“It is far more difficult to murder a phantom than a reality.” ~ Virginia Woolf
Doesn’t it seem like our lives are filled with ghosts?
If we’re quiet sometimes, we can hear them—the shadows of who we once were, the lives we’ve lived and people we’ve loved. We’re left with the mournful and never-ending remembrance (E.A. Poe) of all that is gone forevermore.
Certain loves haunt us. We see them in the faces of strangers and hear their voices in the night when the dark is pressing close against the windows. We toss and turn to the sound of their beating hearts where there should only be silence. They are recalled to us in passing by the tune of a song or a particular expression, and for a moment we are overcome by longing or sadness or desire or just that specific absence that only they can fill.
And only we can feel this, for they are well and truly gone.
Some loves just won’t stay buried; we cannot let them lie. We resurrect them again and again when our thoughts turn their way, however involuntarily. There was a day like that for me. It should have been a gloomy day of grey skies and heavy clouds, dark with the coming rain. Instead, it was one of those picture-perfect days of blue skies and white clouds, a tender breeze and happy birds chirping outside the windows.
Still, I felt haunted, nearly hunted.
I had woken up from a dream and vaguely recalled his presence in it, although I could recount no details. It was simply an impression, left in the air as I woke up to the morning light streaming through my windows. I struggled all morning to stay focused and present, and it seemed like every task took three times longer than it should have. I dressed, distracted, failing to notice until later that I had selected the outfit I wore when I first met him.
I poured my coffee at work and was haunted by the image of another cup of coffee, also from the day we met. I frowned into it, troubled that every moment of my day was being dogged by his memory.
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” ~ Edgar Allen Poe
Sometimes it seems that we live so many different lives. Hopefully, we’re growing and changing all the time as we live and learn. And not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay in them. Surely, that would be too crowded! And yet there are those who are gone that we miss and cannot seem to let go.
So we go in and out of days where their presence walks with us, the ghosts that will not be banished.
Should we banish them entirely, all those ghosts of who we are and who we loved?
Should we exorcize them completely? Or should we just find a way to lay them at last to rest?
Clearly, I’m no expert. I walk with my ghosts from time to time, communing with hearts long departed from mine. One-sided conversations that will never be satisfied with answers. And yet I feel like I’m slowly reaching a place where I can recover the beauty of those relationships. I feel that I’m gradually getting to a place where I can draw out the good experiences and the lessons learned and put to rest the relationship and all the heartache that it contained.
Sometimes it’s a matter of acknowledging the good memory, feeling it and then reminding myself of the good that is in my life now. I reach inside for my gratitude for what was and what is and try to find a place of acceptance.
But what I don’t do, what we must never do, is pretend that we aren’t feeling the way we feel. Whatever we feel is okay—be it anger or sadness or longing. We can accept that those relationships are over or that we are not who we were without denying our feelings in those moments. And there were moments that day when I just wanted to sit beside him, drinking my coffee and enjoying a conversation.
When I wanted nothing more than a hand in mine—the simplest of contact. And the assurance that I am not the ghost, that everything I felt and feel even now is real.
And that it’s okay.
What wouldn’t be okay would be to stay with those feelings after they’ve outlived their usefulness. When we no longer learn from them. When they hinder our growth. So we can feel them deeply, allow ourselves to remember what we need to remember and learn to let go, to let it rest. To be at peace with change, even when we sometimes wish things were different. That they’d change their minds, or that life would not have forced some changes into being. Whatever we wish in that moment, that’s okay. But we need to let those wishes come and go. We need to make peace with the changes because more are coming for us.
“It is far more difficult to murder a phantom than a reality.” (Virginia Woolf) But we can learn to move forward, to embrace what’s coming. We can learn to exorcize the ghosts that haunt us or simply put them to rest. We begin to accept that sometimes who we were and who we loved will resurrect themselves in our memories, and we can learn to be okay with that. Because all of it, every single moment, made us who we are, and we’re using those moments to center ourselves and to uncover all of the personal power that we’ve so often given over to others.
We can take the mournful and never-ending remembrance and turn it instead into memories that we can appreciate as a valuable part of our beautiful lives. We can learn, over time and with practice, how to be grateful for the changes, and we can stop mourning them. We can even celebrate all the aspects of who we were and are now and all of the people we’ve loved along the way.
We can stop casting gloom over the past and instead tell ourselves a new story, not of haints and hauntings but of battles won and lost and hearts that felt every moment of the love stories we’ve been given. Even the ones that ended.
We find that our lives aren’t ghost stories, but love stories. Adventures. Stories of transformation.
We just haven’t gotten to the last page.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Laurent HENSCHEN/Flickr
Editor: Renée Picard