This ghost had his stomping ground-the church on the hilltop, right outside of the confines of this small provincial town in England. The westerly winds chilled the air, causing the villagers’ to have ghostly breath of their own. Was each errant breath of these churchgoers a significant sign that they were bound to die eventually?
Staring into the windows, he caught a still image of a weeping boy, clothed in a black suit. His mother was talking in a trembling fashion to the other congregants about pedantic topics like the weather, the upcoming spring flower sale, and Easter, of course.
The church itself was truly a marvelous building, antiquated, though still very lively. It was constructed in the Middle Ages with dour, grey stone. It had a stout bell-tower with a gleaming cross atop it that was on constant vigil for any hopeless vagrants. This was a place of reconciliation for the lost, the wandering,the disconsolate. It was a place of marriage ceremonies blooming with spring-like life and funerals that had the doleful air of winter.
Watching the boy, the ghost felt deeply sad. Was he crying for me, someone else? The ghost had forgotten when he died. Dying was a shock to both the living and the dead. He only had vague recollections of “life,” “mortality,” “religion.” He felt like a dim reflection of life, staring sadly and enviably at those gathered at the church, who were so determined to believe that life existed after death
Here I am, stranded from the mainland of the living, “living” precariously in a sense upon the uneven boundaries between life and death.
A pair of vacant blue eyes caught his gaze, these were the eyes of the boy. They became wider in recognition. Father.
Suddenly, the ghost’s wandering mind became trapped in a tumbling mess of memories:
“Father, what happens when we die?” Both father and son were seated in their cold, damp blue mini-cooper.
The heater was on at full-force, making a resonant “whooshing” sound that the father described as “the sound that the ghosts of the departed make, as God beckons them to him.” The father coughed uncomfortably, knowing full well that this was a clever metaphor to help assuage his son’s deeply entrenched fears of death. In some ways though, the poetic image soothed his own fear of death: he liked to think that there was a God blowing our ghosts towards heaven.
“But, what about…. hell, daddy? Does God just forget about…bad peoples….” the boy’s face looked positively frightful,his eyes were empty and teary. The father looked lost at words, so he desperately tried a stab at conceiving a much less untenable metaphor.
“Son, don’t listen to what other people tell you about what will happen. Just as you close your eyes before you go to sleep daily and have dreams. Death will be like that, except you’ll awaken to the best unrealized dream of all.” He felt like he was being much too pious, especially for a lapsed Anglican. He hadn’t really been fully committed emotionally to religion for years. This stemmed from the traumatic death of his friend several months prior to his own death.
His friend’s name was James. Fighting for his country in a glorious,nationalistic daze, James was shot right in the head. With one stray bullet, aimed at the core of his being, his friend died. No ghosts visited him in the months after, no “God” was really ever there to remind him there was life after death. There was nothing but silence. No one wanted to talk in depth about the implications of his friend’s death. No one wanted to entertain his desperate questions “WHAT HAPPENS AFTER WE DIE?” At church, it was all dizzying prayers, abstruse doctrines, disheartening depictions of eternal damnation, all rounded off with a few sonorous hymns that exalted the “God” who was never there.
His son smiled weakly, as they sat in the car together. Receiving a solemn gaze from his father, he never inquired anymore about death. After that car ride,another seven months of binge drinking in secret continued until the son found him lying lifelessly on the carpet.
“MOM…MOMMMM…MOMMMM…. DADDY IS DEAD….” Even after he died, the ghost still reflexively trembled with the chill of the painful words. He felt stricken with selfishness for leaving both his son and wife alone. But, his wife was strong, she was an adept nurse; she was the only one, besides his son, that tried to reassure him that life was worth living. But James, why did James have to go?
Sighing deeply, his son replied “You’re still living, Daddy! You’re still living!”
“No son, I’m dead.”he said stoically.
“Well, to me, you’ll always be alive! Daddy, I love you!”The boy smiled and silently said a prayer, thanking “God” or whoever was listening, for keeping me alive.
It dawned on me then. If I had lived my life after James died in homage of him, some intimation of him might have still lived….
Both my wife and my son watched me with bright smiles at the wind; they both had joyful tears streaming from his beautiful hazel eyes. I smiled in return and waved at them.
For a moment, I thought I felt Jame’s reassuring hand grab my shoulder,”Did you really think I could die that easily?”