The other night I caught a show on TLC called “Long Island Medium.” Being from Long Island myself, I thought that this might be a show about the first Long Islander to pass on the largest size of food or drink offered at a restaurant. But no, it was about the life and work of a woman named Theresa Caputo, who goes around speaking to the deceased and asking them if the parking situation is any better in the afterlife.
Mediumship has been around as long as there have been human beings willing to connect with their departed loved ones and pay a medium’s hourly rate plus expenses. I’m sure that if we had a video of Ancient Athens, we could see a medium walking into a fish market, and saying, “I’m feeling something…some here recently lost someone…who was into togas. Am I right? What can I say? It’s a gift.”
Communicating with the dead reached a peak in the 19th Century, especially in the English-speaking countries, where spirits were found hiding in Ulysses S. Grant’s beard and books by Charles Dickens. Although there were some high-profile hoaxes—most notably one where a medium went several months without bathing and convinced clients that the arresting body odor was their deceased relative reeking from the Other Side—a large group of believers remained.
Perhaps it is because of the popularity of medium John Edward, who is also from Long Island and is particularly adept at channeling television ratings, that it seems like mediums have staged a comeback in recent years. Reality television has certainly facilitated the growth, and I’m waiting for a show where spirits compete in a series of physical trials and then vote each other out of the afterlife.
My own experience with mediums is rather limited. As I once traversed the grounds at a local fair after a harrowing experience with cotton candy, I was called to by a woman standing in a tent.
“Sir, have you recently lost someone?”
I told her that I wasn’t interested in any coupons, but she was insistent that I had recently lost someone. I told her that I had not.
“Really? Are you sure?”
I again answered that I hadn’t lost anyone. She bit her lip and furrowed her brow for a few seconds.
“Are you absolutely sure you haven’t lost anyone recently?”
“All right, all right,” I said. “You got me. Yes, I recently lost someone.”
“I knew it,” she said. “Now tell me, was this person into…uh…eating food?”
“It wasn’t a person. It was a squirrel. And yes, the squirrel liked to eat food.”
“See? I knew I was feeling something. Now, did your squirrel pass after a very long illness?”
“He was flattened by a Civic.”
“Ah yes, that was going to be my next guess. Well, the squirrel wants me to tell you that it’s okay to let go, that it wasn’t your fault.”
I thanked the medium for her time and didn’t tell her that the reason the squirrel was in the way of the car was because I had thrown a handful of Honey Bunches of Oats into the street. I thanked her for her time and gave her a handful of Honey Bunches of Oats.
Despite all of the evidence that spirits are all around us and giving the endings of movies that we haven’t seen, I remain a skeptic. If there is an afterlife, where you can float around to wherever you want, see and hear anything without having to look around for a bathroom…why on Earth would you want to talk to the living?