Thoughts on an Unlikely Past-Life Story
A reincarnation memoir has been optioned for a film. Is it believable?
My beach reading this summer was somewhat controversial. The Boy Who Knew Too Much: An Astounding True Story of a Young Boy’s Past Life Memories is Cathy Byrd’s memoir about her journey with her pre-school-aged son’s recollections of having been a baseball player in a past life. Not just any baseball player: Lou Gehrig. And the memoir has been optioned for Hollywood.
The story is heartwarming, if nothing else, and depending on your own attitudes about life after death, it’s awe-inspiring too. Any richly told story about past-life memories sparks our wonder at the possibility that we maintain our ties to our loved ones eternally, and that life indeed gives us “do-overs” when things run far afield of what we might have hoped. Not to mention, at the very least, that past-life stories basically just make it easier for us to trust that this world is a little bit (or a lot) magic.
However, Byrd’s story has drawn criticism — even, it seems, from people who believe in reincarnation.
Checking reviews online, I saw people insisting that Cathy Byrd must have led her son on. Reviewers also accused her of running with the persona of Gehrig simply as a fame-grab, tsk-tsked her “name-dropping” (in the book) of celebrities with whom her journey brought her into contact, and pointed to her pre-existing involvement in the world of sports as something highly suspect… as if this whole wild yarn that outright alienated her from some of her closest (devoutly Christian) friends had been something she’d fabricated just for attention.
I wasn’t sure what to make of all this criticism going into my reading of the book… but now, having read it, I feel it’s off-base. Yes, I totally understand that reincarnation isn’t directly verifiable. There will always be doubters; I’ve doubted the idea myself. But without going too deep into my own story, I’ll just say that, as someone who’s spent years immersed in my own very unexpected journey of discovery about an “unresolved” previous lifetime, I found a lot about Byrd’s story eminently plausible — including and especially some of what she’s been criticized for. In fact, I found it plausible largely because so much of what she articulated about her discoveries and her personal growth was relatable (even though I don’t have past-life celebrity memories of my own).
So for those who are interested in reincarnation, I’ll offer some thoughts on this memoir-to-become-a-movie and what about it struck me as particularly authentic.
Famous Past Lives
Let’s start here: some people take issue with anyone claiming a “famous” past persona. I’m not entirely dismissive; celebrities reincarnate too, whether or not we believe them when they tell us so. Still, I’ll share a few thoughts on the how, the why, and the what’s-the-point of “celebrity” past-life claims.
First of all, I grant that learning about famous people from history is often our entrée into these characters’ respective eras; it’s entirely possible that we feel an affinity for a famous person’s story largely for the fact that said character’s place, culture, era, and general milieu strike a chord of recognition in our souls. That is, it’s possible to mistakenly assume a “famous” past life simply because said personage is the easiest point of reference for comprehending the genuine past-life impressions you do have.
To the soul, fame for fame’s sake doesn’t much matter regardless; fame simply offers a unique set of challenges, opportunities, and lessons… ones that souls do sometimes want. The question, then, should not be one of whether it’s possible for anyone currently living to have been famous in a former lifetime. Rather, the more important question is: What would be the point of remembering a past life as a celebrity?
Well, if you’re spiritually inclined, you might recognize that reincarnation stories bring peace, hope, healing, and awareness to the people who encounter them. Meanwhile, fame yields visibility, so to some extent our fame-crazy world is more inclined to generate buzz around a celebrity reincarnation story than an average-Joe or average-Jane one. (Not that any soul is “average,” but you get my drift.) The fact that Byrd’s little son Christian remembers having been a famous figure, in and of itself, feels neither here nor there. Lou Gehrig’s having been a public figure, however, does seem to have made it more feasible for Byrd to be able to confirm a lot of the details that she and her son “remember” about their past lives… and it also makes contemporary audiences more inclined to listen to their story.
So to the extent that the “fame” element may help the author to verify the reincarnation memories and to get this story out there, then Christian’s past-life “fame” serves a cosmic and karmic purpose in his current lifetime too.
One of the criticisms that most jumped out at me before I read this book was the accusation that Byrd does too much “name-dropping.” Her memoir definitely does mention her coming into contact (or even establishing friendships) with a lot of famous characters, from Adam Sandler, to Magic Johnson, to Tommy Lasorda and the children of Perucho Cepeda (and more). Most of the celebrities “name-dropped” in her story are sports heroes of varying magnitudes. Even though Byrd doesn’t mention anyone who isn’t directly relevant to her tale’s unfolding, doubters might suggest that all of this celebrity is suspect.
