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March 7, 2013

WHAT JANE KNEW


I met Jane Roberts in 1968.

I was fresh out of school and a cub reporter at the Star-Gazette in Elmira, New York. One of the other reporters, Peg, and her husband, Bill, who worked in the advertising department, were friends of Jane’s, and they introduced me. I became part of a circle of acquaintances who sometimes wound up in Jane’s apartment on Friday nights to drink beer and talk about interesting things.

Usually the most interesting thing was what Jane was doing.

When I met her, she had published a book called How to Develop Your ESP Power and was about to finish the book that would launch her fame: The Seth Material.  She was about to rise from aspiring science fiction writer to something grander.

None of us knew it, but she was on the brink of becoming “one of the preeminent figures in the world of paranormal phenomena.” That’s the description of Jane currently used in her Wikipedia entry. Today, if you Google Jane Roberts, depending on what search terms you use with her name, you can get anywhere from one million to thirty-three million hits.

Jane seemed middle-aged to me, but she was only (as I determined later) in her late thirties at the time. She had short, dark hair and was thin to the point of gauntness. She had sharp, hawkish features and birdlike eyes behind dark-rimmed glasses. She brimmed with intensity.

According to Jane, Seth was a spirit guide or personality who communicated through her and who in countless “sessions” transcribed by her husband, Robert Butts, a commercial artist, related insights into the nature of the universe and the intersections of many realities.

An imposing portrait of Seth, painted by Robert, hung on the wall of their apartment, which was located on the second floor of an aging clapboard house near the Chemung River. Seth had a watchful, faintly amused affect; it was as though he was present with us on Friday nights.

On one of those Friday nights we were discussing dreams, and I told Jane about a recurring nightmare that had plagued me since childhood. In the dream I was on a hillside at dusk, making my way through concentric rows of bushes. Suddenly I broke through to the center and there saw something so terrible I awoke screaming. I could remember only that what I saw was somehow related to a car.

The dream first came when I contracted encephalitis around age 8. It made me so fearful I didn’t want to go to sleep at night. “You have to go to sleep. It’s for your own good,” my dad would tell me. I recovered from the encephalitis, but the dream kept returning. It went on for years. 

As I told Jane about the dream she slipped into what can only be called a trance.

Jane says she is seeing what happened to cause my nightmare: I am very young. I am with a group of older kids inside the common garage behind my grandparents’ row house in my hometown in another state. One of the older boys has found a way to start his parents’ car. He uses exhaust fumes from the tailpipe of the running car to asphyxiate a stray cat he has trapped inside a bag. I witness this happening. I am frightened and begin to cry. The older boy tells me to shush. It’s okay, he says—the cat needed to be “put to sleep” for its own good.

Jane accurately describes the garage, my grandparents’ row house, and my grandmother, things she could have had no knowledge of.  And she tells me that three things trigger the nightmare: Sometime during the day I hear an engine running, I smell exhaust fumes, and I hear someone utter the phrase “for his own good” or “for your own good” or a variation thereof. That night the dream would come.

I did not remember any such incident as the one Jane related. I called my parents and asked them about it. They said they didn’t remember anything like that either. So I called my grandmother. “Oh my, you were really scared,” she said. Yes, it had happened. I had rushed into her kitchen, pouring out what I had seen. “Those kids should have known better,” she said.

I was stunned. How did Jane know? I am still wondering.

I moved on after little more than a year in Elmira, but I kept track of Jane’s career as it grew and I read several of her books with more than passing interest. (She died in 1984, I am sad to say.) I have always been fascinated by, yet highly skeptical of, the so-called paranormal. I am a doubter by nature, compounded by a stint in newspaper journalism where skepticism often flowers into cynicism. (Consider the reporter’s dictum: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”)

Yet when it comes to Jane, I don’t scoff. I can be comfortable with the fact that the universe is a mysterious place and there are more questions than answers.
 
It’s worth noting that, after Jane’s exegesis of my nightmare, it never, ever returned. Thank you, Jane.

© 2013 Editorial Enterprises, Inc., and Donald C. Sarvey

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