Call and Response with An Irish Brogue

I have always been fascinated by the realm of synchronicity: the quirky occurrences, varying definitions and possible explanations, the tussles between skeptics and believers. I noticed that synchronicities in my own experience increased in complexity and frequency when I began to set aside a regular time once a month for solitary weeklong retreats. This provided time for states of reverie and presence, and seemed to invite remarkable animal encounters and connections with those near to me who have died. Dreams changed, as well, from storylines to more cryptic messages and symbolic images. I began to wonder if these magical, synchronistic events were somehow linked together: the dreams not independent of an unusual encounter with an animal, nor separate from meaningful coincidences. Perhaps not surprisingly, I also noticed that these phenomena tended to recede at the end of the retreat week when my focus returned to the work world and the preoccupations of everyday life.

I began to ponder the question of clustering. I wondered if each of these special occurrences had some sort of affinity for each other, some energetic entrainment. Then I wondered if this is a more active process, one that I participate in, as well. Perhaps my contribution is the combination of reverie and deep attention, inviting dreams, persistent curiosity, and elements of love and longing that help to realign the typical expression of what we call reality.

I began to consider the idea of call and response. There are classic Martin Luther King speeches in which he utilizes this old spiritual form used in many religions. His rousing words would build and swell until that ripe moment when he paused, and the crowd, filled to the brim, overflowed with response. And so it went, back and forth, building and building, until I imagined the walls and roof could barely keep hold of each other, the air so vibrant with intensifying connection and passion. Martin Luther King couldn’t do this on his own, no matter how great his talent as a speaker. The power depended on a back-and-forth interchange in ever enlarging spirals until the impossible seemed possible. People were transformed, they became a One, and history was changed.

This is how I began to conceptualize the clustering of special interchanges in my life, occurrences that defied probability and even possibility, where the thread of the story, instead of fraying, only thickened over time. I began to think in terms of call and response to comprehend the dream visitations of my father, dead for years, when he came to convey philosophical and mathematical information beyond my knowledge. Or during my retreats, the uncanny appearances of fox or coyote on my deck in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which occurred only after I had courted them with avid focus, poems, drawings, and most importantly perhaps, my deep longing.

Once I settled into call and response as a likely process, I got curious about a new set of questions. How does the call first go out? Since it doesn’t typically involve spoken words, at least not initially, does the call start in my throat, or as a feeling in my heart? Or like chi, does it emerge from the dantien, the energy center in the lower abdomen, as pulsation, as vibration? Once outside of me, does the call gather volume, rise and fall in pitch, or shift its rhythm? And as it moves toward the recipient, does it make a beeline or circle round and round, like the logarithmic spiral of my father’s mathematical antennae design, with the capacity to travel through infinity? Would that mean there are no limits regarding whom or what the call might reach?

And the response: When do I first perceive it, and how many rounds might I have missed before I hear it? Does the answering vibration, once my call has been received, start strongly in the recipient, and then gradually recede to a faint message by the time its ripple reaches me? Or does the response begin from a still point, perhaps only one decibel louder than silence, the reverberation building as it travels, so by the time the whisper arrives, it is audible? And if it reaches me, but is very quiet, or I am distracted, can it still register in my unconscious, and if so, is it possible for me to sing back, whether I am aware of my action or not?

And who or what is eliciting all of this? Am I the origin of the call? Or is my longing, which fueled the decision to set aside retreat time, simply a response to some other call, from fox or my dead father? Or, does it echo from some other mystery larger than any of us?

These questions begin to ring in my head until it hurts, the ripples and possibilities bouncing off the borders of my skull. It is too abstract, I think, I must sink this into matter, see how it lives in flesh and blood. And just like that, I am back in southwestern Ireland, in September 2012, sitting with a group of writers as we listen to our guest, Mary Maddison, the legendary Stone Oracle who lives in a tiny village nearby. She is a grey- haired, sprightly woman in her seventies who still dances Irish jigs and gathers local bards at her house for storytelling events that go deep into the night. She humbly tells her story: ever since she was a small child she has been able to read messages from the patterns of pebbles stuck on people’s feet at the beach. She had thought this was something everyone could do, and only later was convinced by others that she had been born with a gift for divination.

She has passed her box of cut agates around our circle so each of us can find one we are drawn to. Now she holds my translucent slice to the light from the window. “You are in touch with those on the other side. I see an older man, he is looking out for you. And I see a young girl.” Though her first words are vague – it could be any man, any young girl – the exact wording is immaterial. What matters is that a very particular older man and a special young girl seemed to have immediately used Mary’s sentences as passwords to find their way through.

