other worlds

My grandfather died late Friday night. He was 89–Friday, in fact, was his birthday. In the course of dealing with the loss, over the last few days I’ve had some strange and curious thoughts, and an experience I initially hesitated to write about, but I now think is worth a post.

I spent most of Saturday at home working on my new horror novel, which is entitled Doppelgänger. Due to the emotional rawness occasioned by the loss in our family I felt better working without distractions, so I shut off Twitter and my phone, except for updates from the family, and worked on through the day with single-minded purpose. It was a warm day, not tremendously hot, and the first day in a while I’ve been able to work without the fan running in my bedroom.

About 11:30 in the morning a curious thing happened. Everything got very quiet–the rustle of leaves outside the window, the rush of traffic beyond, the usual muffled sounds of living in an apartment. It felt a little bit like time was slowing down, which is an experience I’ve had before. I didn’t feel like there was a presence in my room (Doppelgänger deals a lot with “feeling presences”) but something felt very different, very unusual about my surroundings. The best day I can describe it is that it felt like the tissue that separates our normal tangible world from some other realm of existence–whatever that may be–was suddenly unusually thin, almost like I could see through it.

Something like this happened to me before. In early December 1997 I was studying very late at night at the main library on the Tulane University Campus. I was so exhausted from studying that I was falling asleep in the middle of sentences I was reading in a book–I’d be awake and conscious while reading the beginning and ending words of a sentence, but in the middle I fell asleep and dreamed the words I read in the sentence, which naturally made no sense. I looked up at the wall and suddenly got that feeling of time slowing down, and the separation between this world and “the next” seemed barely to exist. I had the impression that I could reach out and touch some other frame of existence, that it was so close it was within arm’s reach–but I also feared if I did that I would literally die.

I do not believe in superstitions, ghosts, spirits and the like, at least not in a literal sense. Until 2009 I was a staunch atheist, although I’ve become much more spiritual since then. If you ask me to define what this “other world” is, I simply can’t, because it cannot be measured empirically. Yet I have an instinctive sense that our physical, conscious world coincides, possibly in exactly the same time and place, as some other form of existence. There are possibly moments when we come much closer to perceiving that other form of existence, within the context of our conscious minds, than normal.

In thinking about my strange “quiet moment” on Saturday I’m reminded of a poem–I forget who it’s by–written about visiting battlefields and old trenches shortly after the end of World War I. In writing this blog I did several searches for words I recall from this poem but couldn’t identify it, but the author describes seeing skulls lying on the ground, and there’s a line that goes something like, “The pull of the other world seems strong.” I’m also reminded of my favorite quote from one of my favorite books, The Third Planet From Altair, where a character says, “I don’t know where I’ve been, but I know there is another universe besides our own.”

Ideas matter. How we conceive of the world is, one could argue, more important than the physical reality of the world around us. We are constantly remaking and redefining our realities. That’s the essence of being human. I once did not believe in God; I do now, as I believe I’ve felt His eye looking directly at me. In the real world one must navigate by virtue of facts, of what can be proven and demonstrated, measured and validated. But there may be another world too, one which is more theoretical than real, and which is incapable of being explained by the usual tools we use to make sense of our physical existence. Those two worlds are separate and should remain so, but sometimes the wall between them is not so impenetrable as it may seem.