I believe in ghosts, but not in a literal fashion.1 There are no actual spectral creatures that haunt the night. Instead, ghosts are echoes of people we once knew, or those others once knew.
A person doesn’t even have to be dead to be a ghost. All those posts in your facebook timeline from old college acquaintances? Ghosts “haunting” you. Not all ghosts are creepy.
The strongest ghosts are those we once knew well and not that long ago. Their presence is strong, and we can imagine them so clearly.2 I am lucky enough to not have seen many of those. But I’m sure I’ll see some before I’m ready.
I once saw faint ghosts at Gettysburg, hiding behind the rocks. I didn’t know them well enough to know what they were thinking, or even to know exactly where they were, but I saw them all the same. The ground is sacred, and the ghosts will there for a long time — as long as there are those who can remember.
Other ghosts we know only from whispers, or only see out of the corner of our eyes. They haunt the periphery, but we still see how active they are. And sometimes, you even get to see them full on. At that point, what do you do? Do you poke, prod, shout? Do you question and study? Do you ignore it? Do you run away? Do you see it and move on? The responses are as varied as the responses to literal ghosts in movies and TV.
Some ghosts we live with and make peace. Some ghosts are banished with ritual and gusto (ex-lovers, ex-dictators and disgraced sports stars, mainly). Some merely fade away as we move on and forget.
There are ghosts everywhere. People leaving our lives all the time. Some day, we will disappear too. And all that’s left will be dust, echoes, and whispers.
1Similarly, even though I’m an atheist, I still use the term soul. There is no literal heaven where literal souls reside after detaching from our bodies. But terms like heart, brain, and mind are insufficient for capturing the essence of what soul means. So, I’m stuck with it. Even if atheists don’t believe in gods, the sacred still exists.
2At some point, I need to re-read I Am a Strange Loop. These ghosts are pure metaphors and flights of imagination. It fits in with a theory of mind that was once more defined for me, but now is more inchoate.