I was two months pregnant with my second child and just waking up from a not-very-good night’s sleep. As I dragged myself into the living room of our tenth-floor apartment in Cambridge, MA, an unpleasant sensation began to rise inside me–a sense of foreboding, of imminent danger. I tried to shrug it off as morning sickness, did talk with a support group but somehow I knew it had nothing to do with hormones. It wasn’t even physical, though it made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle uncomfortably.
By the time I sat down with my 18-month-old daughter, Katie, to watch Sesame Street, half of me wanted to grab her and run from the apartment. I pushed the impulse away, telling myself not to be irrational. It was snowing outside, and I was still in my pajamas. I was probably just worried about my husband, who had left early that morning on a business trip. Settling myself on the couch, I started to doze.
Suddenly, the fire alarm jolted me wide awake. We’d had many false alarms, but somehow I knew this was the real thing. I yanked on my shoes and coat, picked up Katie, and left the apartment. The scene that met me when I opened the door was far worse than I’d expected. The hallway was filled with thick, poisonous-smelling smoke. I could hear coughing and shouting from the other residents of the tenth floor. Remembering the signs that warned us never to use the elevators during a fire, I ran to the nearest staircase.
The smoke that billowed from the stairwell was so thick I couldn’t see Katie’s head next in mine. I pulled my coat over her face and rushed forward, feeling for the banister to guide myself down the stain. When I breathed in, my chest exploded in pain; there was no air. My heart began to race as I stumbled down flight after flight of steps, Katie clinging to my side like a frightened baby monkey.
I’d lost count of the flights when I tripped on something–or someone–and stumbled forward, smacking my head against a concrete wall. Nausea and exhaustion overwhelmed me as I slid to the floor, completely out of oxygen. The sound of screaming, the pain in my chest, and the feel of Katie’s terrified grip seemed to recede, as though I were looking through the wrong end of a telescope.
Suddenly, a hand closed around one of my arms and pulled upward, almost jerking me to my feet. I felt the body of a large man behind me, pushing me forward. Another flight of stairs, then another–and suddenly I was in the lobby of the apartment building, squinting in the sunlight I thought I’d never see again. My seared lungs gulped for air, and I began to cough uncontrollably. The man held me until the fit eased. By the time I turned around, he was gone. A swarm of reporters surrounded me. Unless my rescuer came up and introduced himself, I would never know who he was.
The next day, my picture was prominently displayed in the Boston Herald–much to my dismay. The photographer had caught Katie and me just as I burst out of the smoke, possibly the single most unphotogenic moment of my life. My eyes were clamped shut, I was covered with soot, and my cheeks were puffed out like a blowfish having an anxiety attack. My first reaction was to be appalled by my appearance. Then I began to stare, replaying the moment in my mind. I remembered being so weak and dizzy that if my rescuer hadn’t held me, I would have pitched headfirst in the floor. The picture showed my disorientation and distress very clearly–but there was one thing missing. As I gazed at the newspaper, I got goose bumps.
In the picture, there was nobody behind me.
I didn’t tell that story to anyone for a very long time, although I never stopped wondering about what had happened. I suppose it s possible that I was mistaken, that the photograph was taken after the man walked away. But no one on the scene had seen him, either, and there are other puzzling questions. The fire department hadn’t sent any firefighters up the staircase at that point. And if my rescuer wasn’t a firefighter, how did he find me? How was he breathing? And what about my intense impulse to leave the building before there was any sign of danger? Yes, I know that there may be a perfectly pedestrian explanation for my survival. But when push comes to shove, I believe that some kind of benevolent force was looking out for me that day, something outside what we would call “normal” reality.
For me, the consequences of this experience have been both wonderful and difficult. Life feels safer to me now, as well as more fascinating and mysterious. But I know that many people dismiss my views as irrational. Since I decided to openly discuss my paranormal experience a few years ago, I’ve encountered my share of ridicule and incredulity.
I understand that. In fact, I’m glad that most of us tend to base beliefs on solid, observable evidence. But aren’t there some experiences that, despite being inexplicable, deserve our attention and respect? The tact is that many people–including some scientists–believe in such events.
“I first noticed it when I was completing my residency,” says Rebecca Bingham, M.D., referring to what some might call her “sixth sense.” A soft-spoken, no-nonsense family practitioner in Phoenix, Dr. Bingham knows that her medical skills are the result of rigorous technical training, but she also believes that some of her abilities can be traced to something less definable.
“One morning, a thirty-year-old woman was wheeled into the emergency room on a gurney,” she recalls. “Somehow, without even examining the patient, I knew she had a heart condition that could be fatal if she were anesthetized. I told the other physicians that we had to examine her heart.” The experience felt so natural to Dr. Bingham that she wasn’t at all surprised when her “hunch” turned out to be correct. “The only problem,” she says, laughing, “was explaining to the other doctors how I’d made the diagnosis.”
