I don't believe in tea leaves. Don't trust palm readers. Never been to a seance. But lately, I find I've been channeling my father.
Watching some closing footage of the Olympics in Turin was the first that I noticed it. Speed skater Apolo Ohno had just crossed the finish line, his arm rocketing into a self-congratulatory fist, his face exploding in celebration, when the tears started down my cheeks. The athlete's humility in the face of winning gold, his genuine surprise at finally skating "that perfect race" would have resonated with Vinnie LoLordo. As for me, I was just the vessel.
That's the explanation I come up with, thinking back on that weepy Saturday night. I mean, I wasn't really following the Olympics. I'm not a winter sports fan ... not much skiing on Long Island where I grew up. But my father was a skater and he rarely turned down an invite to a Rangers game at the Garden. He wasn't sentimental in a Hallmark way. He was a big-hearted, 6-foot-something, ex-college ballplayer, who made headlines playing basketball and baseball for Columbia University in the 1940s. He understood the demands of being a serious athlete and respected the dedication of such talent.
But this channeling thing goes beyond a few fallen tears.
When I call out to my 3-year-old son, "Where's my FAVVVVORITE boy?" I realize that's not me talking. If he were still alive, my father would have called out to his youngest grandchild just as he first did to his oldest years ago. There are other examples that have surprised -- and consoled -- me.
When you lose someone you love, someone who has loved you unconditionally, you search for ways to keep them near, present in your life, don't you? The old photos you restore; the favorite sweater you keep in the closet; the last message on the telephone answering machine that you can't erase.
In the last days of my father's life, as a rare form of cancer overcame him, my sisters and brother gathered around his bed one Saturday. He started ticking off the things that we needed to do to ensure that my mother would be taken care of. As he started down the list, we realized this was his last goodbye and we nearly all interrupted him. To finish his list would mean the end.
And none of us could abide that.
But I had my own request, one final promise from him. I made him promise that, if I needed him later, after it was over, that he would find a way to reach me. Since my father's death in July 2003, my siblings, one by one, say they have heard from him. One sister talks about the old man in a boat whom she encountered while sailing. The guy had drifted out too far in the Long Island Sound and needed help. As they exchanged greetings, the man introduced his sailing partner, a black Lab named "Doc," my dad's nickname.
It was a sign, and a humorous one: My dad was pet-averse, except for a Chihuahua named Willie that joined our extended family late in his life.
While visiting the racetrack at Saratoga Springs, my youngest sister got a tip on a three-horse combination and won. The numbers were the time of my father's death. Another sign.
My brother had a similar experience, only he was at a dog track, and he bet on a winning greyhound named Vincent. One more sign.
As for me, it hasn't happened that way, no blinking light of cognition. It's been more of a gradual realization that my father remains a part of my life despite his absence. He has made his presence felt in small, obscure ways: My desire to hear Mimi's aria from the opera La Boheme; my husband's recent habit of nodding off on the sofa while watching TV; my toddler's appetite for asparagus; an impatience within me that serves no one's interest.
I'm grateful for the channeling. Grateful more for the strange comfort it brings, a sense that my relationship with my father hasn't been severed, that as Henry Scott Holland wrote, he has "only slipped away into the next room" and that "whatever we were to each other, that we still are."
To listen to podcasts of Real Life essays, go to baltimoresun.com / reallife.