It never fails. On every author’s book tour, every interviewer, every moderator, every talk show host always asks the same question, especially when the room goes silent and they need to rescue the interview — “Why did you write your book?” This is a failsafe method to get the author chatting again. Hopefully, after the author spends the next three minutes answering this question, other people will finally be inspired or emboldened to ask yet another question to keep the momentum going. I’m sure most authors have a compelling answer for why they invested so much of their precious time in putting words on a page.
However, in my case, I had no choice, no choice at all. It simply was out of my hands.
For the nearly six long years that I researched and wrote Walking Through Walls — a memoir about my father who one day discovers that he can talk to the dead and heal the sick — I was under the happy illusion that I was willingly writing about one of the strangest father/son/family stories ever told.
Certainly, my family story was closer to the Addams Family than Ozzie and Harriet or Leave it to Beaver. His phenomenal psychic powers descended upon our family like an unseen tornado, shredding all notions of normalcy. Overnight, our house became like Lourdes as people lined up waiting for their miracle cure. Babies who couldn’t see, men with one leg shorter than the other, women with leukemia all found their way to our door and usually left completely healed.
My father carefully documented his work and collected thousands of testimonial letters from his “patients”who had been successfully treated by him. He never charged a dime for his services as he believed his was a special gift and should be shared. Over the years, he accumulated thousands and thousands of pages of spirit dictation — messages from invisible beings, some of whom he had known when they were alive, that instructed him on creating never-before-seen healing methods, lessons on consciousness, explanations of the multitude of energetic realms and so on.
I thought that the reason I was writing the book was to tell people about my amazing mother and father and what extraordinary lives they had led. I can’t imagine being more fortunate in having been blessed with such great souls as the people who brought me into this amazing world.
My mother was a brilliant, stylish adventurer with endless curiosity and a massive sense of creativity. In my father’s case, he was attempting to reinvent and expand the boundaries medicine and human healing while constantly being harassed by the authorities for “practicing medicine without a license”or for “importing unauthorized medications”such as homeopathy and even some vitamins. We forget that America was a different place 40 years ago and my father was seen as doing the devil’s work.
What I did not know was that the writing of this book had already been preordained and predicted in writing nearly 40 years ago. Several months before I finally handed in the manuscript I came across yet another folder of papers that I had somehow overlooked during my research. They contained yet another thick stack of spirit dictation on a variety of topics. For the past several years, I had been reading through these thousands and thousands of written spirit messages as material for the book.
As I read through this folder, I found a message to my father from one of his spirit guides that suggested that he start getting his papers organized because his son (me) was going to eventually write a book on his work. In addition, the message continued, I would over see getting the book published. Oddly, in all the years I worked on this book, I had never seen this particular message. I suddenly realized that the spirits and my father knew that this book would materialize and I would be the one doing the job. However, no one bothered to tell me. The truth is that if I had seen this message earlier in the game, I may have been a bit more casual about writing the book, figuring since it was meant to be then it would eventually get done all by itself. The spirits don’t mess around a certainly know what they’re doing.
As if I didn’t get the point, several days later I came across an unmarked audiotape in a white plastic cassette. In addition to all his manuscripts, my father taped his phone calls, his classes, his healings and left behind a treasure trove of audio tapes that also contributed much of the material for the book. I decided to listen to the cassette as I drove to the airport. What I heard was a woman with a British accent performing a psychic reading for my father. Midway through the tape she asked if he had a son. He acknowledged that he did. She said that there was going to be a book written by me about my father’s work, and the book would be “kind of like a documentary.” I don’t think the memoir genre was very common back in the early seventies and in fact my book is actually a documentary only it is on paper instead of film.
Funny how I never came across these messages until the end of the book. Not surprising, given that in life, we usually find our answers and meaning after we have completed a process or task.
Now, the next time I am asked the question as to “why I wrote my book” the answer will be simply because, “I had to . . . to honor my mother and father.”
©2008 Philip Smith, author of Walking Through Walls: A Memoir
Philip Smith, author of Walking Through Walls: A Memoir, is the former managing editor of GQ and an artist whose works are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, among many others. He lives in Miami.