Thoughts on Ghosts

So much of our celebrations are tied up in remembering. Today, on Saint Patricks Day, we tend to celebrate the 3 things most of us know about Ireland, the color green, and drinking on a day originally set aside to remember a guy who brought Christianity to Ireland and may have had something to do with snake extermination. For me, and many close friends, this is the day back in 2002 when I lost my good friend, Mark.

Each year, I try to make sure that I do something special, that I take time to honor him. I’ve spent March 17ths of the past at the Grand Canyon. I got a tattoo one year. I sat alone, at the high point on my land and read Whitman one year. The most common March 17th, though, is to go bowling, an activity I’ll forever associate with Mark. This was the go-to when we needed something to do. We did this in small groups and large groups. Mark would often go by himself to bowl. None of us were really very good. There are probably 100s of pictures out there with that group of us, mostly camp friends, shot under the dimly lit, creepy fluorescence of the Summer Avenue Bowling Lanes.

I spent this afternoon looking through old pictures, and I was taken back to that time in my life. There is this time for everyone. It’s your golden era. It varies for different people, but it’s that time you wish you could get back to. For me, it was the time from about 1996 to 2002. I had escaped High School, shed my mask, and was really beginning to let myself be who I wanted to be. I was in college for most of this, so it’s that time when you’re mostly independent, but not yet weighed down with all the responsibility of adulthood. I posed like a rapper for every picture, wore clothes 3 sizes too big for me, and took my shirt off way too much. We stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning with no qualms, ate the cheapest most terrible food we could find, and thought everything uttered from Dave Matthews’ mouth was pure, timeless genius.

When Mark drowned in the ocean in 2002, this seemed to be one of ends to this era in my life. I was growing up and dealing with what it would mean for me to be an authority at camp, not just a long-tenured staff member. My friends were all leaving camp, and I was becoming less cool with each summer. Several other pretty tragic events took place in 2002, making it, in my mind, a pretty crappy year (so, sorry if you were born that year or got married or something). So, when I look to revisit parts of my life, it is inevitably this era just before 2002. There’s an innocence there. There’s a little less hurt. There’s cheaper gas and better music on the radio. There’s Mark.

Don’t hear me wrong and think I’m unhappy with the way things are now. I’m proud of where I’m at in my life. I’m enjoying beginning to write this new chapter in my life. I have a gorgeous wife, and back then I wasn’t sure that I would ever find a woman. I am good at a lot of things now that I had not yet thought of yet or was only just beginning during that time. But, sometimes you wish you could just cut and paste, and bring certain time periods forward to have other combinations. I guess this is just a complicated way of saying you miss certain things. You miss your youth. You miss just a few days without responsibility. You miss the friends who aren’t in your life as much. You miss the Counting Crows. But, the reasonable you knows that you don’t stop moving forward, and that staying stuck in the past is a sad way to live out a life.

I try hard to always press myself to be growing and plunging deeper into the things I love. But I do wish I could travel back to talk to Mark again, to catch him up on everything. I’d want to show him that I’ve learned the mandolin and now we can play music together. I’d want let him know that my Italian is better than it’s ever been, and we could carry on conversations together. I’d want him to meet my dog, Digby. I’d want to have a crappy horror movie marathon, in this age of streaming, with him and Randall. I’d want to go back to Heber Springs, AR with him, Steven, and Randall. I’d want him to get to know Allyson, because I think they could be great friends, and I think he would be so proud of my choice to be with her. It would have been such an honor for him to stand with us in Muir Woods to help us make our promises to each other. I’d want to tell him how right he was about so many things before he died.

How we went to Italy, and I completely understand why he fell in love with it. How I’ve since discovered a great passion for travel too. How I’ve learned that simple, healthy living is happy living. How I take so many things with more humor and open-mindedness. I wish he could be here to see me make these understandings. There are important times in my life when I imagine Mark sitting next to me, putting his hand on my back, smiling, and puckering up his lips to blow me a fake kiss like he did to so many people. He is the most encouraging ghost I could wish for.

I’ve struggled with fear of death and what comes next, on and off, my whole life. Despite my faith, I am just unsure about what is waiting for us after death. Some days with this are better than others. I am frightened that there is just nothing, and we will just shut off when we die and that will be the end of us. I don’t want to end. I was struggling with this one summer night, and I attended a worship at the camp in the garden labyrinth. It was a meditative, personal worship where you walk the path an pause at certain spots to pray. I made it to the end of the path, in the center of the labyrinth that night, and squatted a bit to read the prayer. I could sense someone walked up beside me, so I courteously scooted over, so he/she could read. It was someone in a white shirt, but I did not pay attention, because I was trying to focus on prayer. When I finished, I stood to leave, and made sure not to disturb the person I had shared the time with, but when I looked around, no one was there. Furthermore, I looked all around, and there wasn’t even anyone walking away. I had either imagined someone there, someone had run away really quickly and quietly, or maybe I had some other type of being next to me. As I thought about how the labyrinth is about 100 yards from the waterfront where we spread Mark’s ashes and how I had been struggling with death, it was a nice thought to consider that my old friend, the only one who could truly understand the answers to my questions had come to kneel next to me for a moment to try to ease my fears.

There are many days I find myself hoping and praying that after I take my last breath, I wake up to something else. I don’t know if something waits, I afraid there might not be, but I hope for it constantly. Right now, I’m trying to love this life that I know I have, while I’ve got it. But, if my hopes are realized, I hope I’ll open new eyes to see Mark there greeting me. For now, though, it’s been a nice night, looking at his face in pictures, listening to Pavement, the Fugees, Bob Marley, Dave Matthews, and Jodeci’s Lately, coming as close to having him back as I’ll get on this night. Allyson and I walked to the Corvette Lanes tonight. She humored me in taking pictures together like we used to at Summer Avenue Lanes. I bowled a 130 and a 154. Allyson bowled a 157 and a 110. We came back home and watch The Big Lebowski, one of Mark’s favorite movies. Not a bad night. Like most days, I feel like Mark would be smiling.

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