I might suspect some embellishment of the truth after the fact, so to speak, but even before tonight’s event, Hackett had told me a story that her mother once told her. Before Hackett was born, it seems, her great-grandmother, on her deathbed, put her hand on her mother’s stomach and said what her mother had not yet learned herself: “You are pregnant with a baby girl. I will watch over her always.”
On this evening, however, Meredith also describes a dog with short brown hair, a curly white tail, and sparkling eyes sitting at Hackett’s side and pawing her. This detail also causes her to tear up. She once had a golden retriever and St. Bernard mix named Brandi she dearly loved. “He described him to a T,” she tells me. “I have a picture of him on my wall, and his eyes always sparkled. He was a happy dog.”
Out of the blue, Meredith asks, “Who is Jimmy? I sense him coming in here. He is around about you a lot these days and is now standing with your grandmother next to you.” Meredith is starting to wind up his conversation with Hackett, after which he will turn to someone else in the room. She cannot tell him who Jimmy is. “That’s all right,” he says, “but you might inquire a bit about him to your family.”
And Hackett does. Her mother tells her the next day that Jimmy was her uncle but that he was killed in a car crash. “Oh, that Jimmy,” Hackett said to her mother. She goes on to tell me, “I thought he was still alive. I’ve recently been talking to my husband about hiring someone to find him, because I wanted to talk to him and find out what my dad was like. So [through Meredith’s mediation] that was my father’s brother coming back to tell me he had already passed. Which I thought was pretty cool, because then I wouldn’t get frustrated at trying to find this man.” Hackett remembers Jimmy because when she was a little girl he had once given her a doll. He had already stepped in to help the family in the years after his brother had left her and her mother.
Before finishing, Meredith also mentions to Hackett a number of details about her life that ring true to her. Not having grasped their significance at the time, I rehash them with her several days later. “He told me that someone in my life takes a lot of chances,” says Hackett. “I’m thinking that’s my husband. He’s 56, and he’s got some illnesses, but he gets on his motorcycle and thinks he’s an 18-year-old. And he drag races with his buddies. One will say, ‘I’m faster than you,’ and they’ll pump it. It’s a testosterone thing. But to me, that’s dangerous. I look at it and say, ‘Will you guys please grow up?’ He doesn’t take care of himself either. And I get on his butt. Then as he bites my head off because I’m acting like the wife where I’m not supposed to meddle, I leave him alone and say, ‘It’s your life.’ But it’s my life too. It’s going to affect me directly.
“Chris [Meredith] told me about my childhood too,” says Hackett, “that it was pretty crazy, no stability, that we moved a lot. God, did we move a lot. And then the house. He told me the back of my house was a total mess.” The reason for the mess, says Hackett, is that she and her husband are remodeling. During the sluggish, frustrating process, they have been piling things in the computer room in the rear of the house.
“Then he said he saw a Catholic symbol next to me and that I was a recovering Catholic. In some AA meetings we joke around saying we’re recovering Catholics, so that was right on. He also said I’m going to be involved in a nonprofit organization to help build something. That’s for the future. He said things are going to get crazy in my life starting in three or four months.”
I go to Window to the Spirit (donation, $15) on one other evening. Informally dressed in beige slacks and a polo shirt showing pleasant midlife girth, Meredith uses persuasive stories and humor to dominate the Healing Temple’s audience of 18 women plus me (one additional man had come on the other evening). His fluid speech is occasionally interrupted (on both nights) by the hysterical laughter of a sixtysomething Hispanic woman sitting on the right side of the room. Meredith acknowledges several of the outbursts with glib retorts but moves on quickly.
He begins each evening of Window to the Spirit with a guided meditation to put his audience in a relaxed frame of mind. Then, as in Hackett’s case, he spends the remainder of the two-hour service directly, and one at a time, engaging participants about their past, present, and future. During most of the conversations, he finds people and a few dogs from the spirit world standing as guides and companions next to those he is addressing. He brings out details of all kinds, ones concerning illnesses, careers, residence locations of relatives, dirty hands from gardening, kidding behaviors and personalities of those who have passed on, financial difficulties, suicides in the family, and childhood traumas. People commonly nod in positive response, but not always. Sometimes they even deny what Meredith is saying. In those cases, he says, it is possible that he is picking up from the spirit world details that actually belong to the lives of other people in the room. If we recognize that one of these details is our own, though he is speaking of someone else, he encourages us to speak up.
For weeks, I agonize over whether to ask Chris Meredith to act as a medium between me and my own father, who died in 1993. In the first place, I know my dad would have frowned on it, undoubtedly calling communication with the dead a lot of “hooey.” By going ahead only to satisfy my curiosity, I feel I will be dishonoring him and the kind of no-nonsense approach to life that he stood for. But people change, Meredith tells me, especially after they have passed into the spirit world. “And anyway, if your father doesn’t want to talk to you,” he says, “he won’t.”