Taylor and Brandon are my neighbors, ages 10 and 11. They spent most of the past summer here at my house, playing with Owen and Jonah, and doing the kinds of 'boy things' (good and bad) that make summers memorable.
Yesterday they helped us to celebrate Jonah's 4th birthday. Jo-Jo had gotten lots of cool birthday presents, and they lost track of time. By the time they were ready to go home, it was dark outside.
"Can you walk us back home or drive your car?" Taylor asked. I tried to ignore him. They live two doors down from me, and while you have to go a ways in the dark, it isn't that far--or that spooky.
"Just follow the driveway," I said. "You'll go straight there."
They disappeared for a moment. Then they returned, asking with more urgency, "Can you walk us home?"
Just then Tascha pulled into the driveway, delivering her niece, Tristan, for a sleepover Ellie was having. Brandon was on a bike. "Just follow the car up the driveway. Once you hit the street, you're almost home."
A few minutes later, they were back. Taylor was gasping for breath. He was scared to death. "We lost the car," he huffed. "We need you to take us home."
I finally gave in. God gave me a mission this summer--a mission for the kids in my own neighborhood. I have been challenged daily of the sheer inconvenience of caring for kids who aren't mine, picking up after them, and overlooking silly little things. I walked out the door and headed up the driveway.
As a Dittes, I am programmed to do one specific thing every time I go out my front door at night: I look up at the stars. My grandpa used to do this when it was his house. He would walk us out as we left, and he would look up and point out a constellation. I find that it is a reflex now: go out, look up; walk down the sidewalk, look up. I don't think there has been a single time in 36 years of walking out that door that I haven't looked up!
As we walked down the driveway, I told them about Grandpa. "I love to walk out here in the dark," I said as we walked up the hill. "My Grandpa used to walk out here with me and tell me stories about the stars."
"Can I tell you why I'm scared?" Taylor asked.
One night both Brandon and Taylor had been awakened by their grandfather. He had shaken them in their beds, trying to get their attention. When they told their mother about the incident the next morning, she reminded them that he had been dead for almost three months.
They had seen a ghost--they insisted on this fact. Both had been awakened that night at the same time. They said their mother had consulted a fortune-teller who had told them not to worry: the ghost had been looking for mother, not them. (I don't think it had worked. They were still worried, obviously.)
I dropped them off at home. They thanked me several times.
But as I walked home through the gloomy pines on my way back home, I couldn't stop thinking about ghosts. It was quiet. The white gravel glowed in the starlight.
I thought about how much I missed Grandpa--how nice it would be to see him again and share one more walk under the stars. For a moment, I let myself wish that I might see his ghost--but I couldn't figure out if he would look like the robust doctor of my childhood or the hobbling old man of the years before he died last March 13.
There are a number of reasons why I don't believe in ghosts--and that imagination thing has to be one of them.
As I passed through the tall pines, gliding across the glowing gravel drive, I looked up at the stars. I remember how Grandpa would recite the number of light years for each of them. "The light you're seeing was created 30,000 years ago," he would say. "It is just reaching us tonight. That star could go out, and we wouldn't know it for another 30,000 years."
Grandpa's ghost is gone. Every physical and substantial part of him is buried, awaiting resurrection.
His spirit lives on, however, just like the light of the stars. It will burn--in me, my children, and my grandchildren--for many years more before anyone will be able to notice that it had burnt out long ago.