When life doesn’t make sense, bees do

When your mom hauls you across the country to live with your grandparents, then takes to her bed, not a lot in life makes sense. Fortunately, Meredith May’s eccentric and wise grandfather introduced her to a world that did: his honeybee hives.

img_0109San Francisco journalist and fifth-generation beekeeper May weaves these worlds together in The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees (Park Row Books, 2019).

May arrived at her grandparents’ Carmel Valley, California home with her mother and younger brother at age five after her parents’ abrupt separation in the 1970s. From the moment they arrived, the honey bus — a rusty old military bus where Grandpa made honey — was an object of fascination, then solace and inspiration for young Meredith. The more she learned about bees, the more she admired their social intelligence.

Bees could see a problem coming and start making a change before it became serious and they perished. If their hive became overcrowded or unsafe, they took initiative to move to someplace better. … Bees had enough brainpower to envision a better life, and then go out and get it.

As the months turned into years, Mom remained in bed, emerging just long enough to rain generations’ worth of emotional and physical abuse on her daughter. Grandma and Grandpa took up the slack of raising two children. As far as the reader knows, Grandma rarely held Mom accountable for anything and never encouraged her to get treatment for what was obviously crippling mental illness. (Granted, a doctor in the 1970s may have prescribed tranquilizers and called it a day.)

Grandpa, who seemed to see the situation more accurately than anyone else in the house, advised May to stay out of her mother’s way and forge her own path. This she did, helping her grandfather tend his many hives and make honey while excelling in school and discovering what she could do. Only as May was about to leave for college did her mother offer a glimpse of context for what she had endured.

While I couldn’t help feeling sad and frustrated about the behavior of many of the adults, May’s journalistic acumen and the bees keep this from being just another dysfunctional family memoir. Grandpa used the bees as examples of a more constructive way to behave — through caring, shared decision making, and commitment to community.

He reminded us that bees live for a purpose far grander than themselves, each of their small contributions combining to create collective strength. Rather than withdrawing from the daunting task of living, as our mother had done, honeybees make themselves essential through their generosity.

This worthwhile memoir sheds a personal and cultural light on honeybees today as we consider how to treat them, and one another, with more generosity.

A medium at large

“You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Life-Changing Lessons from Heaven,” by Theresa Caputo with Kristina Grish (2014)

To me, Theresa Caputo’s gift for connecting the living and the dead is more believable than what happens on her reality TV show, “Long Island Medium,” or at her live events. However, I do enjoy the show and was happy to have had the opportunity to see her in person when she came to Fort Wayne last year.

Reality TV is — well, reality TV, and while any psychic or medium is going to have hits and misses, only the big hits make the final cut. As for the live experience — you have a theater packed with ticket holders, many of whom are grieving and quite anxious to be randomly read. Then there are the non-ticket holding spirits who want to get a word in. Even with her gregarious personality, how can a psychic medium who has struggled with anxiety, as Theresa has, do readings in the midst of such intense energy? That atmosphere seems ripe for scrambled signals.

However — when I look behind the hype and the heels (which also can’t be good for the “chi”), I see a woman who has struggled to understand and accept her God-given gifts and is, like the rest of us, just trying to put and keep it all together. It also helps that Theresa is my age (a fellow ’80s stone-washed jeans survivor), and I love that she keeps using that old cassette recorder.

On to the book. Instead of a progressive narrative, it’s an amalgamation of topics on issues such as faith, authenticity, and gratitude, each underscored by Theresa’s own experiences and those of her clients with Spirit. The lessons build on and inform each other, “but you won’t get lost if you jump around based on how you’re feeling that day,” as Theresa says in the intro.

True to her general theme, she emphasizes that our loved ones really are present and eager to continue to help from the other side. They cared when they were alive, and death does not stop them from doing so, especially if they are part of our soul circle. “If you’ve got work to do, (your mother’s) soul will continue to meddle and help your soul graduate to the appropriate level,” she writes.

