This post is the first in a series to come that will be derived from “The Book of Questions,” which is a little book I gave to Daughter #1 while she was an undergraduate at Case-Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Eventually it came back to my possession as she went on with her life abroad and eventually here in Utah. The author is Gregory Stockton, PhD. and it’s available at Amazon.com.
Do you believe in ghosts or evil spirits? Actually, I believe I can say in all honesty that now I don’t believe in ghosts or evil spirits, although there have been times in my life when I thought differently. Being brought up Christian, especially in the deep South, prepares you for that belief with their teaching of the afterlife. In fact, it seems to me they did and do prepare you more for life “after you die” than for the only life you are actually guaranteed to have, which is this one.
No matter how poor you are, or how many material things you do without so you can drop that extra nickel in the collection basket, you are always promised that a place is being prepared for you in heaven that will make all your sacrifice “here below” worth it. It’s preaching “manna for the poor,” but it works. It’s just too bad, it seems to me, that you have to wait until you die to live the good life. You know, in mansions built on streets paved with gold:
“I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold”
[This is the chorus from Mansion Over the Hilltop, a gospel song by Ira Stamphill in 1949, and sung by Sister Margie frequently at Everybody’s Tabernacle in Ellisville, Florida where I was living in the 1950’s.]
It isn’t much of a stretch then to think that after death you’ll take on a kind of “see all, hear all, know all” quality except that you won’t actually be “here”. You’ll be in a “better place.” Saying goodbye–at the cemetery before the undertaker gives the signal for the laborers to begin covering the lowered casket with the mounds of dirt piled to one side of the green grassy carpet-is not forever. When Gabriel blows his horn on judgment day, the believers and chosen ones will rise up to the sky, and a reunion will commence that will include every family member “gone on before you”.
In that great a-getting’ up morning,
Fair thee well, fair thee well.
In that great a-getting’ up morning,
Fair thee well, fair thee well.
When you see the lightnin’ flashin’,
When you see the thunder crashiin’,
When you see the stars a-fallin’,
When you hear the chariot’s callin’,
Well! If you can’t believe gospel singer Mahalia Jackson when she sings with that magnificent voice of hers many, many years after her own death, who can you believe? Even now, she can come the closest to making me at least want to believe than anyone before or since.
You can see then, that most my life, after a family member died, I could imagine him or her in the breezes around me, or in the glint of sun shining on a pond’s surface as I went about my daily chores. I’d even talk to them inside my head. Talk about the haunting of a kid!
In fact, just to illustrate how bamboozled this church doctrine made me, I had a ritual as a pre-teenager that I felt compelled to go through at any time I was doing something I felt slightly self-conscious about doing under any kind of observation, especially that of the supernatural. I’d snap my fingers three times, first on the right hand then the left, to turn the paranormal spout control switch to OFF. Only then could I resume whatever I’d been doing in a modicum of confidence.
When we were children, my peers and I were never spared the anguish of attending funerals, either, the way children sometimes are today. Funerals were, after all, a social occasion in which you learned how others act, and how you need to act in order to get along in the world. You learned, first of all, that death is something that happens to everybody, but usually only after people are really old and sick, and probably tired of living anyway. Now and then, it’s true that our worlds were rocked by the deaths of young people, even babies, but they were usually accidents or, we knew that sometimes God changed his mind and wanted the baby back for whatever reason.
You learned what to say to people suffering in their bereavement. “She’s in a better place, where she won’t have to suffer any more.” “He’ll be waiting for you when it’s your turn to go.” “Oh, if only Sister could see how beautiful she looked laying there in the casket.”
I once saw the 1934 version of “Death Takes a Holiday.” Frederick March, as Death, takes on human form in order to discover why people fear him so. The deal Death made in order to take on human form (and I can’t remember who the deal is made with) is that while he is mortal, there will be no death. Therein lies the plot.
It takes awhile, but eventually people begin to notice that no one is dying. War rages, but no matter how bad the casualties no one dies; even plants and flowers no longer wither and die. If memory serves, there’s a young boy, the grandson of the protagonist I believe, who falls from a tree and is badly injured, but-since death is on holiday-he must lie there and suffer dreadfully until Death can be persuaded to resume his duties.
By this time of course, Death has met and fallen in love with a beautiful woman who is the only person who has never been afraid of him, so it’s a hard choice for him to leave that world with a loving partner to become the hated death again. Through the movie we have a glimpse of what life would be without death to balance it, and thus we learn to appreciate it while we have it.
Eventually I came to believe that death is the real and natural end for every body, human or animal that, like the finest tuned and turned out machine, eventually wears out, and when it does, thank heavens death is no longer on holiday. Strangely, when someone I know dies now, one of my first thoughts is about all those things he or she will never have to suffer anymore. A belief you might think of as depressing can actually be quite comforting. I think it might depress me more to think I have to go through it over and over again.
Would you be willing to spend a night alone in a remote house that is supposedly haunted? In spite of not believing in ghosts and evil spirits, I still have one blessed imagination! I love spooky movies, not the slasher kind, but those that play with your head, that make you believe “it could happen.” Those are very few and far between, unfortunately. So no, I probably wouldn’t agree to spend the night alone in a remote house that is supposedly haunted. But I would if somebody would go with me. Anyone interested?