“There’s a ghost in my room,” my daughter wailed from her bedroom.
Sighing, I rolled out of bed and walked into Natalie’s room, figuring this was just another ploy to stay up longer.
“Where’s the ghost?” I said.
“There,” Natalie said, pointing to the wall.
“This?” I said, looking at the shadow from a tree dancing on the wall. “That’s just a shadow.”
“It’s a ghost and I’m scared.”
Flicking on the light, the shadow disappeared. “See, it’s just a shadow.” Then I turned the light off.
“Its back!” Natalie yelled.
I walked over to the window and held up my hand. “See my hand on the wall? It’s a shadow.”
“EEEEEK. A GHOST!” Natalie cried. I sympathized. When I was a kid the phantasmagoric shadows that played on my bedroom walls gave me the willies too. So, I sat next to her bed and stroked her hair.
“Daddy,” my daughter said, “Are there ghosts?”
“No dear,” I said. “Nothing for you to worry about.” Eventually my daughter fell asleep and I went back to bed. But as I stared up at the ceiling, I wondered if I had told my daughter a lie.
Lots of people believe in the paranormal. Me? I a skeptic about such things. Whenever I see one of those “Ghosthunter” shows on cable I think it’s just a bunch of spurious claims with fast cutaways and screeching music leading into ten minutes of commercials for hair loss fixes, diet pills, fitness gizmos, funeral insurance, diabetes supplies, catheters and cash for structured settlements. Seems their target demographic is a very unhappy lot. But people of all cultures have been seeing ghosts for thousands of years. You can’t dismiss centuries of anecdotal evidence out of hand. Those “pictures” of ghosts are very creepy too. Sure, some are done with photographic trickery, but some defy explanation. So, is there something to ghosts? Maybe.
My personal, lightly researched and highly amateur opinion is that ghosts are shadows in time. While we perceive time as linear (Possibly due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics) physicists have shown us that time is very weird. General relativity shows us our view of “time” is “relative” to our speed and position in Einstein’s “spacetime” universe. And on the quantum level, or impossibly small scales, time devolves into a “foam” of probability or may not even exist in a way we will ever understand. But experiments have shown these theories produce reliable results repeatedly – so something is up. And some scientists even postulate that everything happening in the universe – from the Big Bang to me eating breakfast this morning – is all happening all at once. Everything that has happened or will happened has already happened – we just can’t see it.
Maybe “ghosts” happen when, for whatever reason, the separation between our linear view of view of time and that “Eternal Now” blurs. Remember what Einstein said, “The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion?” Perhaps for a second, the illusion falters and we catch a confused glimpse of what’s truly happening all around us. Maybe what we’re seeing is just people in that past and future living their humdrum lives. Have you ever noticed how mundane most stories of ghost sightings are? A face in a window, a person walking down a hallway or a person standing in a field? I think you might just be seeing a shadow from another time flickering onto our sense of reality.
But how we react to this possible phenomenon, because it’s so weird, is to freak the fuck out, causing us to unconsciously project our cultural and personal experiences onto the event and conjure up bogeymen and poltergeists. Since humans are hardwired to find patterns, we create stories to make sense of these fleeting experiences. But all it might be is a shadow in time and no cause for fear. It’s just one of those cool things that happen – like rainbows, blood moons, comets and eclipses. Those were once all things that awed and terrified early man too – but now they’re easily explained. Maybe even ghosts will eventually have a rational explanation.
Perhaps the same is true for the experience of “past lives.” I have had the sense I have lived somewhere before or was someone else. Maybe, for a second, my brain perceived the consciousness of another person in the Eternal Now. But humans, being rather self-centered, make it all about them. “I was the King of France!” they’ll say. “I was Joan of Arc!” Hmmm. Rather grandiose don’t you think? Funny how no one says they were a sex slave of Genghis Khan, a member of the SS or a leper in biblical Palestine. I guess that’s not sexy. Maybe it’s just a stray thought from a person living in 1354 popping into our 2018 heads and vice versa. Hey, maybe that explains Nostradamus, Jeane Dixon and the visions of the prophets. Who knows?
Of course, I won’t tell my daughter any of this stuff. It’ll only scare her. Besides, one day she will have to deal with ghosts that are all too real – regret, love lost, trauma, bad memories, and unalterable choices. These are the things that try men’s souls. And unlike Casper and Bettlejuice, those ghosts can hurt us.
Lying in bed, I also watched the shadows from the tree outside my bedroom window dancing on the walls. My house was built around 1920. Maybe the house’s first occupant, long dead, is lying next to me or brushing his teeth in the bathroom – oblivious to the fact we’re occupying the same place but separated by a hundred years. I can almost reach out and touch him.
I hope he doesn’t snore.