Chapter 10, “Intuition Ain’t Just for Psychics Anymore” is actually pretty useful. Everyone has some level of intuition, and it’s an important navigation tool here in the physical world, if we are willing to use and trust it. It’s never wrong, although it may take you in a roundabout way to where you’re meant to be, Theresa says. When we are traveling that roundabout way, it’s easy to think our intuition has screwed up and sent us down the wrong path. No way, she says — Spirit always knows the way and what we need at each step. “Guidance isn’t always obvious, but if it were, you’d never have to intuitively search for meaning and thus, learn many lessons,” she says.

Again, the breadth of topics here precludes looking at all of them, but that chapter on intuition stood out for me. If you are interested in how intuition works, whether you associate it with the P word (psychic) or not, it’s worth checking out.

The Angel Lady’s story

Known as the “Angel Lady,” Doreen Virtue has produced a host of books, recordings, and oracle card decks, many of them about angels. My curiosity about her life was piqued when I learned she was raised in the Christian Science tradition, as was my mother. Though I am not a Christian Scientist, it is one of the strands of my spiritual DNA, and I wondered how it informed Virtue’s journey as a writer, healer, and intuitive.

“The Lightworker’s Way” (1997) is about two-thirds memoir. Virtue’s mother was a Christian Science practitioner who worked to heal clients through prayer. She also used spiritual treatment on young Doreen and her brother whenever they had cuts or bruises. The wounds would practically vanish in front of her eyes, she recalls. Christian Science teaches that any illness, injury, or dis-ease is a product of the mortal mind. Since God is all good and only good, anything else is not of God and therefore doesn’t really exist. Still, the family kept their spiritual practices quiet: “Oh, you’re those people who don’t believe in doctors!” one of Virtue’s classmates sniffed.

“Nothing is lost in the mind of God” was the affirmation Virtue’s mother taught her, and which she used to retrieve everything from a lost coin purse to a couple of wayward pet rats. The same was true of the clairvoyant experiences she had as a child and brushed aside as life progressed.

Despite the original source of love within her family, she writes, she sought “even more” from outside sources — alcohol and marijuana use as a teen, an unplanned pregnancy, and two (at that point) difficult marriages and divorces — based on the illusion of separation from God. That illusion, she says, is persistently and perniciously fed by the ego; the higher self knows better.

If I understand Virtue’s concept of the ego correctly, the ego is the “monkey mind” that constantly chatters as it tries to figure everything out. It’s the part of us that fears, judges, and needs something outside of ourselves to feel worthy and secure. The ego blocks our inner guide, that intuitive voice that resides in a peaceful space above the ego’s constant shifting. “Inner-guide instructions are loving and positive, while the ego’s advice is based on fear, contempt, and beliefs in scarcity,” she writes.

The ego changes its mind constantly, so if you like a roller-coaster ride, that’s the way to go, she says. If you always have a fire to put out, you don’t have to think about the bigger picture: your life’s purpose. Even being helpful can be a trap of the ego, she says later in the book. Getting preoccupied with problems, especially the kind it’s much easier to talk about than solve, will only impede your progress. Intuition is that inner knowing — you know, but you don’t know how you know. It is the still, small voice that always informs, uplifts, and guides. That is the voice to which we are wise to listen.

Virtue earned degrees in psychology, worked as a counselor, and wrote self-help books and articles. But something was missing. As her psychic ability began to reawaken, her spiritual quest led her into territory that felt much more dangerous than being a Christian Scientist kid at school. Now she had a professional reputation and a livelihood as a public speaker and talk show guest to consider. But emerge from the psychic closet she did, obviously.

Part II of “The Lightworker’s Way” is an instruction manual in everything from the parallel worlds of energy and spirit to heightening psychic receptivity, spiritual healing, mediumship, and, of course, angels. Entire books have been written on each single topic here, and yet her instructions are remarkably detailed. This could be very helpful to those who are curious about exactly how it all works, or is supposed to work. However, I saw no acknowledgement that each person develops his or her own style or processes, or any encouragement for doing so. Perhaps I missed it.

Finally, what is a lightworker? See Virtue’s explanation here.