However, thinking critically about all the famous characters she meets, it simply makes sense that she and her son would encounter so many people with ties to baseball. Some experts on reincarnation — and people with past-life memories of their own — assert that souls quite often, if not usually, come back: (a) in the company of former companions and associates (“soul family,” if you will) and (b) with ties to former hobbies, backgrounds, places, events, etc. that were important to them previously.
They may be particularly inclined to come back with ties to elements of their former lifetimes if those ties can help them resolve “unfinished business,” or if those ties play a role in their current-life’s mission.
Given that her son Christian was (ostensibly) Lou Gehrig… and Byrd herself was (ostensibly) Lou Gehrig’s mother Christina… and given the fact that Lou and Christina’s lives revolved heavily around baseball — it’s not at all far-fetched that they and their soulmates would share MLB connections in the 21st century as well. These people Byrd “name-drops” are probably somewhat kindred spirits of theirs. Indeed, part of the point of Byrd’s memoir is to show readers how we come back into existence not just alone but in tandem with some of our dear soul connections.
So, does Cathy Byrd drop a lot of famous names? Yes. Are these names central to the unfolding of the story? Yes. Does she articulate that these individuals might be soul friends from the past? No. (In fact, she doesn’t even seem to realize that; she’s more focused strictly on Lou and Christina Gehrig.)
But is it plausible that their souls are all connected? And that some of them have been reborn with ties to Major League Baseball? Absolutely, yes.
Doubts About Her Own Story
It’s very important to mention that Cathy Byrd devotes a lot of time throughout her memoir to explaining that she has been a devout Christian for many years and doesn’t know how to reconcile her son’s declarations (or eventually her own past-life memories either) with her faith. Some of her devoutly Christian friends, it’s implied, begin to distance themselves from her, or even insinuate that there’s something spiritually dangerous in what she’s trying to share with them. A friend in the clergy goes so far as to imply that her son’s past-life memories aren’t past-life memories at all, but rather a sign that he is being manipulated by a ghost.
All of this fills Byrd with anxiety; she hasn’t arrived at this story pre-equipped with a framework for understanding it, and by the end of the book, the reader is left with the impression that Byrd still isn’t 100% sure whether she and her son were channeling information from the Gehrigs or whether they were, in fact, the Gehrigs reincarnated.
… which is a realistic wonder to have.
Raised in a faith that left no room for reincarnation, I’ve wondered myself whether my most vivid past-life connection is “me” or is instead some spirit wanting to make peace with her own life through me. Similarly, I’ve wondered this even about the friends I recognize from that lifetime and their own past-life memories and insights: are we all being manipulated by “ghosts?” Unlikely, but hey, in a society with no framework for this sort of experience, the question can cross your mind.
So what’s the deal? Are Byrd and her son reincarnated Gehrigs? Are Byrd and her son receiving information from the souls of the Gehrigs, in the Gehrigs’ attempt at some sort of healing and closure? Perhaps one, perhaps the other, perhaps both. The world is way more expansive than we usually allow ourselves to believe. Realistically speaking, it’s only reasonable that someone would say, “I really can’t be sure.”
I appreciate the author’s humility here. It strikes me as a very authentic sentiment.
Ties that Carry
Byrd’s book illustrates some carry-over similarities across the lifetimes. There’s the very obvious fact that Christian is obsessed with baseball from early-childhood, despite the fact that his family weren’t previously big fans of the sport. Byrd also points out the amusing similarity between Lou Gehrig’s having been a spendthrift and Christian’s extreme reluctance to spend any of his money — even as a very little boy.
Moreover, there’s the fact that Christina Gehrig was very active in the world of baseball, while her counterpart, Cathy Byrd, was also very active in the world of sports; namely, even before Christian’s past-life memories, Byrd worked in sports marketing for a decade.
Beyond micro-level carry-over for the soul (of, say, interests and proclivities), there are also “macro-level” influences, such as place and culture, that can carry over across lifetimes. In the case of this story, Lou Gehrig was born to two German immigrant parents, while his counterpart Christian was born to a German immigrant father. This fact solidifies Byrd’s ties to Germany as well… and on top of that, Byrd mentions that her own (current-life) ancestors hailed from Northern Germany too (just like Christina Gehrig did).
As far as I’ve seen, souls might not reincarnate in exactly the same place or culture, but they will sometimes reincarnate with loose ties to their former one(s). (And, again, with some of their former hobbies and traits.)
It’s not really a “coincidence” when past-life details carry over. They don’t always, and they don’t always have to… but it’s normal. These small “coincidences” also make me feel like Byrd is being genuine.
