Do you believe in ghosts? I have personally experienced and seen beings that were not flesh and blood human – though I’m not sure if they were ghosts, spirits, angels, or something else. I was not afraid of them, and I’m not afraid of going into places that are known (said?) to be haunted.
A few weeks ago, while on a writing retreat on Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire, I attended a gathering of more than fifty writers in a small graveyard at just after 9pm for ghost stories. While we listened a few of the gathered stood and told of their own otherworldly encounters.
A fellow writer was feeling sick, but she left her Android loaded with a Ghost Radar app for us to run. I volunteered to hold the Android – curious what technology could possibly pick up of another dimension. What it picked up were several random words and three names: Mary, Edward, and Elizabeth. The next morning, I headed back to the graveyard to look for the names – there were less than thirty graves total, and guess what? There were gravestones bearing the names of Mary, Edward, and Elizabeth.
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This past Thursday morning, I dressed in grey corduroy pants and a lightweight grey cotton t-shirt, socks – despite the July heat wave, and tennis shoes. Not my typical summer teaching apparel – which, lately has been maxi-skirts and dresses. It was the first time my students would see me dressed casually and I wondered how they’d react. I couldn’t wear a floor length skirt and high heels for the what I had planned immediately following my morning lecture. I needed to be able to move comfortably. But, considering the heat of the day, a skirt would’ve been nicer.
I left the campus with the last of my students and hurried out to my overheated car. Sweat pouffed my blow out and streaked my make-up. Oh, cursed summer, why do I even bother? My gut ached and my mind played out scenarios of being arrested for trespassing on private property. Would they impound my car too?
I hope nobody’s there. It’s Thursday, so hopefully they’re getting ready for church [at 1:15?]. Maybe there’s a funeral today.
As I got closer, I realized I wasn’t sure where the turnoff was. It had been at least 17 or 18 years since I’d been out there - maybe longer. I knew the main road and what side of the road and how to tell if I’d gone too far. I remembered the dip in the highway where cars exceed the posted 55/mph and where a church member had a fatal car crash on the way to my great-aunt’s funeral in 1992. I reached the road where my childhood home had been, too far. I turned around and found the right side road on the first try.
Despite the full power air conditioning that had been cooling me down, I felt sweat sliding down my sides. My heart beat sped up as I approached the site – and I was ready to turn around and leave when I saw the groundskeeper spraying around the gravestones. I parked in front of the “No Trespassing” sign.
I got out of the car and walked through the open gate. I didn’t recognize the groundskeeper, but he looked like he could be a Follower – short hair, clean cut. It wasn’t the same person who kept the grounds all my life – he was now buried in this cemetery.
I walked among the gravestones and saw many familiar names. My ex-boyfriend was there, and his baby son. His best friend was also there. Many girls and young women who were younger than me. Girls I’d known growing up, and guys. And then there were the babies and toddlers. I counted thirty nine little ones buried all together – those were the ones who had headstones, many had just plastic markers which were overgrown. There were at least another twenty buried among the adult graves – not counting those dating back before the 1930s when the church began using the cemetery. There are a number of gravestones from non-Followers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
It made me sad to see graves of babies from the year I was born – 1973 (it made me sad seeing all the babies' and childrens' graves). These might have been my friends had they survived. And something else struck me about that year – an irony, maybe some savvy readers will comment on it.
I spent about two hours walking among those graves. The cemetery is a sacred place in the Follower tradition. Here lies Walter White, our leader. When Christ returns, when the trumpet blows, the faithful Followers buried here will rise. I always believed that Jesus was coming back to Oregon City – either to the church building or to this cemetery to claim his faithful and judge those of us who didn’t cut it.
A few years ago my parents began talking about being cremated when they died. I was shocked to say the least. Why would you want to have your flesh incinerated when you had spent your entire lifetime in fear of an eternity of incineration? Never. Also, how could you be raised from the dead at the rapture if your body was ashes – and some people actually scatter the ashes of their loved ones. What happens then?
Of course, intellectually, I realize that a person’s burial site and the condition of their remains does not affect their final destination. But I still dislike the idea of cremation.