The Emperor’s New Suit
You must have heard that old story about how pride and vanity can often lead to our downfall? An Emperor in a far away land was once so caught up in luxuries and appearances that he was duped by two so-called tailors. They flattered him by telling him that they could make him a suit from material so fine that only those with exquisite taste and superior intelligence would be able to see it. The emperor, not wishing to appear a fool, gladly paid highly for the suit and promptly paraded in front of his subjects without a single stitch on.
Well in many ways what I am about to tell you has some similar aspects to that story. It is about the ability to act on what other people cannot see or hear. This was an encounter I had a while ago now and to be very honest: it tested me. I had to trust a voice I did not recognise and had surely never heard before and the whole episode blurred the distinction between sanity and insanity. It was only by putting true faith into that voice that I was able to come through.
You may already know this, but I used to work in the UK clothing industry in a small but demanding business. It may not have been Vogue but it was certainly enough of the rat race for my liking. Amongst many, many others, one of the jobs I had to do involved the wages. Every Tuesday, rain or shine, I had to trek to the bank taking the list of staff wages along with the wages cheques with me. It was a laborious task which I never really looked forward to as there was always a long, never-ending queue in the bank; it always seemed to take each and every customer in front of me a ridiculous amount of time just to get through with their business.
This particular Tuesday presented itself with a grey, drizzly morning and I had to do my usual trudge along the high street towards the bank with the wages. Walking on automatic, I pushed open the door and with an involuntary sigh, surveyed the winding queue ahead of me. Typical for it to be not even 10 in the morning and already only one teller working! Resignedly, I joined the back of the queue and began to switch off my mind to my surroundings.
Suddenly, I heard a loud voice – a male voice – speaking clearly about buying a new suit for a funeral. It sounded as if the person to whom the voice belonged was standing right next to me in the line. For a split second, I thought it was a couple of people in the queue talking to each other but it was fairly obvious that no one waiting in line was in conversation; everyone was waiting there just as bored as I was and looking blankly ahead of themselves, we were all standing directly behind each other and nobody was turning around to talk to the person behind.
I looked around and still could not make out who was talking. For a start, the voice was male and every single other person in the queue (apart from myself) was a woman. Furthermore, I had the distinct impression that the voice was talking directly to me.
It lasted only a few minutes and when it was finished, the quiet left over was even more eerie than the voice itself. It was made even more obvious to me that it hadn’t been anybody in the queue talking because not one of them made any reference to it and after each person had been served, they left alone; nobody there was with anyone else. However, I didn’t really want to dwell on the alternative solutions to the issue and tried to put it out of my mind till I had finished with the wages and could leave the bank.
I managed to shrug the whole thing off as just ‘one of those things’ and the rest of the week went by without much incident. However, Tuesday came back round again as it does and you can believe that the memory of the voice shouldered its way back into my thoughts as I made my way again to the bank on my weekly pilgrimage.
Again, I faced the back of an interminable line of customers, again I heard the same male voice telling me to buy a new suit for a funeral and again I looked around but could find no obvious perpetrator. Disconcerted by the fact that I could hear this disembodied voice, I nervously waited to be served and rushed my way out of there.
This time, I was unable to ignore the voice and could no longer put it down to a glitch or what have you. I spent the next few days contemplating in earnest what the voice had been telling me. To be quite honest, it’s bad enough to hear a voice you don’t recognise and can’t see where it’s coming from but it’s another thing when you start paying attention to what it’s been saying.
This voice had, in essence, been advising me to prepare for a funeral. That is to say that if it was right, then the death of someone I knew was on its way.
The third Tuesday came along and sure enough the voice sounded clearly beside me in the line at the bank and told me to buy a suit for a funeral. This time however, I felt no quandary about it and instead acted on its advice. When I got to the front of the queue, along with the usual banking of the business, I asked the teller to withdraw £100 of my own money.
I felt flushed with emotions. By taking the money out, I was accepting the advice of something supernatural and admitting to myself that I believed in what it was saying. Also, and this was quite embarrassing, the teller was nice enough to caution me that by taking the money out, I would be putting my account into the red. At that time I was half way through a divorce and money was scarce. I thanked her for her counsel but withdrew the money anyway.
I turned around from the teller’s desk, walked out the bank and got out onto the high street. Although it was cloudy, it was a bright day and standing in the street blinking after the relative darkness of the bank, I realised that I hadn’t really planned ahead. I had my £100 but now what? Just at that moment, the clouds parted and a shaft of sunlight came streaming down, illuminating a store across the street from me. It was only the outlet shop of one of our more prolific high street department stores! I crossed the road and entered the store where I promptly found the perfect suit and totally within my price range. Even as I paid for the suit at the counter however, I knew that one question remained unanswered…
Exactly whose funeral would it be for?
