, but that is never the case. You get him entirely out of your head or you’ll end up attracting another one just like him. That’s how it works.”
And then her mood jumped tracks as her voice softened, “And you’ll be glad that you buried the past, because someone is coming in just a few months, maybe as soon as August. Someone of the highest quality. A relationship of a permanent nature. I don’t see you getting married for some time yet, but when you do, you’ll be moving to the eastern part of the country. I see a young man walking beside you, and three children.”
Her oddly worded patchwork narrative, the measured pauses, was confusing. A relationship of a permanent nature. A young man sharing my path. Who talks that way? Was the August guy the marriage guy? I never asked. Why waste time probing riddles that only the future can answer with certainty.
By the time she opened my written questions, she had answered every one. She had seen books all around me and asked why. My response was instant and enthusiastic: “Those are the books I’m going to write someday!” When she failed to affirm my sure destiny as a wildly successful author, I collapsed into a more humble statement about working on a college degree. “What in?” she asked, nodding approval when I said Teaching. “That’s good. Teacher or nurse—your spiritual vibration is number seven and you came to serve.”
A subtle shift in her manner and body language tipped me off that my time was up. During the money exchange, as she was expressing her thanks, our eyes finally met. More than met—if eyes can embrace, ours did. Her radiant smile swept away all the former harshness and preoccupation in her expression. She had outrageous dimples—gorgeous, deep, disarming dimples. Her eyes were as bright as the evening star and her voice as melodic and comforting as a lullaby, “God bless you, honey. I’m here if you need me.”
She reached behind her chair and grabbed one of her cards, saying she held spiritual development classes and Sunday church services right in the room where we were sitting. But I wasn’t really listening. My attention was absorbed in the dramatic metamorphose of this creature in front of me. The black eye makeup softened, pounds melted from her frame, her dyed hair took on a natural sheen—even the layers of jewelry and screaming prints seemed less kitschy. She was aglow in that late afternoon light, a woman of uncommon grace and beauty.
Closing her door behind me, I stood for just a moment on the step, overcome with the brilliance of the sunlight. Tingling warmth was penetrating every atom of my body and radiating back out again. The trees had grown taller, the leaves were a more vibrant green. Colors seemed almost translucent, backlit, shimmering. Had I been holding a scruffy little dog in my arms, his name would have been Toto. This was not the same world. It would never be the same. I felt an urge to burst into tears of joy and relief. Or was it dancing I wanted to do? Shouting? Yelling? Jumping?
So went my first introduction to the Reverend Paula Bruell. I had no intention of ever attending her classes or services. I had no intention of ever seeing her again—although I was back at her door a few months later when the Mr. August fellow turned my world upside down. Little did I know what she would come to mean to me. What we would come to mean to each other. The years I would spend in her presence. The miraculous healings I would be privileged to see, the power of love she wielded. The hours I would devote to cleaning her house, tending to her yard, coming up with ways to ease her burden and bring a smile to her face.
I only knew one thing for sure as I slowly walked through her gate and back to my car: She had reached into my soul and left behind a healing balm. I could still feel it, pulsing and sending out waves of effable peace and loving reassurance. As if the very Hand of God had touched my heart.