Ghosts’ Stories

I believe in ghosts.

I read those words and wonder what friends will say.  I wonder what my parents would say.  I even wonder what my own children would think.  We didn’t talk about such things at my house as I grew up, nor as my children grew.  It will come as a surprise to all of them to realize that I am a believer in ghosts.

I may need to clarify a bit.

The longer I live, the more I realize that words mean different things to different people.  To some, ghosts are nothing more than a cartoon–Casper and his cohorts floating around and scaring children and being scared by the same children.  Others think of ghosts as the malevolent spirits exposed by movies in recent years, but told about in countless late night fireside sessions throughout the centuries before television.  The ghosts they see are the spirits of cruel men, long dead, sentenced to walk the earth and terrify the living, whom they hate.

Poltergeists and phantoms, along with apparitions, all spring to mind when the word ghost is invoked.  The reader is free to believe in these as he or she wishes.

I have no fear of such things.

The ghosts I believe in are all in my head.  And in my heart.  Still, I talk to them and even listen for their advice.  Oh, they don’t actually speak, but once they did.

Funny, I talked to Wayne and Betty the other night.  I was on one of my nightly running treks and just happened to run past the stone marker that bears their names in the local cemetery.  The ghosts in my head woke up as I passed that marker.  Not because they are walking the earth.  They’re not.

The ghosts in my head are simply the memories I have of folk who have been a part of my life, but are no longer physically with me.

I heard, once again, Betty’s voice as she chided the Lovely Lady and me one day many years ago, before we were married.  The lovely young thing was spending the summer working at a local camp and the separation was too much for a young couple to bear.  We had arranged to meet at the river near the camp, I sitting impatiently on the hood of my yellow Chevy Nova, as she trudged the half mile down a dirt lane.

Reunited, we leaned against the car and, holding each other tight, spoke of empty arms and hours and our love for each other, wishing it could be different.  But, within moments the calls began to echo down the river valley.  Her name was being yelled out.

We were caught!  As Betty approached the car, she was wearing an angry, yet relieved, expression on her face.  She aimed most of her frustration at me, and rightfully so.

It was the summer of the Girl Scout Murders.  Three girls had been murdered in their camp tents less than thirty miles from where we stood, and the murderer was still at large.  There was reason to be fearful and to take extra care.

I will never forget Betty’s voice as she scolded  me.  I was a selfish young man who needed the words that reminded me of my responsibility to others.  It was an embarrassing moment, but one from which a valuable life lesson came.

The other night, as I smiled at the memory (after the initial grimace of guilt had passed) of Betty’s words,  I immediately heard the gravelly voice of Betty’s husband Wayne.

The deacons at my church had been sitting and discussing different projects which needed to be completed, when the aging man spoke up.

“That old door has a crack under it big enough to sling a dead cat through!”

The memory of the words triggers fond thoughts of the laughter we shared many times, but also of the selfless servant this old saint was.  He was willing to dirty his hands on any project and gave of himself liberally.  Whether it was a plumber’s plunger or a carpenter’s hammer in his hand, he worked with a joy that couldn’t be extinguished.

The ghosts talked as I ran on.  Not even the huge spider web I ran through moments later could quiet them down.  Frantically, I wiped the sticky material off of my face and arms, and I thought I heard Wayne laugh again.

It strikes me as I write this that I, too, will be a ghost one day.  So will each of us.  And I don’t mean the kind that haunts old houses and drags chains around, either.  Still, I’m wondering what kind of memories my ghost will evoke in people who might chance to remember me.

We had a conversation about a couple of other ghosts one day recently, after a family dinner.  The mother and son have both passed away within the last few years, leaving behind them an inheritance of arguments and threats, and hate.

The ghost I see is standing on the bank of a river, brandishing a shotgun.  The Doberman dog at her side is growling menacingly as she threatens physical harm if the teenagers in the canoe stop to swim on her property.

The ghost of her son is not any less formidable, as I hear him curse and demean church-going folks.  The arguments were many and ferocious, at times.  Although not one of my personal memories, the story is told of a gun and the same river bank his mother stood on, only there was gunfire on that day.

Ghosts.

The book is shut on the words they can speak.  The last action they can take has been taken and is sealed in memories forever.  Their legacy is complete.

Again, I wonder.

What sort of ghost will I be?  What legacy is to be left behind as the memories of my words and actions are set free on those still remaining after me?

I hear and read the words everywhere.

YOLO!  You only live once, the letters scream out.

They lie.

We may pass this way only once, but the record of our passing remains.

I sit deep in thought, but suddenly I shake off the reverie.  I am alive still.

Not a ghost.  There is time yet to write the dialogue.  Still time to choreograph the dance.  Time to map out the movements of the player.

Not a ghost.

Yet.

“Carve your names on hearts, not tombstones.  A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
(Shannon L Alder ~ American writer)

“…it is appointed for man to die once and after that comes judgment.”
(Hebrews 9:27 ~ ESV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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