At noon on October 17, 1967, an American soldier, Danny Sikorski of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was killed in Viet Nam, a victim of a claymore mine explosion during an ambush, his squad finding him with a hole in his stomach as they retreated to safer ground.
At the same time, around midnight of the same day, on the other side of the world in Wisconsin, his sister Dianne woke from a nightmare in which she heard her brother calling her name then saw a vision of him with a hole in his stomach.
We have all read or heard similar stories, sometimes regarding twins who felt the pain of appendicitis in their sibling hundreds of miles away at the same time symptoms began, sometimes regarding an unexplained sadness that hit someone before the news reported the planes crashing into the towers on September 11, 2001.
On Labor Day weekend, 2004, I had just gotten out of an emergency operation when my cell phone rang in the recovery room. I expect tragedy when I get a call on a holiday weekend; I steel myself and get ready to respond. This call, too, described a tragedy, but not what I expected. This call was from a close friend, a prayer partner. He had been in a motorcycle accident in Virginia, a thousand miles away. He and his wife were being taken to a local hospital. He was uncertain as to the condition of his wife and asked for prayers.
I called my wife and told her about the accident. “Oh no,” she cried, “Nancy’s dead.”
“We don’t know that,” I reassured her. “There’s been an accident. That’s all we know.”
“I know,” she said. “I know.”
She knew. From a thousand miles away, before Nancy’s husband knew, she knew.
What should we do with stories like this? I usually sweep them out of conscious analysis quickly, recognizing there is no logical framework. Maybe coincidence. Unexplainable. But maybe I shouldn’t be so quick give up on a thoughtful explanation.
The analysis is challenging. The stories are true or they are not. Though truth seems unlikely, they are difficult to discount on the basis of hysteria, coincidence, or simply fabrication. On the other hand, if they are true, then we must accept that there exists at certain times psychic-emotional connections between people that transcend space and our normal sensory processing times as rapidly as the speed of light or the force of gravity.
Despite the research into ESP, such connections are still beyond the limits of scientific detection. Therefore some profess that reality is bounded by scientific fact. For them, the story of a psychic-emotional connection is unproven, therefore simply untrue.
But I don’t know. I feel like such a blind rejection of what seems to be good, though subjective, evidence chooses a kind of blindness. Someone smarter than me, the physicist Richard Feynman, once said that science is the art of proving the experts wrong. Science in its pure form is the search for truth, accepting all evidence and following the evidence to conclusion. And the beginning of the search is often subjective.
Although Newton may not have been hit on the head with an apple, he did recognize that we didn’t have the mathematics to describe the motion of a falling apple, and if he followed the logical train of thought about a falling apple, he had to “discover” calculus. And when Einstein started the logic train to relativity, he started with the things he knew–boats and trains in motion, the difference between the perception of sound and the perception of light–and he began the calculations that explained why light is different and time is relative. Both geniuses started with subjective observations and followed the path to objective predictions.
Maybe someday we’ll have the measuring tools and mathematics to detect psychic connections.
In the meantime, I’m going to believe that Dianne Sikorski had that nightmare at the moment of her brother’s ambush, that my wife knew about Nancy’s death when she knew it, and that our minds have connections that transcend our five senses and time and space.
One morning my office routine was interrupted by a call from the son of one of my patients. His mother had a complex spine problem and had undergone three complicated operations to keep her mobile with a minimum of pain, all of which would have been enough trouble without her brittle diabetes, respiratory ailments and cardiac condition.
“It’s not an emergency, Doc,” he said. “I just wanted you to know Mom just died.”
Not what I was expecting. No psychic connection on my part. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“Here’s the funny thing, though, what I thought you’d want to know.”
“I was sitting with her and she got kinda faint, like she always does when she’s hypoglycemic. So I run to the kitchen and get a big glass of orange juice and run back. I hand her the orange juice but she won’t take it. She smiles at me and she says, ‘Jesus says I won’t be needing that.’ Then she died.”
I told him again I was sorry for his loss and thanked him for sharing. At the time I passed over the reality of my patient’s dying vision. Real to her, for sure, but maybe just a comforting quirk of her mind’s inner working. A subjective experience.
Or, it was quite literally true. That sometimes, when we need to hear it most, Jesus speaks to us. He can welcome us home.
 David Maraniss, They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Viet Nam and America, 1967. Simon and Schuster, 2004. P. 324.