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Spirits in the Material World (starring Jim Morrison, Jawa Nuns and Pat Sajak)

In regards to last night's burning questions, my short answer is who the hell knows? Whether or not spirits roam the earth is not something that can be decisively answered, at least not in the way Sister Margaret would have wanted me to answer it; prove your answer and show your work.

Sister Margaret was a squat 90 year old, one of the last nuns in my high school to still wear a habit. She looked like a Jawa under that thing and moved like one, too. Her face was a sea of wrinkles and lumps and we used to kid that she would hide the bodies of students in those skin folds. Bodies? Yes. She often told us that she would kill the person who didn't show their work. The little nun with the sharp eyes and shuffling walk would kill us. One day when the good Sister again announced her murderous intentions, the class wise-ass Breck said, "What would Jesus think, Sister Margaret?" To which Sister Margaret replied, "Jesus would kick your butt, Breck. Kick it all over creation." And we quietly went back to our proofs and theorems and work showing.

Anyhow, Sister Margaret may have had a point. It wasn't enough that I knew x=32. How did I know that? For all she knew, I could have been guessing. Or cheating. Or had some kind of mathematical psychic ability. So I had to show my work, even though sometimes it was hard to say just how I knew the answer was 32. It's a gut feeling, Sister just doesn't cut it.

So it is with ghosts and spirits. No one can prove their work. They can all come up with the same answer - I do believe in ghosts! - but unless they trap one in some kind of ghost-trapping contraption, their work will be scoffed at, debunked and, somewhere in the outer limits, Sister Margaret will be wagging her jagged little finger at them.

I've got stories. I've got tons of stories. Most of them can be attributed to drugs, Boones Farm wine, an overactive imagination or a combination of all three.

I've come to terms with the fact that Jim Morrison really didn't speak to me from the poster on my wall. You can see how I was easily swayed into believing so, though. There he was, in glorious black and white, shirtless, arms outstretched like a scarecrow martyr. His eyes followed me around the room [Yes! That's the one!] He used to tell me things, whisper to me in the dead of night when the only light in the room was from the red-tinted bulb that pointed towards my Morrison shrine. When Jim whispered, he said things like You cannot petition the lord with prayer!

Some of my friends believed that Jim was still alive, holed up in a smelly hotel in France, drinking gin from the bottle and making music with the ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers. Which means they didn't believe that I had conversations with the ghost of Morrison every night.

I couldn't prove anything to my friends because, well, it wasn't true (not that I would admit to it then) and there was no way to show my work. That my little red light started blinking on and off on Morrison's birthday was only proof that I needed to smoke less pot. Or more.

I lived in my grandparent's house for fourteen years. We moved in right after Nat was born. At the time, both my grandparents were alive. There were two distinct sounds I associated with each of my grandparents. With Grandma, it was the clickety-clack sound of the Wheel of Fortune spinning around every night at 7:30, followed by Grandma's racially charged cursing aimed at the contestants. With Grandpa, it was the chair. He had a Lazy-Boy electric recliner that vibrated the walls and cast a buzzing sound throughout the house every time he adjusted his position. We lived below them, so the sounds of both the Wheel of Fortune and the buzzing chair drifted through floorboards or down the stairs. In a way, they were both comforting sounds. My then husband was often out of the house, and the noise coming from upstairs reminded me that I was not so much alone as I felt.

Grandpa died in June of 1991. In August of that year I thought Grandpa came calling. I was laying in bed, contemplating the horror that was my life. It was about 3am and I was alone, playing mistress to the blackjack table at some Atlantic City casino. And by alone, I mean wallowing in a vast darkness that was threatening to swallow me up whole and consume my very existence. It was at the very moment that I was being eaten by darkness that the buzzing sound started. At first there were just two short spurts of buzz, and I attributed the sounds to my being tired and upset and maybe just a little bit crazy. Then again, but louder and more persistent, like when Grandpa wasn't content enough to recline and relax, but needed to turn on the massage function as well. Drone. Buzz. I know what I heard. It was the chair.

I got out of bed and crept up the stairs, making my way towards the tv room where the chair was kept, expecting to see Grandma, in a fit of insomnia, reclining the Lazy-Boy. But the room was dark and empty and Grandma was snoring away in her bed. I stepped into the tv room, expecting a blast of cold air, because that's what always happens in horror movies when a person meets up with a spirit. No cold air, though. Just the smell of Grandpa's medicines and old age. I went back to sleep, slightly comforted by the thought that Grandpa was trying to tell me I wasn't alone and slighlty creeped out by it all.

That got me thinking. What if ghosts really do come out at night? What if the spirits of our loved ones - or hated ones - follow us around? Do they watch us pee? Masturbate? Or are there rules and regulations a spirit must follow in order to be able to hang out on Earth? Like, no watching your widow have sex with her new husband.

