music by Peter Sterling
Chapter 2 An Otherwise Normal
For the first thirty years of my life, voices didn’t pop into my head and I had no unusual visions. At the age of twelve, my second sight consisted of my dressing up like a gypsy and pretending to tell fortunes to neighborhood kids using a pack of playing cards.
Growing up in suburban Denver, the eldest of a large, Catholic family, I went through all the phases typical of a young girl deciding her destiny. In second grade I wanted to be a nun; in fourth grade a missionary; by sixth grade a teacher. Excelling in school and altruistic by nature, I settled on being a pediatrician.
Of course, I would become none of these.
During those years at home, we went to Mass every Sunday and Confession after Mom reminded us how mean we were to our siblings. Like all good Catholic children, we had contests to see who could recite ten Hail Marys the fastest. Then, in eighth grade, I took a radical turn from the church’s teachings. Virginia Tighe, a mother of one of the students in my junior high class,
came to our school to tell us about her past life experience.
Once I heard this fantastic story, it was easy to become a believer in past lives. I began to doubt much of what I had learned in Catechism. I questioned, “Why don’t Catholics believe in past lives? Why do you have to be Catholic to go to heaven?” Mom prayed for me and asked me to talk with a priest about my many doubts. I did, but his answers didn’t sway me. When I went to college and was away from home, I stopped going to church. What could be better? I attended the University of Colorado in Boulder in the 1970s—hippies, drugs, campus streaking, Transcendental Meditation. Yet as a straight arrow, I steered clear of the first three and couldn’t afford the fee to learn TM. There were always philosophy courses, classes in comparative religion and thought-provoking books to quench my growing curiosity about the spiritual world.
Mostly, I spent my college days in the library, organizing sorority parties and campus events, or getting involved in national politics. When my plan to be a doctor was dashed by my inability to learn calculus, I picked Environmental Conservation as a major. It allowed me to take all the science and economics courses I enjoyed, while still believing I could save the world. After graduation, my dream of making a difference began with a move to Washington D.C. to work as an intern in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Even in the idealistic seventies, an environmental major wasn’t the meal ticket I had hoped it would be. So after a summer of politics, I enrolled at the University of Missouri to get an MBA. From there, everything progressed quite logically on a fast track. My first job was with Andersen Consulting. My next job—I was twenty-five—was as the national Executive Director of the sorority I had pledged in college. I loved every day of it—the work and the women. I enjoyed the challenge of running a multi-million dollar organization—that is, until the day the board of directors fired me. My youthful idealism, not yet tempered by business experience or organizational savvy caused me to push for change too quickly. “Jonette, you are much more suited for the business world, not a non-profit,” was the summation of the president at my dismissal.
Heartbroken from my first career failure, I plotted an escape. “Let’s hitchhike around New Zealand and Australia,” I excitedly suggested to Mary Fran, my traveling buddy from college. Waving goodbye to worried parents, we donned our overstuffed backpacks, and within days were standing on the side of a road north of Auckland, our thumbs out to catch a ride. For over six months, we camped, hiked, slept in train stations and youth hostels, and discovered the joys of young sojourners in friendly, English-speaking lands.
Sydney, with its breathtaking harbor and waterways, famed Opera House and sparkling weather was a jewel we saved for the end of our journey. Standing in the summer sun on the main plaza, my heart was filled with the city’s gleaming beauty. “I could live here!”
“Be careful what you ask for,” says the old adage. How could I have known that the Universe had heard my off-hand request?
After picking up our mail at the general post office, we found a trendy pub for a Friday evening brew and to meet a friend-of-a-friend—a businessman. This was our last night in Australia so Mary Fran and I celebrated. David, the businessman, asked me, “What do you do for a living?”
Since hitchhiking couldn’t possibly be the correct answer, I puffed myself up to reply, “I have an MBA and was a management consultant.”
“Hmm,” he considered, “I need someone to help run my companies.”
Another beer, some in-depth discussion—as in-depth as you can get in a popular pub on a Friday after work, and I had myself a job interview. The only trouble was that the interview would have to be in the U.S. since I was flying home the next day. I must have made a good impression because I was back in Colorado only a week when David called to arrange an interview in Los Angeles. Have you ever noticed that when the Universe is serious about granting your wish, nothing can stop it?
