“Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.
Wake up – sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed.
Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead.
She’s gone where the goblins go, Below – below – below.
Yo-ho, let’s open up and sing and ring the bells out.
Ding Dong, the merry-oh, sing it high, sing it low.
Let them know the Wicked Witch is dead!”

-Wizard of Oz

Joy was sitting at the memorial picnic for her Grandmother, and felt peculiar. Feeling peculiar was nothing new for her, since she had levels of experience that most people can’t imagine, and the nice, consistent feeling that today is like yesterday and most people that you meet are more or less the same was not her world. Of course, after all this time, what we would call peculiar had become more or less normal for her. The only question concerned what kind of peculiar was it going to be this time?

Today’s peculiar had to do with how happy everyone seemed. Relaxed. Calm. Enjoying each other’s company. Not what you’d necessarily expect in a memorial potluck seven days after the death of Grandma Jean. And certainly not what she normally experienced in any gathering of the Judge family. The irony of that name. Judge. Judging. Judge-mental. There was a disapproving streak as long as a cornrow that ran though the family.

And why? Why the sense that “we Judges are somehow better than others.” The sense that “we are more hard-working, clean, respectable, intelligent, and do everything right.”

It’s not too hard to understand where the hard work thing came from, since hard, unrelenting work was a coping mechanism among people who experienced the Great Depression. Grandma Jean was only 11 on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, and so the presence of scarcity and employing frugality as a survival tactic was seared into her awareness early. Disapproval of anything other than hard work and cleanliness ran deep.

At the same time, the fact that Grandma Jean got pregnant at 16 and had to get married made her particularly sensitive to social rejection, since a rushed marriage at that time was a social disgrace of immeasurable depth. Over the years, however, she and Orlo did very well, working hard on Papa’s farm, and then buying and expanding it. Nose to the grindstone/hands to the chores paid off, and eventually everyone forgot the early marriage. Jean was bitter about being rejected, and eventually became the rejector, since she had “shown” them.

She became more rigid and judgmental than any.

This gave rise to incidents that Joy looked back on in amazement. They were so extremely distant from the politically correct world of 2000+ that they were in retrospect somehow humorous. Like the time when Grandma Jean told her that an African-American woman who married a distant cousin would have been beautiful if she wasn’t so dark. Or the time when Joy introduced a boyfriend named Vivek Narendra to Jean, who then squinted at the slender, handsome young man from Mumbai and said, “Can’t pronounce it.”

So, the odd thing about the July 4 Memorial picnic was that everyone was so nice and more or less happy. Nice and happy was not the typical feeling at a Judge family picnic, since the combination of superiority and inferiority that drove so many family gatherings seemed somehow absent without Grandma Jean in attendance. It was her memorial, but she no longer flavored the event.

Which didn’t deeply surprise but certainly was amusing to Joy, since the family already seemed to be lighter, to be moving on from the deep cynicism that Grandma Jean embodied.

It didn’t surprise her because Joy new that even Jean had moved on. Not just that she had moved on by dying, but that after dying Jean had been more or less horrified but what she had become, and asked “What kind of monster was I?”

Connecting with the inner essence, the actual true nature or soul of people who had recently died was nothing new for Joy. She had already had incidents like that with both of her husband’s parents. But this was the first of her relatives with whom she had connections post mortem.

It’s hard to for us to imagine, but for Joy it was perfectly normal. Just closing her eyes she could feel Grandma Jean’s spirit. Freed from what had become a barely functioning body, Jean was free to talk, and there was no one listening except Joy.

What amazed Joy was that she was able to identify her correspondent as Grandma Jean, but she felt far more than she had ever known of what Grandma Jean really was. Disembodied, Grandma Jean was in contact with her full soul capability, not the tiny sliver of that which she actually manifested in the most recent life. It’s a little understood fact that people have a sort of soul energy, and that they actually choose to enter into particular lives in order to grow stronger in some aspect of development. They take on soul tasks, so to speak.

In this recent life, Jean had wanted to try to live a life without relying on her deeply developed qualities of motherliness and heart. So, as an experience, Joy found that her Grandma was really an enormously full, loving being. But Jean was concerned about how hard she had become, how mean and narrow.

Joy reassured Grandma Jean that she had brought love to the world, and that she had brought life to a whole generation of good, growing people, and that she could go and rest knowing that there had been a lot of good.

But the amazing thing about the picnic was that all had moved on from the Grandma Jean experience, and yet for Joy there was no sense that relaxing and enjoying each other was somehow disloyal to the memory of Grandma Jean, since even Grandma Jean no longer held that space.

And so Joy sat, enjoying the picnic, and even though it felt peculiar, it was peculiarly good.