Garden Road Ghosts

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Cannon fire illuminates oaks during the 2018 Thunder in the Woods. / Photo by Jason W. Selby

Sept. 29, 2018 was my parents’ 50th anniversary. The fact my father is gone changes the event, of course, making it like celebrating the birthday of a deceased family member. I forget I am now older than my older brother Grant.

Jennifer believes my brother and my father have decided to stick around to watch over my children. In certain parts of Africa, people believe in both the big soul and the little soul, simultaneously. Since whatever is outside of time is beyond comprehension, there is no conflict claiming a more expansive part of us touches God, while a remnant stays behind to haunt the world. Logic is God’s shadow. Useful at times, a reminder of the power of what is infinite, but not the end we should ultimately seek.

My four-year-old daughter Jasmine has told us she has seen my father recently. He was swatting insects by swiping his large hands over her head. According to Jasmine, he was saying, “Get. Get away.” I can hear his deep voice threatening the mosquitoes.

Sometimes the ceiling fan, covered in dust and spiderwebs, though it is not turned on, begins moving above Jasmine as she lays in her room. She no longer wants us to run the fan, no matter how hot or cold it gets. We must make sure it’s off if we flip the light switch. My wife’s theory is my brother Grant is teasing her, but my father tells him to knock it off—“Don’t scare Jasmine.” At our Grandma Selby’s funeral in 2009, Grant sat behind my stepdaughter Natalie and teased her by tugging on her ponytail. That image is seared in Jennifer’s mind, but in an endearing way.

Our grandmother was impatient to join Grandpa Selby after he passed at the care center in Seymour. When Jennifer met her, we brought two kittens who were going to become my stepdaughter’s pets. Grandma was frustrated with her own health.

“The doctor comes, but he can’t find anything wrong with me,” Grandma lamented. She spent 68 years living in the same house with her husband. Both life and death were temporary inconveniences.

A few weeks after we brought the kittens home, Natalie accidently shut the refrigerator door on hers, which she had named Snow Fur. There was blood all over the kitchen floor and covering Snow’s white face. We took him to the ISU veterinary center’s ER. It cost us. But I would do it again. Preferably, I would move Snow out of the way and cage him safely in the living room. A few years later, he passed from life in front of my grandparents’ Moore’s heating stove, which my sister and I stretched in front of when we were kids to keep warm.

Snow was suffering from a strange affliction. My wife told him, “It’s okay, you can go.”

Those who suffer from depression are more prone to nightmares. There is a song by Alice in Chains where the late Layne Staley sings about a bad dream come true. In Ezekiel, the prophet watches the bones of the dead reassemble. We joined in chorus as children at Sunday School to repeat Ezekiel’s vision, to remind us how silly it is to imagine time only moves forward. Around 2,500 years later, another Jewish man, Einstein, demonstrated scientifically how time and space are relative. The early Eastern philosophers saw all matter as vibrating energy, and 2,500 years later, Western theoretical physicists speak of the universe humming since it was born. Something had to tune it just so.

It is reported that long ago a disillusioned noble of Indian descent, though he had been given more than his share of worldly goods and wares, stumbled from his ornate, illusory palace complaining of the darkness that is and was to come.

“Awful, just awful,” he said.

A Buddhist monk happened to pass by. The sage laughed softly and told the man, ‘No, life is not awful.’ And he preceded to demonstrate the absurdity of the noble’s troubled life from the perspective of one who has woken up.

When I first met Natalie, she was only four years old, the same age Jasmine is now. The former’s name comes from a term for divine birth, while the latter is a flower that blooms in fragrance. One of the first things Natalie said in my presence, as I was learning how to be a parent to someone I had not created myself, was this:

“Why do we have to die?”

I found the statement sad, but also funny in the end. At least she had not asked me where babies come from. I did not answer Natalie. In a few moments, she forgot her sadness. Now 14-years-old, Natalie jokes about inertia when a door hits her in the back. Her youthful prophet is butting up against the teenage scientist, and finding the same answers, that it is better to just laugh.