Over the next week I drew up a macabre list of possible people. It may sound dark but I felt quite clearly that this was what the voice had really been telling me to do. Just like the Emperor, the suit itself wasn’t the real lesson; it was really how to deal with what life throws at us. In this case, the voice had given me the rare opportunity for being prepared for grief.
In my mind, the only real contender was my uncle Arthur; he was getting on in age and had not been very well. However, the following week loomed ominously and proved to unfold a much sadder alternative to me. My dear mother, who I was very close to, started to say that she felt it impossible to breathe. Without further ado, a doctor was called.
Things then snowballed at an alarming rate. My mother was taken by blue-lighted ambulance into hospital and before we could even take our breaths, she was diagnosed with wide spread cancer and scheduled for an operation to remove a breast. We were all bowled over by the suddenness of it all. My mother kept saying things like she was “…determined to beat it…” but so great was her love for us that I knew deep down she was saying it for our benefit only. It was like being in the middle of a whirlwind. I didn’t want to believe it could be her at first; I wanted no longer to believe the voice but felt deep down that there was inevitability at work here. But if we thought that that was all we would have to contend with: we were wrong.
All of the days we spent rallying around my mother are a blur to me now and I can’t be exactly sure when it happened but it was about this time that my brother Stewart was found collapsed at my mother’s house. I think I was in shock because a numb feeling descended over me and I couldn’t really function emotionally. I kept thinking “Why me?” and then forcing that thought from my mind as being too selfish. However, I know now that this is such a natural thing to do: it is our way of avoiding the reality of what is to come. The voice or feeling or whatever it is which warns of death is really a benign spirit trying to prepare you for a grief which is surely coming your way. But we’re only human! Our first reaction is to ignore it because deep down we know there is pain and heartache in our near future and we don’t want to accept it.
Stewart was also taken into hospital immediately, but we were soon all told that he was suffering from a case of hyperthermia and that he would be alright. However, the memory of the voice reverberated around my mind as I went home that evening.
I spent that night with my mind racing in circles so you can imagine I didn’t get much sleep. I could hardly believe that a few weeks ago the voice had been essentially telling me to prepare for all this and I had at first ignored it. My mother’s operation was only a couple of days away and again the voice floated around my head. The idea of being cut free from the strings which attach a person to their mother was unthinkable to me. Suddenly having no anchor – no mother who is there for you, or responsible for you (I know that sounds daft but we’re always someone’s child) was very scary. But it was looking more like the voice had been right. My heart pounded heavily in my chest; I wasn’t sure if I could take much more.
Sadly, worse was to come.
Early the next morning, I received a telephone call from my other brother Paul.
Stewart had taken a turn for the worst during the night and he advised me that we should make our way to the hospital. So we all raced back around but it was too late: we never got there on time. On our arrival we were told that Stewart had died a half hour earlier.
Our grief was bad enough but we then faced the impossible task of how to tell my mother about Stewart’s death. She lay quietly in her hospital bed as we went from one bed to the other. She had been told, of course, that he had been admitted but as far as she knew, he had merely the hypothermia he had suffered from and would recover. When she was then told what had happened, we expected the worst reaction. However, she was very calm and her response was very simple:
“In four days’ time, I will be with him.”
The last time I saw her alive was that night before the operation. She looked well and seemed to be very serene. We chatted for ages, making plans for Christmas, and as I left the ward she waved, smiling warmly and shouted goodbye. I am sure today that she was filled with a knowing sense of what was ahead of her. She had made a connection with the spirit world and knew that she was not long for this one. This, I believe, made her able to spend those last few hours with me at peace, removed from the fear and trepidation that she might otherwise have felt the night before an operation: she simply knew that she would not live to have it.
She passed in her sleep early the next morning. That was the ninth of December and my brother Stewart had passed December the fifth. Not only had the voice been right, but so had my mother – surviving her son only by the four days she knew she would.
A double funeral followed with both Stewart and my mother laid side by side in graves at Dukinfield cemetery. I lived closest to it and so it fell to me to host the mourners before the burial. As everyone laid their flowers in the front garden in anticipation of the day, I felt a tremendous burden fall on my shoulders and I was stunned by the enormity of the day’s events. The two hearses drew up outside the house and the coffins were taken outside as we followed to the chapel at a slow, steady pace.
As is customary, my brothers and I carried the coffins into the chapel where the service concentrated – as do many faiths – on the preparation of the souls of both my brother and mother for the hereafter. However, as I lifted the oak casket and felt the hard wood upon my shoulder, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that their spirits were not in these boxes. These were mere empty shells, vessels for their earthly bodies: their spirits had indeed passed on.
It was as we made our way to the gravesides that my belief solidified and I was at last able to put aside my grief. Death is not the final energy – there is a life beyond. It is in this place where the vibration of love is strongest and becomes a power for us all to hold. With it, comes the opportunity to grow and shape ourselves through the gift of reincarnation.
I felt at that point that I would see my beloved family again and also that I would soon be able to communicate with my mother.
What I didn’t know at that point was how true that would turn out to be.