This post will have less to do with the paranormal and more to do with life and friendship. I'm not all about dead people, you know.
I knew a girl once who was one of the saddest people I've ever met. She came from a childhood that she didn't discuss much; I gathered from little details that it wasn't very happy. She was creative and funny and quiet and after striking up a tentative friendship with her (the tentative part being on her side) I began to gather that she was a combination of black sheep/wrinkled pea in her family. Her background was conservative, to put it mildly. And she was the oldest child in a family of divorce, so responsibility settled early on her young shoulders.
She was brilliant, creative, and overwhelmingly shy, so she didn't make friends easily. High school was rougher on her than it should have been, and I always felt bad about that. Some of us (I'm waving my arms wildly, shouting "Over here!") adopt an attitude of "You think I'm weird? I'll show you weird" and wear the label proudly. She never did that though, opting instead for silence and near invisibility. It was not easy to convince her that I genuinely wanted to become friends.
Why? Because instead of substance abuse or other self-destructive behavior, she found her escape in books. Just like me. I like ghost stories and mysteries. She liked fantasy and sometimes science fiction. So we started swapping books and became comrades in literature. We shared stories. We shared some confidences. We even spent a few months writing to each other, but that didn't last. Life went on and we both became too busy.
The last time I saw her, she was holding herself together after some dreadful emotional wounding that she would not discuss, and she was disappearing around the edges. More and more of her slipped away and I didn't know how to help her, so I just waited, hoping that she would talk to me at some point. But she didn't.
With someone like that, I could almost see the ghost inside. I am not saying that she died and became one. I am also not suggesting that when she slips off this mortal coil, she will become one. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, not the bleak existence of being a trapped, unhappy spirit doomed to wander the paths she once knew until she finds her own way to the light. And yet, when I think about her, I see all the earmarks of what some people would call characteristic of spirits who hang around: an unhappy life, trauma, sadness, loneliness. The cherry on the ghost cake, of course, is the tragic or violent demise and I hope I never hear that an ending like that is the ending of this girl's story.
I tend to think that a ghost, at least the way I view it, is the remaining intelligence of someone who once was in physical form, and who has not figured out a way to cross over to where he or she needs to be. Someone who is baffled by life, whether by difficult circumstances, tragic events, or trauma, might have a difficult time finding a way out of the not-quite-afterlife dilemma. I think about this girl often and hope that will never be the case for her.
And then I sometimes wonder - if enough compassion, enough empathy, enough encouragement, is shared with a person who is struggling so hard in this life, is it possible to prevent someone from becoming a ghost in the first place?