“From Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-Leggety Beasties and Things That Go Bump In The Night, Good Lord Deliver Us!”
Dr. Lorin Swinehart
I do not believe in ghosts or other fell presences. I have never believed in ghosts. I place ghost sightings among other imaginary entities that appeal to the naive and hyperemotional: Sasquatch, Nessie, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, Area 51, Elvis sightings, gnomes and fairies and leprechauns. And yet, twice in my life I have encountered phenomena that defied all reason, all scientific explanation, even one’s sanity.
The first encounter occurred on a June evening, just before dark, as I walked my dog on the quiet streets of my old hometown of Ashland, Ohio. A former teacher of mine had recently passed away during a routine surgical procedure; one of those incidents that just seem to happen from time to time, leaving the providers saddened and baffled. Up until that time, the lady would walk her little fuzzy dog right past my house every night at about the same time.
On that particular evening, when her untimely demise was still very much upon my mind, I saw the very same person with the very same fuzzy dog walking along the very same stretch of sidewalk, advancing directly toward me.
I have heard of people being frozen stiff with fear, mostly uncles of mine who had served in World War II. That evening, I was frozen with immobility. What I was seeing simply could not be. I knew full well that the person walking toward me was dead, had been dead for over a week. In my panic-stricken state, I could not flee in terror in the opposite direction, step off the sidewalk into the street, address the advancing specter in any fashion. All I could do was remain rooted to the spot.
Once the figure reached me, I was relieved to discover that she was the woman’s daughter, who bore a striking resemblance to her late mother and happened to be walking the same little dog at the very same time of the evening. She had come down from a Cleveland suburb to settle her mother’s affairs. So, a story to share with friends, entertain students each year around Halloween, to remind myself that I can be deluded as severely as anyone else under the proper circumstances.
So, a rational explanation. There are no ghosts. All in the imagination. Stories to frighten children with around a woodland campfire in the dead of night.
Several years ago, while my wife, LaVon, and I were spending one of several winters at Kure Beach, North Carolina, I experienced an encounter that I have not resolved in my mind yet. We were renting a large two-story duplex with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. We had gone upstairs to bed, and LaVon was fast asleep. Before drifting off myself, I remembered that I had not set up the coffee for the next morning, which was my habit. So, I descended the steep staircase to the kitchen area, which was separated from the large living room by a counter. As I was fiddling around, filling the pot with water, spooning coffee into a paper filter and whatnot, a huge dark shadow passed slowly along the outside of the counter.
“My God, LaVon. I thought you were upstairs asleep!” I said.
She was upstairs fast asleep. The only “person” in the entire downstairs other than myself was the apparition. The shadow continued across the living room and vanished.
A few days later, we shared my experience with our nearest neighbor, who explained that the elderly gentleman who had lived in the house before us had recently passed away in a local nursing home. LaVon speculated that he had returned for a short visit before going off to his eternal destination.
As good an explanation as any, I suppose. All I can say with certainty is that I witnessed the specter, that I was wide awake, that I do not drink alcohol, have never experimented with any form of narcotic, and that I was of sound mind and body at the time. I do not know what I saw that night. Perhaps not a ghost.
A year or so later, we attended a seminar conducted by Father Al Durrance, who addresses such phenomena in his book Good Lord Deliver Us. Father Durrance’s conclusion is that ghosts are real, that they can see Christ but are so attached to someone or something in this life that they resist going to him.
I leave my experience to the judgment of others.