“I see a large empty whiskey bottle floating above your head” is how the Reverend Chris Meredith addresses Linda Hackett, who is on the other side of the aisle and closer to the little chapel’s altar than where I sit in its rear right-hand corner. “English Medium” is how the flyer announcing the event this evening describes the animated man now standing and speaking up front. I have been getting nervous that for his observations he may soon select me from the 13 of us in attendance, but at his first words to Hackett, who has never met Meredith, my feeling converts to sheer amazement. Not three days earlier I had sat listening as she talked about the destructive role drinking played in her life.
It’s not as though Meredith is looking at a bedraggled drunk off the streets and is suggesting that Hackett guzzled the whiskey bottle empty before arriving tonight. Nor does she show the physical effects of long years of drinking that some alcoholics do. Hackett, who has asked that her name be changed, is a regular at Bally Total Fitness in Mission Valley, where she once invited me to attend “Boot Camp,” a weekly aerobics regimen. “I’m not in the kind of shape to handle that,” I told her. But Hackett is — and then some. Her friendliness beams at you from blue eyes framed by angular features and short light brown hair.
No, Hackett appears to be the poster child for healthy sobriety. At 39 years of age, she is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and has been taking her program seriously for the past 16 years. She is married to a retired fireman who also belongs to AA. She works as a law enforcement officer herself, specializing in rescue and medical response for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
On this summer evening, we are attending the gathering the Reverend Meredith calls “Window to the Spirit.” It is being held in a small rectangular building called the Healing Temple, on the Harmony Grove Spiritualist Association’s grounds, which are pleasantly situated in a wooded area several miles outside Escondido. Upon learning of my curiosity about psychic and other paranormal phenomena, Hackett wanted to go with me to the service. Meredith holds it on most Tuesday nights at 7:00 p.m., except in the winter. The setting is a little too remote and bucolic to encourage attendance when darkness comes early in the evenings.Hackett is a firm believer in psychic abilities. At the age of 13, she and her best friend went to a Halloween celebration at her school in Concord, California, where she got a reading from a woman predicting that she would someday be shot. One hopes that someone giving a message like that would have couched it in the playful mischievousness of Halloween. However that may be, one night ten years ago, an intruder in the harborside Holiday Inn, where Hackett was working as a security guard, beat her and shot her in the hip.
Before the injury, Hackett admits, she paid no attention to the psychic message, which included a description of her troubled home life and predictions of her mother’s multiple marriages, her own marriage for the wrong reasons at 19, and the beige color of the uniform she would be wearing at the moment of getting shot. “It was all true,” says Hackett, who since then has avoided psychics because one of them might predict something bad happening to her again. “It makes me nervous. Do I want to live in fear? I enjoy law enforcement,” she says. “I want to be able to go out every day and have a good time at work and not fear that somebody’s going to shoot me or shoot one of my partners. It could be anything. You could walk into a grocery store and get shot. I just want to live my life in peace.”
So Hackett has not come to Window to the Spirit tonight to consult a psychic. Instead, she is hoping that Meredith will relay some communication from her father, dead since 1990. For I have told her that Meredith understands his own work and career to be primarily that of a medium.
“I’ve never met the man,” says Hackett of the father who abandoned her in infancy. In the meantime, her stepfather molested her off and on as she was growing up. Hackett wants to ask her real father lots of questions. “He tried to find me when I was in my teens,” she says, “and my mom wouldn’t allow him to see me. I had a lot of anger then and even when I was first in recovery. Apparently he remarried and had kids. So I’ve got half brothers and sisters out there. I’ve wanted to know why. Who are you? Why didn’t you come get me or come see me? I want to let him know that I don’t blame him for the abuse I experienced but that he needed to be in my life to prevent some of it.
“What my AA sponsor had me do,” Hackett continues, “was to write him a letter, starting with the anger, and get it all on paper. ‘Talk to your dad,’ he said. ‘Tell him what you feel.’ I did that and I put the letter in a coffee can at El Capitan Reservoir and I burned it in the can. Then I took it out and spread it on the reservoir. And that was to signify his ashes. It worked well, because I have become peaceful with him. He had to do what he had to do, but, still, he’s my dad. And I love him. I’ve never met him, but I’ve been told I’m like him — expressions, the way I walk and hold myself, my temper, the way I write.”
In his charming English accent, Meredith tells those who attend Window to the Spirit, “You may not get what you want, but you’ll get what you need.” Tonight Hackett receives no message from her father. But Meredith does claim to see the spirit of her grandmother, long gone, standing by her side as she sits listening to him among the rest of us in the Harmony Grove chapel. “Your grandmother wants you to know that she is proud of you and is proud you found your faith,” he tells Hackett, who, at this mention of a woman who spent as much time raising her as her own mother, begins to weep. She tells me later that she has always felt the presence of both her grandmother and great-grandmother protecting her at dangerous moments. As I listen, I wonder what they were doing when her stepfather was molesting her. But she credits them with often helping her. “My life should have been taken by now,” she says.