When I ask Dr. Bingham if anything like this has happened since, she calmly answers, “Oh, yes, about once a week. She believes most doctors have a degree of intuitive skill and says that many use it, but don’t think of it as paranormal. Still, what she has experienced goes beyond having an instinctive medical feel for a patient’s illness. Sometimes a diagnosis will “pop” into her mind, or a question she suddenly feels she must ask. “It’s hard to explain, but I can sense where there may be problems. My intuition has proved to be a very accurate diagnostic tool,” she says. Even her colleagues have noticed. She once overheard another doctor telling a resident to pay attention to Bingham’s hunches, because she was always right.
Research suggests that experiences like Dr. Bingham’s aren’t at all uncommon. For example, laboratory experiments have demonstrated that ordinary people can perform feats such as precognition (knowing what’s going to happen before it happens) and remote viewing (sensing events that are occurring in other locations)–not with 100 percent accuracy, but far more accurately than they could by merely guessing. And studies are showing that sick people who are prayed for do better than those who aren’t–even when none of the subjects knows about the prayers.
In 1997, Dean Radin, director of the Consciousness Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, CA, analyzed the results of similar experiments. He concluded that the odds of the subjects achieving these results by chance ran as high as a trillion to one.
Eileen Borris, a musician and psychologist from White Plains, NY, knows that chance can’t explain her powerful paranormal experiences. Borris always had strong intuition, but her father didn’t believe people had mystical experiences, so there was no room for even a little magic as she was growing up. At about the time of her father’s death, though, she realized that her intuition was a force to be embraced.
“I was planning to visit family in Brazil,” Borris remembers, “when for some reason I became very concerned about my father’s health. He seemed okay, but I pushed him to get a checkup.” The examination revealed some slight liver problems, but doctors told her father not to worry. Still, Borris couldn’t shake her concern that her father might have liver cancer. She did a great deal of research on the illness, right up until the time she left for South America.
Borris’s father was still feeling fine when she reached Brazil–but she wasn’t. She came down with a cold, which gradually turned into a raging infection. Doctors suspected pneumonia. They were preparing to hospitalize her when she had a very vivid dream.
“I saw my father in the same hospital bed where my mother had died,” she recalls. “I woke up knowing, without any doubt, that I had to get back to New York within twenty-four hours if I wanted to see him alive.”
Against her doctors’ strenuous objections, Borris flew home to find her worst fears confirmed. Her father had fallen suddenly and gravely ill from a malignancy in his liver. Borris rushed to see him at the local hospital, where he lay in the same bed that her mother had died in years earlier.
“We had about two minutes together,” she remembers. “He was awake and lucid. I was able to tell him how much I loved him. Then he went into a coma and never fully regained consciousness.”
But Borris’s story doesn’t end there. She believes that at the moment she decided to heed her dream, she became part of whatever force had created the connection between her and her father. “On the first leg of my flight, from South America to Miami,” she says, “I sat next to a man who was hurrying home because his father had just been diagnosed with liver cancer.” Because she’d done so much research, Borris was a walking encyclopedia on the subject. “I told him everything I knew about the disease, treatments, and where to get the best care,” she recalls. By the time the plane reached Miami, the man had dubbed Borris his “angel.” By being open to irrational experiences, Borris believes, she made herself available not only to receive loving guidance but also to give it to someone in need.
Many supernatural events seem to center around love. It’s quite natural that we would hope for–maybe even imagine–being, linked to those we treasure. But Thora Knight’s story is harder to explain. It’s about a loving relationship between two people who didn’t even know of each other’s existence.
“I was the second oldest child in my family,” says Knight, a retired radio talk-show host who grew up in the Midwest and moved to Phoenix in 1960. “In 1942, I was also the only gift in an elementary school class of twenty-three boys. Oh, did those boys ever pick on me! Every day, they’d have contests to see who could make me cry first.” One day in the schoolyard, as the bullying started again, something remarkable happened.
“All of a sudden,” says Knight, “I wasn’t alone. There was an older boy in front of me. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel him, and somehow I knew that he was my brother. I thought, `What is your name?’ And I heard a whisper, like the wind: `Larry.'” With her “brother” to protect her, Knight became a fearless, self-confident little girl. “Did I ever turn the tables on those boys!” she says. “By the end of the year, they were afraid of me.”
Years later, Knight’s mother was visiting her when the older woman made a stunning confession. In 1926, six years before Knight was born, her mother had given birth to a baby boy. Impoverished and desperate, she and her husband left their baby with a wealthy family while they traveled looking for work. When they returned more than a year later, the child had bonded with his adoptive family. The heartbroken parents agreed not to disrupt his life by trying to regain custody. It wasn’t until his adoptive parents’ deaths that this lost, son discovered his past and went looking for his biological family. In 1968, Knight was finally able to see and touch the brother her parents named Arthur Stanley Hawkins, but who had been renamed Jerry.
Today, neither Knight nor Hawkins can explain the connection Knight felt as a child, but both believe it was real. And Hawkins rinds comfort in the knowledge that his sister somehow “knew” him during the years when he was a lonely child who longed for a sibling.
Whether you find stories like these inspirational or unbelievable, polls indicate that you are actually quite likely to have a paranormal experience during your lifetime. For example, almost one in ten Americans claim to have gone through an otherworldly near-death experience. Many more believe that it is possible to communicate with a. loved one who has died.