He wasn't the classiest psychic I had ever gone to, not by a long shot. He was nothing like Vincent Ragone, the great medical psychic who had a three-year waiting list and was said to be sought after by U.S. presidents, religious leaders, and celebrities alike. Nor was he like the tarot reader in Little Italy whose tiny apartment was filled with antiques, candle light and sweet incense. No, he was a different breed altogether.
Irwin lived way out in the boondocks of Brooklyn before Brooklyn had cutesy monikers and cafes that served hand-crafted food and $14 cocktails. This was the mid-1970s, and the only thing Brooklyn was known for back then was Coney Island and Nathan's hot dogs. I was young, searching, and always on the lookout for a good masseuse, colonic therapist, or psychic reading. I eagerly took the subway, a bus, and then a 10-minute walk past nondescript two-family houses and 1950s-style apartment buildings.
I remember it like it was yesterday; we were sitting at his kitchen table, there were dishes piled up in the sink and the beige linoleum floor had cracks in it. It was early March, and the pale winter sun filtered through an unwashed window. Irwin, probably in his 50s, was stocky and gruff with a raspy voice; he sat there drinking black coffee and chain smoking unfiltered Camels.
"Gimme a lifetime; gimme a lifetime," he kept repeating. I soon realized this meant to tell him the name of someone and he would explain our past life connection. First I asked about myself. He said I had been a nun in 17th century France (Vincent Ragone had told me the exact same thing); I had also studied witchcraft and astrology in Scotland, been a nurse in Russia, and been a ballet dancer in France. Mostly I asked about the men in my life: my current boyfriend, old lovers. He wove tales of ancient Rome and Greece; there was also a lifetime in Egypt, another in England.
"Gimme a lifetime; gimme a lifetime," he said. I was running out of men, so I asked him about my mother. "She was your aunt in China; you became very ill; she saved your life by using herbs and potions. You're returning the favor now." That made perfect sense; my mother was fragile and low functioning. After her breakdown I was able to get her the help she needed.
"Gimme a lifetime," he repeated once more.
"What about my father?"
Irwin took a long drag on his cigarette, closed his eyes and leaned back. After several seconds he opened his eyes.
"Calvinist, Germany, 1600s. He was controlling, rigid, and intolerant. He hated women -- couldn't deal with the feminine. You were very sensitive, emotional. He tried to beat it out of you."
"Sounds about right," I said. "But what happened; what am I doing back with him again?"
"You were okay, but he was a real bastard."
I didn't need a psychic to tell me that. My father was angry and abusive, first toward my mother but over time she began to retreat until she finally disappeared altogether. Later she would be diagnosed with schizophrenia. It was then that he turned his rage on me. At 16 I had begun modeling in New York City; the more involved I became with my budding career the more violent our fights got until he couldn't be in the same room without attacking me. I finally cracked under the pressure; I developed an eating disorder, shut down, and like Persephone I plunged into the underworld. It had taken me years to climb back up, but I was in a good place now and had made peace with the past.
"Well, how did I end up in the same situation? Why am I being punished?"
"You didn't do anything wrong."
From the little I knew about karma that simply didn't add up.
"That doesn't make sense."
"No; you were fine."
"I must have done something."
He took another long drag on his cigarette and exhaled slowly. "Well, there was one thing you didn't do."
"You didn't forgive him."
I was incredulous. "I didn't forgive him?"
Irwin said nothing but continued to smoke. We sat in silence as I let this information sink in. Why was it my responsibility? I had worked relentlessly on myself and my issues with my father. I had done therapy, conditioned reflex therapy, Reichian, bioenergetics. There was hypnosis, Rolfing, deep tissue massage, and workshops such as "est" (Erhard Seminar Training) and actualizations -- you name it. Hey, it was the 1970s. I thought I had resolved my anger and hatred toward my father. I couldn't say I loved him, but I no longer blamed or resented him; in fact, I supported my parents financially. Wasn't that enough? Obviously not.
Forgive him? It was as if a bomb went off in my brain. Yet when the smoke cleared I recognized some higher cosmic order, some ancient pattern of cause and effect. I knew Irwin was right; I knew it in my bones, although I didn't fully understand it. Sitting there at the kitchen table covered with coffee cups and an ashtray full of cigarette butts, I began to slowly comprehend that working on my problems wasn't the same as healing them.
"You didn't forgive him." Those four words changed my life.
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