I met JoEllen at Help Line, a volunteer telephone crisis-counseling service in Pensacola when I was a young volunteer there, and she was another of the volunteers. I didn’t know her very well but she seemed likable enough. She was in her 50s, a genial and gentle person with a direct, penetrating gaze. She was unpretentious and had a whimsical sense of humor. She also had a reputation as a psychic. She herself didn’t make a big deal out of her supposed psychic ability, and in fact very rarely mentioned it, but other people at Help Line believed that she had such ability. Actually no one else made a very big deal out of it either, everyone acted like it was just one of the things that was characteristic of her, one of many things such as being a good golfer or having exceptional taste in clothes.

Every once in a while, sometimes at a Help Line party, JoEllen would agree to do psychic readings for whomever wanted one. At such times she would dress up in a gypsy sort of costume, but the costume was intended in a whimsical spirit and she didn’t really take herself all that seriously. At one of these events, a Help Line party at the home of one of the volunteers, I had JoEllen do a psychic reading for me. I think it was at the suggestion of one of my Help Line friends, I’m sure I was too shy to initiate it myself.

JoEllen was in a back room sitting on a cushion. She was dressed in some kind of robe and had her hair tied up in a red scarf and had many copper and silver bracelets all over both forearms that made tinkling sounds when she moved. She invited me to sit on a cushion in front of her. She was relaxed and confident as if sitting on that cushion in that little room was the most natural place in all the world for her to be. She sat quietly in front of me with her hands in her lap for what seemed a long time, though it was probably only a couple of minutes. Her face assumed an expression of thoughtful concentration. Then she spoke.

As best I can recall this is the gist of what she said. “You are very unusual.” She paused, seeming to search for the best way to formulate her thoughts. “What I am sensing is an unusual spirit, the spirit of a person whose heart is committed to a higher world, a person who has the soul of a monk or a priest.” She paused again, apparently in great concentration and searching for the right words. “But a monk or a priest who is not afraid of getting messy and who has decided, for whatever reason, to live an un-monklike and un-priestlike life among ordinary people.”

I didn’t quite know what to make of this. JoEllen didn’t really know me very well, and yet there was something about what she said that struck a very deep chord in me and gave me an uncanny feeling of recognition. Was it because I wanted to be the kind of person she described? Or was it because I was afraid of being such a person? I wasn’t sure.

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