I'm a skeptic by nature. I think John Edward is a fraud. So how come, in the dark of night, the creeping possibility that my Grandpa was sending me a message from beyond can seem so plausible, so real? If Sister Margaret was watching me right now - which she very well may be - she'd be asking me to show my work and validate my proof.

Grandpa's chair was moving.
Grandpa is dead.
Therefore, Grandpa has come back as a ghost.

I don't think that would fly. Big red D on my paper.

So, Grandma died in 1998. Now, Grandma haunted me even when she was alive. And I know without a doubt that if there ever was an entity that could break through the barrier between life and death in order to come back and haunt someone, it would be Grandma. Which is why it didn't really suprise me when one night about six months after Grandma died (and the rooms above us empty as night) I heard the familiar sounds of the spinning Wheel of Fortune coming from above. I put my ear to the door that led upstairs and listened. Click-click-click-click. Smattering of applause. Grandma's unmistakeable voice cursing in Italian. I glanced at the clock. 7:43. Right in the middle of the Wheel of Fortune time slot. I backed away from the door, more frightened than comforted.

Someone mentioned grief-based hallucinations in the comments last night, and I lean toward that as an explanation.

If ghosts and spirits did exist, we would have a lot less unsolved murders on our hand. I mean, if a ghost can come back to earth to scratch on someone's window or bang a few pots in the attic, why wouldn't a murder victim head straight towards the police station to finger his killer? Why wouldn't JFK come back to tell us who really had it in for him? Imagine the possibilities. History classes taught by the spirit of Thomas Jefferson. Shakespeare giving lectures on Shakespeare. Why not?

Well, I could give a lot of reasons why not, most of them having to do with my sense of reality. Which may not coincide with yours.

Yet, there's a part of my brain that overides the skeptic in me. Once in a while, I'll glance at the meatballs in my freezer (Grandma made them right before she died and I've kept them ever since) and think about getting rid of them. Then a shudder of fear runs through my body as I imagine what Grandma would do if I threw into the garbage my main physical connection to her.

Ok, so I'm torn. It's like not believing in God. Even though I say I'm atheist, I keep an open mind as to whether there's life after death, a place called heaven. I don't want to die and get rejected at the Pearly Gates for being a non believer. So I contradict myself often. And then I wonder who will be there if there is a place where we all gather after death. Wouldn't it be funny if I was greeted by Jim Morrison, who admits that he was conversing with me? Or Grandpa, telling me that he was buzzing the chair, or Grandma, still screaming at Pat Sajak?

No, I know what's going to happen. I'm going to die, ascend to the clouds and be greeted by Sister Margaret of the Jawas, who will gleefully cast me out of the heavens for not showing my work.

Comments

Sister Margaret seems like a real piece of work. It's amazing how much one really powerful teacher can impact our lives.

Smells. I feel my grandparents with smells. there have been days when I just cant seem to shake the smell of English Leather, even if I have not come in contact with any or anyone wearing any. It stays with me all day no matter what I do. now, I dont know if ghosts exist or not, but on English Leather days I like to think the old man is with me somehow.

Of course spirits exist. What do you think we are?

Dan Rather: "I'm sorry Sister Margaret."

Sister Margaret: "You're only sorry that you got caught young man."

Thwak!

I was all mad because I thought you said, "I think John EdwardS is a fraud."

"Think"?

Like, no watching your widow have sex with her new husband.

Thanks, Michele. I now have a deep and personal understanding of what Hell is.

Hey, look, it's me posting two comments. Love to hear myself talk, you see.

I've never been persuaded by the "why don't ghosts solve their own murders" theory. If ghosts exist, if there are worlds other than these and our souls are eternal, then it makes sense to me that this life is a small, petty thing. The souls of the dead care no more about the affairs of this life than I care about the fact that while I was getting the groceries out of my car I stepped on an ant. And the ones who linger — the ghosts — are aware only of their own rage or sorrow or anguish or hate. Mere human matters are of no consequence to them.

Yes, I know this contradicts my "I know what Hell is" comment. This doesn't bother me, so don't let it bother you.

Cliff Simak wrote a book called The Goblin Reservation, in which one of the main characters was the ghost of William Shakespeare. Pure fantasy, of course, but well worth a read.

I think the fact that no one has managed to snag the million-dollar prize offered for proof of paranormal or psychic phenomena is good enough proof for me that there are no spirits.

John Edward IS a fraud. He's practicing the ancient art of cold reading and taking advantage of people's gullibility during a tough time in their lives.

See, if I were any less honest, I'd be rich.

Jim Morrison jammin' "Turkey in the Straw" with a bunch of dead Johnny Rebs? What a nightmare. Maybe I should have passed up that last, late-night liver treat...

re: John Edward

One article of many exposing his technique:
http://www.csicop.org/si/2001-11/i-files.html

I'll second the recommendation of "The Goblin Reservation". It is a good read. And your Shakepheare comment made me think of that book, too.

Rick, great minds think alike -- and so do ours. ;)