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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Long Distance

My grandfather passed away four years ago this past week. In keeping with my promise to write more candidly on spiritual matters, I offer this.

* * *

There are three phone numbers on my Skype call-out list that I will never dial again: my grandfather’s home number in New Jersey, his snow-bird line in Florida, and his cellphone, which he never used much anyway. These days reaching Grandpa Ted requires something other than a long-distance phone call.

It was just under a year after his death that my grandfather first got ahold of me. I was nearing the end of a six-week stint in India, sitting alone in a hotel restaurant in a place I didn’t want to be. I’d just left the warmth and excitement of Sadhana Forest, a reforestation project and wonderful international community, and I was feeling lonely after a month of friendship and usefulness. More to the point, I had a nasty charley-horse in my calf after sleeping on an overnight bus with my legs slung over my backpack, and I didn’t see how I’d be able to stand, possibly for hours, in the insanely crowded bus station across the street. The bright, independent, can-do me had vanished in a fog of pinching pain and irritable self-loathing, and I hid my face in my bandanna.

The restaurant manager approached. “Please don’t cry, Miss. How can I help you?”

I asked him how much a taxi to Munnar would cost. (Munnar, by the way, was a three-and-a-half hour drive.) The manager went to call a taxi service, and when he came back he informed me that a car would run me 2,600 rupees, or just under sixty US dollars.

It was a bargain by our standards, but I was used to spending fifty cents on all-you-can-eat thali meals. “Would it cost less to take a taxi without air conditioning?” I asked. “I don’t need air conditioning.” Again the manager went to call the taxi company, and I went back to feeling sorry for myself. But the next voice I heard wasn’t the manager’s.

I did not hear it with my ears, and yet it was as clear as if he’d been sitting right next to me. For Chrissakes, honey, order the taxi!

My grandfather had a way of speaking when he was exasperated—his voice would strain in this very particular way. In that moment he’d been the farthest thing from my mind, which is one reason why I knew I wasn’t imagining it.

He spoke again, with feeling instead of words, though it was easy enough to understand him: You’re traveling on my dime, honey, so I’m telling you—order the taxi. (Just like him, too, to be dictating how I should spend my inheritance money!)

The second reason I knew I wasn’t imagining the voice was my physiological reaction, which was instant and complete: my frustration and loneliness gave way to the most wonderful calm I’d ever known. I ordered the taxi along with a hearty lunch, and was rewarded for my reverse-stinginess with vista after vista of mountains swathed in the brilliant green of the tea plantations, and all from the comfort of an upholstered seat. With each new view, with each fresh breath, I thanked my grandfather for knocking some sense into me, just as he would have when he was alive.

It’s easier for Grandpa Ted—or any of our departed loved ones—to communicate with feelings and images instead of speech. (Words are limiting even between mortals, and we are still less competent when listening to the dead.) You might say my grandfather and I are separated by all the vastness of time and space, and yet we get along far better than we did while he was alive. In the old days we knocked heads about a lot of things—politics, mostly—but my grandfather is no longer the man who announced in an Italian restaurant that “all Democrats are liars,” nor am I the girl who needed to be right when letting it go would have allowed us all to eat our meal in peace.

But he is still the person who read my first novel and praised it though it was blatantly anti-Republican, and he is still the person who even read it a second time without once complaining about my politics. He supported me then, and he supports me now. When the ARC for my second novel came out, I brought it to the hospice to show him. It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment—the moment I held it up for him to see—that he would never have the chance to read it.

I was wrong about that, though. On one occasion, almost two years after his passing, I was feeling sad about him never getting to read the book, and I felt a sudden clarity as a picture unfolded in my mind.

A quiet, darkened room, like a university library past closing time. A green reading lamp perched over the shoulder of an imitation-leather armchair. I felt his pride and anticipation as he settled in and cracked the spine. Freed of hunger, fatigue, and the call of nature, he read the novel in a single sitting.

Most of the time when Grandpa Ted checks in it’s just to tell me he’s proud of me, which is something he wasn’t able to say outright while he was alive. I have a friend who is a psychic-medium, and while she was communicating with my grandfather back in late 2012 she told me he wished he could have lightened up and laughed with me the way I’d always been able to laugh with my dad’s dad. In my mind I went back to one afternoon when my grandmother was watching me after school, and I hid in the coat closet as Grandpa Ted pulled into the driveway after work. He opened the closet and put his coat on a hanger, and I giggled into my hand as he called to my grandmother, “Oh, Camille went home early? That’s too bad. I was looking forward to seeing her.” Most of the time, what a medium has to tell you isn’t remotely surprising. What more do we ever really need to say besides “I love you”?

My favorite long-distance call happened last summer. I was on a second date, and it was going very well. We were sitting at a bar talking about our Italian-American families, and as I told my date about my grandfather surviving two typhoons during World War II, the most obvious revelation all but tapped me on the shoulder.

“I’m proud of him,” I said, in awe. “I’m proud of how tough he was, how brave he was.” I had never said this to anyone—least of all to the man himself—but the physical reaction was instant and complete. I know Cupid never shot an arrow of familial love, but that’s the best way I can describe it. My whole body hummed and shimmered from crown to toe. He’d been dead three years at that point, but I’d never felt so loved.

Ted Colangelo 1942


7 Comments to Long Distance

  1. May 20, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    This is a beautiful post, Camille. You’ve brought me to tears. I love how he’s communicated with you through the years.

  2. May 20, 2014 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. May 21, 2014 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    Lovely, thanks for sharing Camille!

  4. Helen's Gravatar Helen
    May 22, 2014 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    So lovely the way you two are connecting. Hope you kept sharing writing on the spiritual side!

  5. Susan's Gravatar Susan
    May 22, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    This is so lovely. Grandpa has been communicating with me and Eileen from time to time in our dreams. To both of us, he showed us that his legs were strong again. To Eileen, he came bounding up the stairs, to me very recently he appeared with very muscular legs, also to let me know he was fine. When Eileen asked for a sign (curiously, she asked for two identical anythings) that Grandma and Grandpa were together, someone approached her at St. Luke’s church and gave her two identical bouquets from the altar, because “you have just lost your father”. A few days after I asked for a sign that Grandpa was Ok, I saw a license plate that said “I AM FINE”. Another time, after having a big disappointment and while driving I thought, “I don’t feel as bad as I should, I must be getting help from heaven.” No sooner did I think those thoughts than I saw the license plate “T AND D” (for Ted and Dorothy, my parents”.) I could write a lot more but I’m running out of space. I’ll leave everyone with this thought…God loves us, heaven is real, and friends and family wait for us there with a more perfect love for us than they had on earth. Also, “the small still voice” from God, is a real phenomena, and is available to all if we seek Him diligently. Love you!!!!!!!

  6. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    May 22, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I am going to stick up for Grandpa Ted (since he can’t), he definitely told you that he was proud of you. I know that I have cards from him (for graduations and such) in which he says that he is proud of me, and I am sure you have the same.

  7. June 12, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    This is so so so lovely Camille. It gave me shivers and made me cry and made me think of my dear Grandma who I hear all the time!! lots of hugs and huge kisses to you . . . xoxoxo

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.