I believe in ghosts.
Believing in ghosts, or spirits, was one of those peculiar habits my mother brought across the Atlantic as a 21-year old Scottish immigrant. Aside from her strange preference for ketchup and salt on her French toast in the mornings, teaching me not to fear ghosts made her proud.
“No reason to fear things that go bump in the night,” she said. “They’re harmless.”
Her voice rolled letters like poetry put to music.
“You know, they want to get out and stretch their legs, too. No bother. Not going to do you or anyone else any harm.”
To her, ghosts were as much of her childhood landscape as blooming purple heather and the gray clouds scraping across the hills looking down on the dark lochs. And just because you didn’t see spirits didn’t make them any less real.
As a child, being scared of the world is instinctive. We learn early to fear what we don’t understand. And noises in the dark of night naturally rank at the top of the list.
While my childhood consisted of fields of split-level homes, hers featured towering ancient stone castles — each attached with a family name and heroic or tragic story to tell. The best of my childhood stories might feature a worn-out stagecoach and the town’s namesake, a blacksmith named Ray.
In my mother’s world, separating the past from the present was different. Today’s world still includes the past, as if those who lived hundreds of years ago never moved on. And why should they, she said, it was their home, too.
She repeatedly said so long as we don’t block out the possibility, we would never be alone.
As an adult, I vowed never to let go of her closely held beliefs. But as I grew older, I became more pragmatic, and certain doors from our childhood silently closed behind us with barely a notice.
But then our 2-year-old son reminded me her lessons might travel generationally without a passport.
One day, my wife and I were pushing him through a nearby cemetery in his stroller when he turned to wave behind us.
Looking back over my shoulder, I could see nothing but oak trees and fields of headstones and markers.
“Who are you waving at?” I said.
“Them,” he said, pointing toward the stones. “The people.”
“Yes,” he said. “The people in the grass.”
To this day, my wife and I remember the chill running down our spines.
If I’d listened more closely, I might have heard my mother in heaven hooting and handing out high-fives.
We decided to pass along my mother’s healthy beliefs. We would always tell the children never to fear the sounds at night or the orbs of light out the corner of their eyes. Spirits, we reminded them, were a normal part of life and death — no reason to fear them.
And to my mother’s delight, I’m sure, they’ve never feared things that go bump in the night.