On that note, Cathy Byrd and her family are absolutely dogged in some moments by Lou Gehrig coincidences, some of which are fantastically unlikely. And yet… I believe her. Because this happens: when the universe is trying to flesh out some bit of understanding for you, it can be relentless in its messages. And when you’re on the right track with that understanding, the universe can be relentless in its validations.
From the very beginning of her story, when Christian is scouted for an Adam Sandler movie filming in Boston, to the very end, when Christian and Cathy very unexpectedly end up during a Tampa Bay layover at a Yankees game devoted to Lou Gehrig and ALS Awareness Day, life is constantly serving up little twists of fate that will unlock memories for Christian, (re)connect him with souls who are significant in his healing process, and help him find closure. Such events, essentially, help him work out his karma.
Not to mention, also, the “coincidence” that the Ice Bucket Challenge and ALS awareness come to the fore in American public consciousness while Christian is still working through his past-life healing.
In other words, the synchronicity of it all — Christians’ memories and their “coincidental” relevance to what is happening in the world around him — also resonates with my understanding of how past lives can come into our consciousness. Namely, we may become aware of particular past lives when, where, and how we do, because their themes are (or are about to become) more relevant to our current reality.
In my own case, for instance, the particular past life that entered my conscious awareness several years ago was a difficult lifetime during WWII. That lifetime’s themes, locations, characters, and more have elbowed their way into my current experience, usually synchronistically and often in wildly improbable fashion.
This is why all of the baseball/Lou Gehrig “coincidences” in Christian and Cathy’s worlds don’t strike me as weird or unbelievable at all. And I think that anyone who’s been on a similar reincarnation-related journey would feel the same.
The “Unrelenting” Nature of Past-Life Epiphanies
Further to the above, another thing that rings very true to me in Cathy Byrd’s memoir is the fact that life is rather unrelenting about helping her to open up her mind. She first begins to entertain the possibility of reincarnation because she finds her son’s claims about having lived before difficult to write off as the details he shares become increasingly specific (and historically accurate). Moreover, as stated, Byrd’s life fills with “coincidences” that only serve to deepen her immersion in the past-life story overall.
Why might life be so unrelenting about it? Well, it’s highly “inconvenient” for Byrd to believe in this; she expresses concern that reincarnation contradicts with the version of Christianity that she knew, that her husband occasionally doesn’t even want to discuss it, that she comes to feel somewhat distanced from friends who find her experiences uncomfortable to talk about too, and even that she’s worried about the fallout for her son and her larger family should Christian’s past-life memories escape her ability to contain them. Byrd would also rather not dwell on the idea of her son having died such a famously horrible death, had he truly been Lou Gehrig.
Nonetheless, despite — or perhaps partly due to — all of this reluctance, life keeps trying to drive the story (and its details) home.
This feels authentic to me too: in my own case, given that my past-life memories were attached to WWII , I wanted nothing to do with them… and I really didn’t even want to talk about them with most people, for fear of sounding crazy. However, I came to learn that I didn’t really have much of a choice with respect to the immediacy of the “memories” and clues, because a greater wisdom was running the show; I was meant to remember these things, meant to encounter other people who were also (sometimes knowingly) connected to that lifetime, meant to unspool the story to understand more of its nuances, and possibly even meant to share it. Someday. Eventually.
So yeah, I can say from experience that reincarnation is a hard sell for many of us. Especially if our current community isn’t open to the idea, or if significant aspects of the past life feel viscerally unpleasant to entertain.
But I gather that we aren’t always “meant” to be able to dismiss it — in which case, life keeps serving up clue after clue, discovery after discovery.
In those cases, there isn’t much else to do but to trust the higher wisdom that has designed this experience for you and try to enjoy the ride.
Wanting to Be “New”
Some people become aware of a past life through a dream or a hypnotic regression and then just as quickly feel like they’ve “processed” it or understood what it was meant to offer them. However, others find that a given past life is “here to stay” for a while, as they work out its themes and karma over a more extended period in their current lives — whether they want to be immersed in the past life or not. (In truth, from what I’ve observed, I think a lot of us are working out past-life stuff on a regular basis; it’s simply that most of us don’t realize we’re doing so.)
In Byrd’s story, while Christian is obsessed with baseball and initially seems to take a fierce liking to players from “the olden days” (as he refers to that period), he eventually tells his mother that he doesn’t want to be an old-time player anymore; he wants to “be one of the new guys.” This detail also struck me as very authentic because I, too, have known the feeling of, “When will the past-life issues be over?”
