On spotting a pattern
Readers may — should — be aware of PostSecret, a kind of anonymous clearinghouse for secrets that people write on postcards and send to Frank, who posts (a selection of) them on the web. (To be clear: people post their own secrets, it's not for outing your friends or even enemies.) I read the site every Sunday (it updates once a week), and am always moved by at least one of the secrets.
For a marvellous time, there was a PostSecret iPhone app too, which did much the same thing — but without Frank's intervention, so people could and did post secrets at any time of the day or night. Since I liked the website so much, I bought and regularly read the app too.
The app had several effects, the one relevant to this story was that it increased by several orders of magnitude the number of secrets being published. This sudden superabundance made it really easy to spot patterns and commonalities. One pattern which I noticed early on, and which fascinated me, was this:
My dead [person I was very close to] spoke to me and saved my life.
Some examples (quoting from memory, obviously; the sense is correct even if the words may be misremembered):
I heard my dead father whistling in the kitchen like he used to do, so I went down to see. The stove was on fire.
The light was green but my daddy told me to stop the car, so I did. As I stepped on the brakes, a car ran through the red light in front of me. My secret: my daddy died three years ago.
My best friend died in a car accident n* years ago. I was driving across a highway bridge with my kids, when I heard her voice from the back seat telling me to change lanes. I did, and a truck blew out a tire and veered across the highway to crash into the barrier right where we had been. It would have killed us all.
Had this just been one secret of a single person, I'd have written it off as a hallucination or the babbling of an idiot. But there were hundreds of these! There was at least one every week!
I was and remain fascinated by these stories. I'd love to know what happened to these people: what exactly did they experience?
Am I saying that the dead remain on earth and communicate with us? No.
Am I saying that something inexplicable and very interesting happened to these people, which we would do well to study? Hell yes.
The app was taken down recently in an unfortunate victory of arseholism over decency. A minority of users were posting porn and/or abusive and insulting pictorial comments, taking advantage of the fact that the posting process was automated and instantaneous. A self-organizing committee of volunteers emerged who tried to dam the flood, but they were overwhelmed by the quantity of garbage that had to be found and deleted. Ah well.
* Can't remember how many years, it doesn't matter to the story.