UCA News
William Grimm, a native of New York City, is a missioner and presbyter who since 1973 has served in Japan, Hong Kong and Cambodia.
Ghosts need just to move on
Published: August 06, 2010 09:07 AM
Ghosts need just to move on

In the West, the season for ghosts is autumn. When the nights begin to get longer and the leaves fall from the trees, ghosts flutter through the woods, among the tombstones and over the creaking floors of old houses.

In Japan, the season for ghosts is summer. Rationalists say that is because the hot, humid nights of a Japanese summer disturb sleep enough that people imagine ghosts. But perhaps ghosts are actually migratory and move to Japan in the summer from their fall and winter haunts in Europe and North America.

I am agnostic regarding the existence of ghosts. Perhaps there are ghosts; perhaps there are not. People whom I believe when they tell me it is raining and suggest I carry an umbrella have described experiences they explain by the existence of ghosts. Should I doubt them?

I’ve even had such an experience myself. I do not, however, think it important to have an opinion. I am a fan of the Harry Potter books, though not so much of Harry himself. The other characters are generally much more interesting than he.

One of those interesting characters is Sir Nicolas de Mimsy Porpington, a ghost. Nearly Headless Nick, as the students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry irreverently call him, was beheaded on Halloween 1492 by an inept executioner who after 45 strokes still left the knight’s head attached to his body by a small strip of skin and sinew.

At one point in the saga, Harry asks Sir Nick about ghosts. The knight explains that ghosts are those who, like himself, feared to go all the way into the mystery of death. They opted to stay behind in a "feeble imitation of life."

I think Sir Nick captures the essence of ghostliness. As he says, a ghost is "neither here nor there."

Several years ago, I learned first-hand what that might mean. I was visiting Tokyo after having been away from Japan for many years. As I walked through the city that had once been home, looking at old haunts and seeing where others had been but were no more, I suddenly felt a terrible sadness and loneliness.

I was so overcome that I sat down on the edge of a flower planter outside an office building. "I don’t belong here any more," tore through my heart.

And then came the realization, "I am a ghost! I once belonged in this city and had a life here, but not now."

And I knew that if there are indeed ghosts, they must experience the same sadness at knowing that they no longer belong. They should be pitied, not feared.

So, if some muggy Tokyo night I find a ghost in my bedroom, I won’t shriek or hide under the bedsheets. I will know that the ghost is more frightened than I, because I am where I belong, but the ghost is not.

Instead, I will offer condolences and the assurance that there is no need to stick around.

Perhaps the good news that God’s love is stronger than death might sometimes even need to be proclaimed to the Nearly Headless Nicks of the world who are afraid to move on.

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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William J. Grimm
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