When we’re immersed in some of the karma of a previous lifetime, or otherwise find that we’ve somehow ended up on a cosmically-orchestrated ride of discovery, it’s easy to feel, “I just want to be done with this.” Particularly if the current lifetime is more pleasant — you don’t want to keep feeling a challenging life’s emotional waves wash over you or watching its patterns repeat.
But sometimes we can’t (be) let go of an old lifetime quite when we first become aware of it and want to. There is karma to work out. This is not a sign of failure either; perhaps the karma was intended to be worked out across multiple lives. (In that case, we’re right on schedule. And in some ways, we’re at an advantage for the fact that we’ve been able to recognize the past-life origins of our current-life issues: how many people spontaneously receive that privilege in the first place?)
In another famous story of a young boy with reincarnation memories — the story of James Leininger — his family is able to corroborate his claims by investigating military records. In Cathy Byrd’s case, though, the reading public would be less inclined to feel wowed by corroborating details in written record, since Lou Gehrig was famous. Hence, some of the most compelling evidence in Byrd’s story is of the sort that can’t be found in public records. Such as how, in a past-life regression, she “remembers” some jewelry she had as Christina Gehrig, and she “knows” who she gave it to upon her death. Byrd also “remembers” living with an unrelated family and being a sort of motherlike figure to the lady of the household.
Lo and behold, Cathy Byrd researches and finds out that Lou Gehrig’s mom did live with an unrelated family shortly before she died… and learns that Christina Gehrig was indeed like a mother to the lady of the household… and that Christina Gehrig indeed gave the family this jewelry she remembered — even though the family kept largely quiet for many decades about this inheritance.
A specific moment in Cathy Byrd’s memoir that rang deeply true to me: she recounts a conversation with her son about the space between lifetimes, wherein decisions are made regarding subsequent incarnations. Christian informs her that “It’s not a talking situation, though, because there are no words there.” This line immediately brought me back to a dream I had at age 13, over 20 years ago:
In this dream, I understood myself to be in “Heaven,” and I was signing a contract. The air was solemn, the setting some sort of hallowed hall or royal court-inspired place, and either the contract itself was in gold, or my signature was in gold. I understood myself to be in divine company, even though I don’t know precisely who was there. And I distinctly recall having 100% awareness of what I was signing during the dream — even though I’d forgotten the contents of the agreement as soon as I awoke. (I felt like it was perhaps an amendment or addition to a previous agreement regarding my current life? Perhaps even a self-solicited one?)
But in this dream… there were no words. Nobody spoke. Nobody needed to. And I didn’t need to remember its contents. In fact, I’m fairly sure I was meant not to remember its contents.
Only to live by them.
The fact that Christian told Cathy about decisions made regarding lifetimes from a place with no words makes me much more inclined to believe: this kid truly remembers.
The “Point” Is Love
Finally, I’ll say this: Byrd ultimately comes to the conclusion, through all of her past-life explorations, that the “point” of everything is love. The “point” is to keep living more and loving more with each lifetime — and loving more within each choice made within each lifetime.
Some people look at past-life regression as entertainment, or they think that the “point” of it is to remember and re-connect with old knowledge and talents. Delving into a past life can be entertaining… but the soul’s aim is love. Hence, exploring past-life experiences and relationships is ultimately most helpful for the ways that it can enrich how we live our current lives on an emotional level: with more trust, more optimism, more acceptance, more gratitude, more “presence,” more love.
Indeed, Byrd expresses that her soul sees her 21st-century lifetime as a cosmically benevolent opportunity for a do-over, a chance to re-live the love of the past, after the Gehrigs’ time together was cut abruptly short. The idea that Byrd sees her current life as a blessing, a chance for a loving do-over, also resonates with reincarnation-related epiphanies of my own.
It’s entirely possible that someone will have past-life memories without coming to these kinds of conclusions… but if you’ve come to these overarching spiritual conclusions as a result of your “past-life” impressions? Yeah, I’d say those impressions are pretty legitimate.
If you’re interested in reading The Boy Who Knew Too Much, I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re interested in reincarnation (and regardless of whether you have an interest in baseball). Those who’ve had past-life memories of their own — and especially those who’ve had past-life memories that have shaped their daily lives — would likely find this book relatable and validating. Regardless of what its critics say.
We are fortunate that Cathy Byrd braved the stigma to tell her family’s story, and I hope that this world will continue to have more like hers.
Author’s note: as of the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with Cathy Byrd, her publisher, or anyone mentioned in her work.