It is as if Mary, holding my stone, is a bell or a metal bowl, and I have tapped her with a clapper, and she emits my vibrations until my call is heard. And then, as she speaks her words to me, I am the rung bell. Crazy as it may sound, she has called in my dead father and dead niece Markley. The call went out and the response came in; in this case, an overpowering response. I feel them enter me. I feel them flanking me on each side. I feel this in every cell of my ringing body.

I sit and listen with curiosity and wonder as she gives her sage insights to others in the group. But truly, I am waiting; no, not waiting, I am bursting for the moment when I can throw on my coat and go out to be with my dad and Markley on the winding gravel road near the house. Soon I am out the door. I feel very large, like a giant, or more specifically, like the powerful mythic Hag of Beara1, my stride magically covering ground, my feet barely touching the road. My head is parting the white billowing clouds blowing in from the sea as I shout up into the deep blueness above, “Hello Markley, Hello Dad, so good to see you. So good to see you!”

Now I wonder about the pathway to this reunion on Irish soil. The question that pops up in my mind: was this the first call that rippled out from me to my dead? If not, how many calls went out before that grand moment when I was hand-in-hand with my dad and Markley, as we laughed and cried together, having a helluva good time on that infrequently traveled road, trying to be discreet when the occasional local drove by with a friendly wave? Does such a special visitation require a certain number of invitations, or a certain intensity of vibration, before reality as we have defined it finally has to step aside for the moment so spirits can coalesce enough for me to experience their presence?

If so, when did this particular round of calls start? Could the beginning verse of this ethereal song be in the moments back home when I packed for the trip? My suitcase was filled with rain gear, camera, journal, dream cards, and a small silver fox. Then it was down to choosing pictures of those I wanted to travel with me. For this trip, other than photos of my dog Shadow, with whom I share a deep companionship, I seemed inclined to bring my dead. I had already chosen a favorite photo of my mother and my grandmother, and now my fingers touched upon one particular picture of my niece Markley in her Oriole softball team uniform, with her forever eleven-year-old smile. I was torn choosing which photo of my dad to bring. The first was a tender picture of my parents on the couch, my father caught in a sweet moment nuzzling the small black dog in his lap. I decided to bring two photos of him, as I couldn’t resist the one with his delighted, impish smile as he turned the dial of our first black-and-white TV, searching for reception. Was this choosing the first call?

And was the second verse when I unpacked at the Bellinter Hotel in central Ireland? After hanging my blouses and jacket in the closet, I then lovingly moved each snapshot around on my dresser until I found the right spot for each of them. Every evening I would gaze at them fondly, as I added postcards of Ireland’s ancient rocks and mesmerizing spirals to the arrangement.

I am pretty certain a focused call went out from the Anam Cara Inn in the hour before we met with Mary. Sitting cross-legged on the old fashioned quilt covering my bed, I purposefully took time to invite a meditative state before meeting with her. I spread all my photos and postcards before me like a tarot reading, rearranging them until my father, Markley, and my black dog Shadow claimed the center spot. I gazed at their images until I was filled. By the time I walked down the stairs from my room and joined my friends, I was primed for the final chorus, the last Hallelujah.

And that makes me wonder about the even more mysterious part of all of this – the response. If this wasn’t the first call, had they maybe drawn near before, singing sweetly, but I hadn’t heard or recognized their presence? Once the magical Mary created a funnel for them to pour into a mutual space, I couldn’t miss them. But my guess is they had been hovering with me throughout this trip, responding to my calls, or issuing their own, but I didn’t know how to see or hear them, how to name it. And I imagine they were already by my side as I sat on the quilted bed, my eyes filled with their images, though blurred by my tears. Tears evoked by felt presence, rather than loss.

And now I remember the dream the night before our meeting with the Oracle. I am touched as I realize how persistent my dead were, trying their best to reach me. It was a just-falling-asleep-dream that barely made it through the gateway, just two odd sentences. The first, “Never thought I would see you in the whole blue sky!” was followed by,“Coming down with love.” This whispered dream was just odd enough to rouse me to write it down, so that in the morning I could shake my head as I read the words and wonder, what could that mean? No idea, none whatsoever. Not until I was flying across the land singing out at the top of my lungs, “Never thought I would see you, Markley and Dad, in the whole blue sky, coming down to me with love. Coming down to me with love!”

About the Author

Marilyn DuHamel is a psychotherapist who has spent several decades listening deeply to the people who have entered her therapy office. In the last years, she has found herself increasing pulled to the nonhuman realm, tuning her ear, her heart, her psyche to the wild animals that approach her, to the sensate world out her door, and to the dreams and synchronicities that startle her with mystery and meaning. She is committed to following this trail, accompanied and sometimes led by her dog Shadow. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Northern California and can be reached at

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