Within a month, job contract and work visa in hand, I returned to Australia to live. Slowly, I made friends in the world Down Under. I worked for David for a year, obtained permanent residency and then moved into the field of software consulting. I was single, a yuppie in one of the world’s most magnificent cities, sharing a flat on Sydney Harbor. It seemed that I had found my niche.
Your Path Is Made by Walking
With the freedom of the outdoors singing in my blood, I got away whenever possible with friends to backpack and camp in the New South Wales wilderness. Once, we were lucky to spot a koala. Another time we saw a herd of wild horses, “brumbies” as the Australians call them, grazing near our tent. I never would have imagined that the end to my otherwise normal life would have occurred on one of those camping trips. Something so strange and otherworldly happened that its significance only became clear twenty years later when I hiked the Inca Trail.
Our trek that Easter weekend was to the Blue Gum Forest in the mountains west of Sydney. Here, vast stands of eucalyptus, or gum trees, grew so straight and tall that the earliest settlers logged most of them to become masts for sailing ships. However, this particular forest was too far inland for the ship builders of 200 years ago, so the trees stood elegant and sacred. They are called blue gums because their papery bark is so bright white as to actually shine with a blue tint.
The midday sun dappled through the dancing, fragrant leaves, down onto tall grasses on the open forest floor. I was in a reverie hiking in front of a group of my friends. As I tramped peacefully along the trail, another, more ethereal world appeared beside me, much like a split screen television. I found myself simultaneously inhabiting my ordinary reality and a mystical, nonphysical realm. It was as if there were two of me—a physical Jonette and an etheric replica. In that other dimension, an apparition of a beautiful woman with long, straight hair, dressed in white, sat on a rock in a clearing. Her hair was white but her face was not of an old woman. Everything about her was magnificently luminous. Telepathically, she beckoned my etheric self to walk toward her and set my pack down so I could rest. Her angelic gaze lovingly filled me. After several minutes of soul connection, the Spirit Woman indicated that it was time for my ethereal double to continue. I understood that I was to keep on walking through the otherworldly forest. With her thoughts, she communicated that my non-physical self was to leave my backpack—also etheric— with her.
Spirit world or not, I was miffed at the idea of leaving my pack behind. “After all,” I thought, “I’m already traveling light. My tent, my stove, my food are pared down to the very basics.” It was clear I couldn’t win a telepathic argument with the Spirit Woman in white, so I reluctantly agreed in the invisible world to walk on with nothing. Yet, I tried to negotiate with her, “Since you won’t let me take my backpack with me, can you at least tell me which way I should go?” I could see no paths or markers in this other-dimensional forest.
In her gentle way she indicated, No deal. She would not tell me which way to start out; only that it was time for me to leave. She spoke into my mind, Your path is made by walking.
I wasn’t pleased to be told by a spirit being that I could take nothing with me and that I would have no one or no path to follow. Yet in that other, simultaneous dimension, I followed the Spirit Woman’s bidding. My spirit self left my etheric possessions with her in the mystical meadow, striking off into the woods without a path, in a direction of my choosing. Even today, my main complaint, as a spiritual explorer, is that most of my knowledge comes from inner guidance. Sometimes it would be easier to follow a guru or teacher; to have someone else tell me what to do. Maybe the woman in white was showing me that each of us must discover our own way and walk our path with confidence. On the other hand, perhaps this was a personal spiritual test and that my agreement to continue unencumbered and follow no known path has made all the difference in my life.
After a few minutes, the luminous Spirit Woman and her ethereal world disappeared. I continued hiking in the normal physical reality, still carrying my physical backpack. Since then, I’ve often wondered, “Who was she?” She was certainly angelic, but she wasn’t an angel. The answer to my persistent question would have to wait until I arrived in the Andes, more than two decades later. This was the first time, but it wouldn’t be the last that I had Spirit enter my otherwise normal life. For the time being, I kept the incident to myself. My hiking friends were mostly business associates who probably wouldn’t understand that while I trekked in front of them, I was participating in mystical communications with an invisible woman.
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