As a child, on Saturday mornings after my organ lesson, my father would treat me to a trip to the 'big' library 15 miles away from our little country town, where I would immediately find my way to Dewey Decimal System #130: Ghosts, Witches & the Supernatural. I checked out the same fifteen books over and over during my childhood and made the most out of terrifying myself with the collected stories of shadowy specters, dilapidated mansions, and the pale woman hitchhiker near the gates of some forgotten cemetery. Every time my parents vacationed they would return with an armful of books containing the haunted lore of various locales and I soon amassed quite a collection of supernatural literature. I guess you could have called it a hobby adding to the long list of the pastimes of my happy youth including counted cross stitch, playing Monopoly by myself, and putting on one person plays about the unfortunate demise of a Victorian bride.
Late at night in my bunk bed while I immersed myself into those ghost stories, I was secretly jealous of the characters that were alive. They had the chance to see an actual ghost, something that was definitely on my very short bucket list by the age of 10. I imagined that the odds were in my favor that I would eventually see one. Looking back, I think that might also explain my terror of our dark basement or the chills which traversed my spine when exploring our church's cemetery. I was not so much scared of the walking dead but rather titillated at the prospect that I might actually encounter one of these haunted souls.
I'm not sure where this obsession came from since I was a child who had little experience of death other than a few beloved gerbils and chameleons who had gone on to a better place. My Catholic faith taught me that the communion of saints is all around us -- heaven was a tangible place and, as far as I understood, it was a happy place full of old relatives sashaying around on clouds all day wearing white robes. As a young church organist, the funeral rite I heard so many times taught me that in death "life is changed, not ended" and I'm pretty certain that I was looking for actual proof of that maxim in the stacks of Dewey Decimal System #130. That collection of ghost books contained all the theology that I ever needed to sustain me.
Years pass and beliefs change and many, many books are sold or given away and, sadly, I still have never seen a ghost. Well, maybe not the kind which I thought that I would see. I happen to see ghosts almost every day. I see them in the egg cup in which my grandmother made me soft boiled eggs when I would go to visit her. I see them in the reoccurring dream about riding a carousel with my dear friend, Jaime, who was killed in a car accident nearly 20 years ago. I see them as golden leaves on the oak tree outside my office window fall and dance and laugh in the wind as they eventually drop to the ground to return from where they came. Most days these ghosts makes me smile and other days they make my heart heavy with nostalgia and loss but they eternally fill me with gratitude for having the chance to recall them and to never forget that in death our lives are changed, not ended.