I used to love ghost stories when I was a kid. Sitting around a campfire, everyone getting real quiet while someone told a cryptic tale, always with an air of mystery and suspense, sometimes scary, sometimes just puzzling. This is a story about ghosts, some real, some imagined, some long gone, some (perhaps) still here. You never know when a ghost might show….
When I was about 3 years old, I once awoke in the middle of the night, in my bedroom in the third floor attic that I shared with a couple of my brothers, and saw some people moving around over against the wall near the stairway going down out of the attic. I looked around to see where my brothers were – they were both in their beds, asleep. I closed my eyes and started screaming. I didn’t know who those people were, but I didn’t think they belonged in our attic bedroom. When my older brother Ken came over to my bed asking me what was wrong, the people were no longer there when I opened my eyes. There were some clothes hanging on hooks along that wall, and he said that I must have thought those clothes were people. However, I was certain that I saw people moving around there, but I agreed with him, mainly because I was so embarassed for having made such a fuss. I just wanted everything to go back to normal. It never did.
After that, I kept my eyes closed if I was the only one awake up there, but sometimes I still thought I heard the strange people up there. In my mind, they were there. Whether they really were or not was irrelevant to me. I felt their presence, so to me, they were very real. I can still remember seeing and hearing them, way back then. They still seem like a very real memory to me.
Maybe that experience, and my defense mechanism for dealing with it, was part of why I never saw the ghost in the house we subsequently moved to when I was 8. Numerous people saw her – a 9 year old-ish little blonde haired girl (described in the seed to this sprouted story). I actually wanted to see her, but never did. However, I often felt her presence. I never felt alone in that big old house, even though I often was there by myself, especially in our first couple of summers living there. She actually felt like part of the family, like another sister or something. I was not afraid of her. It was more like I felt sorry for her. I even talked to her sometimes, never sure if she could hear me or not. It was nice to have someone to talk to, though, and so I continued to talk to her. It never felt like I was just talking to myself.
Once at a workshop at the church we were members of in New Jersey, before we moved to Virginia, I sat with a Psychic who was known to have a genuine gift for sensing spirits from the “other side”. She would sit with you for a little while, ask you a few questions, then she would tell you what she sensed in your aura. I’d never had such a “reading” before, and was curious, so I sat with her and answered her questions. She told me that she felt a very strong presence of an older gentleman who was always around me, from the time I was very young. He acted sort of as a guardian to me, although he was not what she would term an “angel”. He was the spirit of someone who had been related to me when he was alive.
I remembered a few times, in the height of my active addiction, when I felt a strong presence of my paternal Grandfather, who I had never known in this realm – he died 3 ½ weeks before I was born. He and my father, his only son, never got along until very late in his life, just as my father and I had never gotten along until late in his life – so, I naturally assumed this “presence” around me was Grandpa Bridgeman. However, in subsequent years, since my father passed over, I have at times felt a distinct presence that felt like his maternal grandfather, my Great Grandfather Martin Hager, who actually died 15 years before I was born.
Of course, I have also often felt the presence of my father, as he has appeared in a number of my dreams, and there have been times in which I just felt like he was close by. I also had this experience for a number of years with my best friend Reed, who died when we were both 24 years old. I have written of how instrumental he was in bringing me back from an out of body experience, 5 days before he himself died. After several years, and many “visits” in dreams and looking in windows at meetings, he appeared in one final dream to let me know he had to move on.
I only felt such a distinct presence of my mother’s a day or two after she died, and one other time, both of which I wrote about, at the time. The first “visit” came as I was riding my bike. For about a block, I “felt” her riding along beside me, on a bike of her own. She was much younger – in her 30’s or so – and conveyed a sense of joy and lightness to me as I rode, which I took as her way of letting me know that she was doing just fine on the “other side”, and that she was thankful for me being there at her side during her last 11 hours on “this side”. It was a definite sense of her presence, although I didn’t actually “see” her there. I could really feel her, and what she was doing. That was very real to me.
A couple of months after she died I had the most briliant sense of Mom, in the form of a dream. It was several days before we were to have her Memorial service for the family and close friends here in Virginia, followed by her Interment, joining Dad in Arlington Cemetery. It was one of those dreams that feels much more real than your normal dream. It came the night after I had learned that a dear friend and colleague from work, a lady my age, a brilliant scientist who I was supposed to have done a high level presentation with that day, had been struck and killed by a car while retrieving her mail from her rural mailbox.
In the dream, Linda awoke on a strange ocean beach, disoriented and confused as to why she was there, and what she was to do. Mom was strolling down the beach, and went right over to her to provided reassurance and comfort that she was right where she was supposed to be, and to offer her some guidance and support in learning her way around “there”. This felt as real to me as if I was right there witnessing it right on that beach. It was exactly the type of thing Mom spent much of her time alive doing, and it made perfect sense that she would continue to do that “there”. It also provided me some needed reassurance that Mom was o.k., because I was really worried about her. I have not worried since then.
I’m re-reading the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. In it, the narrator talks about “ghosts” as those things that are only in our minds. That being said, he compares ghosts to things like the law of gravity. Did that law always exist, or did it only come to be after Isaac Newton named it? His point was, the law of gravity is something that is only in our minds. Mathematics and Science – Time, for that matter – are all inventions of the mind. One might say they don’t actually exist – but, as we have become so dependent on them, in our minds, they are very real. Ghosts are the same way, according to his theory.
In the story, he is being followed, while he is actually following, a ghost of his past, a ghost he refers to as “Phaedrus”. He had actually had some sort of a psychological break at some point, which he barely recovered from to go on to live a relatively “normal” life. In the story, he has embarked on what he terms a Chautauqua (sha-TOK-wah), a journey to learn and discover something significant. It becomes clear that this chautauqua is his journey of discovering the part of him that has been missing since his “break”, to reunite that creative intelligence with this more stable, though shallower, current version of himself.
I had a lot of resistance to the story a year ago, when I first read it. It took me close to five months to finish reading it, as I would keep putting it down and not coming back to it for weeks at time, finding it very tedious to stay with. This reading, I can’t get enough of it. I am understanding and relating to it a lot more, now. I suspect it is because I have had a similar “chautauqua” with a ghost or two of my past, since then, that has left me feeling much more whole, and much less fearful of these “ghosts” of my past.
I also suspect this has something to do with why I can now write poetry again, after I could not even begin a poem for close to 33 years, since right before I began to recover from addiction.
That’s my ghost story. Sweet dreams!