I used to believe in ghosts.
When I was a kid, I saw them. White silhouettes that would walk past the glass kitchen door, down the driveway towards the backyard. They wore long white robes and had tall hats, like a bishop’s miter. Most of them had long black beards.
Once, one of them played peek-a-boo with me while I ate at the kitchen table. Beardless, lacking his tall hat, a face peeked through the door and smiled at me. Disappeared. Peeked back in. Disappeared.
They were, my parents said, Civil War ghosts. Our house was not far from where a Civil War battle happened. My parents said the Civil War ghosts protected our house from break-ins, which seemed plausible since we were about the only house on the block that hadn’t been broken into.
If it asks you to, don’t ever follow one of the Civil War ghosts around the corner of the house, my father warned.
Maybe I was predisposed to believing in ghosts. A little bit nature, surely a little bit nurture. My parents had both had supernatural run-ins earlier in their lives. My dad and sister and I together experienced two colorful spirits dancing on the kitchen wall one evening over dinner. I don’t think my dad was just humoring our childhood imaginations.
I don’t believe in ghosts anymore. I haven’t for years, since my early twenties when I last had an encounter with a spirit. It would be easy to tell myself I just outgrew it. But I can’t just explain away what I saw as a child, what I believed as a child, as merely childish. I want to believe that children can believe in ghosts. Adults even. Just not me.
* * *
Shortly after Joseph died, a friend of ours contacted us to tell us a remarkable story of how Joseph’s spirit came to visit her. She wrote the story on a piece of fabric and sewed it into a pillow. She mailed it to us with a card explaining what was on the pillow, a disclaimer almost, that she’d had this experience and wanted to share it with us, and she hoped we could take it as such—an experience.
We read the story on the pillow.
I held, not for the first or last time, a heart full of conflicting emotions. Anger that my son’s spirit would visit this friend and not me. Why didn’t he speak to me? Why didn’t I dream of him? Relief that my son’s spirit hadn’t visited me. I didn’t believe he could. I didn’t want to believe that there was any reason for a spirit to stick around the human world, because that would mean spirits had thoughts and emotions and that’s just too depressing a view of the afterlife for me to believe. Sadness because I didn’t believe there was anything left of Joseph to visit me. Only memories.
I held, not for the first or last time, this paradox of belief and disbelief. I believed that our friend had this experience with our son’s spirit. And I didn’t believe it could happened at all.
But this is the way I want it. I am selfish. I want to hold both possibilities together as true.
Do you believe ghosts? Have you had any experiences with your baby(ies) you would describe as supernatural?