John Nagy '00 MA | May 30, 2019
I am the keeper of a family memory. Its details are blurry and its edges curled, but I hold it close, like a pocketworn heirloom photograph.
My grandmother is 6. She is playing on the living room floor at her home in Kimberly, Wisconsin. Her mother is in the cellar, washing clothes, when something overcomes her. A vision of her son — a panic, a premonition — sends her rushing up the stairs, certain that her heart has broken.
“There’s something the matter with Harry!” she cries. “There’s something the matter with Harry!”
She bursts into the living room and collapses into a chair, anguished, weeping for her son Harry, some 200 miles away.
That afternoon, the parish priest knocks on the front door. The minor seminary has called him at the rectory, home to one of the few telephones in town. He is afraid he has bad news, but what he has to say comes as no surprise.
What happens to us when we die? Is it possible we can visit those we love? Apart from this one family remembrance and what I witness during the consecration at Mass, I have no firsthand experience of the supernatural, yet there is much about the story of my great-uncle Harry that has always rung true.
In the eighth grade I read Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” the Civil War tale of a southern planter, Peyton Farquhar, who is set to hang from the very railroad bridge he’d hoped to burn down as a last, desperate defense against the advancing Union army. The rope around his neck snaps. He plummets into the water below and, as bullets and grapeshot rocket by, he strains to escape, picking his way through 30 miles of wilderness then up the garden path to the front door of his home and into his wife’s loving arms — and I will leave you to recall or imagine what happened to Peyton Farquhar at Owl Creek Bridge.
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