Ghosts of the living

The thing that most people get wrong when they’re trying to understand what ghosts are is that they forget what makes us alive.  If a ghost represents the absence of a physical body and the soul is all that’s left of us when we die, then a ghost is simply the remnants of the soul that have been cast off.  Sure, sometimes that happens when we die, especially if it’s a torturous, painful or unresolved death that the body feels deeply. But most often, those little pieces are lost when we’re alive.  On the day we’re born, our souls are complete. But throughout our lives, we lose little bits of ourselves.  

My house wasn’t haunted when I moved into it.  I was married to an abusive man who robbed me of bits and pieces of my soul every single day.  I remember when we first went to look at that house, before we bought it.  It was an open house and when we walked in, it just felt like a happy place.  As other couples went from room to room, we could hear them commenting to one another. “This house is adorable” and “It feels so nice in this room.”  They didn’t mean to be talking about ghosts, but I felt it too.  Being in that house just felt nice.

A few years later, though, it was a different story.  His angry rages and constantly demeaning criticisms and violent outbursts had damaged me to the point where the very walls around me seemed to be closing in.  From the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep every night, I felt panicked, frantically waiting to find out what he’d be angry about that day; hoping and praying that I’d find the magic words to talk him out of whichever neurosis he chose that day.  Would it be laziness?  Sometimes he’d sleep most of the day.  Would it be rage? Hopefully his rage wouldn’t happen in the kitchen, we were running out of plates and cups after so many tantrums.  Hopefully it wouldn’t be directed toward the children.  I was walking on eggshells, living in constant fear of his next outburst, always still reeling from the ones before.

I lost a lot of my soul in that house.  And when we finally sold it, the walls were filled with my fear and sadness.

We had repainted and freshened the place up. Instead of old-fashioned colors and wood paneling, we had brightened up the color scheme, removed old shag carpeting and replaced it with cheerful wood floors.  Our furniture was gone and the house was, for all purposes, better than when we found it.  Only this time, when the realtor walked people through from room to room, there was silence.  I sat on a windowsill listening to them gracefully decline to see the basement, where the master bedroom was.  One woman walked in and said “no” to her husband, immediately.  She backed out and onto the front porch and he said “But honey, the price is right and we have 30 minutes to kill. Can’t we just walk through. What if it’s the one?” But she shook her head and said “No, it feels icky in there. Like sadness and anger.”

That’s when I knew I was dying. Something of me had been lost in that home to the anger and sadness.  My life force had been given over to this nasty energy and I’d probably never get it back.

And I looked around at all of the people around me, swept away by their emotions and freely giving up pieces of themselves, their happiness and joy and autonomy as if there was a never-ending supply.  There isn’t. And the spiritual universe is polluted with the fear and anger of everyone who thinks they don’t have a choice.

I started living differently that day.  I started writing happier endings.  I started a deliberate and conscious personal crusade to increase the happiness of the people around me, knowing that I wouldn’t find joy in myself anymore, it had all been sucked out of me by that house, those walls, where I chose to allow myself and my children to be victimized by the ghosts of my husband’s family, the legacy of anger and sadness that he’d infected us with.  

He was raised in an angry home.  His parents yelled and fought constantly.  They weren’t physical with one another but they were physical with him.  His personal joy and happiness never stood a chance, no matter where we lived.  

Evil is contagious. Spotting it is sometimes impossible.

It can be disguised as helpfulness.  “Are you wearing that to work today?”

It can be disguised as depression “I hate my life.”

It can be disguised as discipline “When will you learn to listen?”

So when you people talk about wanting to find ghosts and trying to figure out who died here, or whose spirit was left behind, don’t look to the dead. Look to the living.  What kind of spiritual remnants are you casting off?  Are you spilling forth with peacefulness, understanding, patience and love?  Or are you spewing hatred, violence, pain, suffering, fear and anger What feelings are you spreading to the people around you? How does it feel to live with you? To love you? 

I used to go to a UU church and at the beginning of every service we’d share our joys and sorrows. It was voluntary, and I never shared but looking back, I wish I had.  When we share our joy it is multiplied. When we share our sorrow, it is divided.

In my life now, I try to share joy as much as possible, so that it multiplies and hopefully begins to push out some of the sadness.