Lost Souls: “This Do in Remembrance…”
July 11, 2013
“There is a white one right behind you, Rj. And a red and green one nearby.”
The hand-help apparatus, imitative of a submarine sonar “ping” throughout the previous hour, now blared its alert loudly. Each of us in the party of six had been equipped with some sort of detection device, including someone who had recently downloaded an app on his cell phone (the one now sounding its signal)—each featuring a different mode of discovery, including light, energy, sound, and, the cynic in me noted, chicanery, especially since the equipment was all readily available through e-bay.
The two Native Americans had spent a few hours providing details about their business. They had been hired by people across the region, conducting investigations that ranged from mere detection to exorcism, mentioning that a local business was visited by a Native American squaw who held an uncanny resemblance to the one painted in the 1950’s mural in the restaurant’s main dining area, explaining that the most frightening encounter had been a chief in full war regalia posted outside a nearby pioneer cemetery.
I had my camera, half in part to be a good sport, the other half hoping to make a nice light painting with my open shutter catching the glimmer of flashlights on one of the older granite tombstones.
I failed in my artistic pursuit, but seemed to have aided them in their preternatural one.
In addition to my camera, I had also been equipped with a hand-made shell necklace and fish bone (according to lore, the part of this type of fish that allowed them to communicate with one another) for protection.
One of the tools served a similar purpose as that of an Ouija board, allowing the ghosts to spell out words. “I-G-N-I-U-S,” at one point its bearer read aloud.
I added, “That is Latin root for fire.” It was within a few minutes after the reading and translation that the sonar started pinging wildly and my white sphere appeared.
Ghost hunting. Twice I had gone to Europe to do it, symbolically seeking the spirit of the fin de siècle expatriates, remnants of what Gertrude Stein had identified as “The Lost Generation.”
I can’t help but wryly wonder if I would have perhaps been more successful if I had made a few e-bay purchases prior to my trips.
As it was, my translation, as well as my presence, seemed to have stirred the ghost hunters’ equipment into action as we were approaching not an artist, author or historical figure, but a lone area in the cemetery containing a murder victim (whose throat was cut by his “best friend” after a night of partying in the 1980’s), and his later deceased parents.
The hunter couldn’t recall immediately what the colors of the orbs represented, but he promised to look them up later.
As we sat well into the early hours of the morning on the motel’s porch, half listening to the audio recording, half shooting the bull, the few of our party who remained suddenly exchanged glances, and the lead hunter pushed the rewind button. Somewhere between the spelled letters and my translation, “fire,” we heard a high-pitched scream.
Coyotes or a passing train?
Perhaps, but we had not noticed it during the actual hunt itself, and it was a singular sound in the nearly two-hour-long recording.
Cynicism. My life has been wrought by it, and I couldn’t help but inwardly chuckle years earlier when I had been anointed and blessed before becoming a leader for a small group designed to aid young mothers. The pastor of the hosting church went from one woman to the next, applying the oil, laying on his hands, and identifying their spiritual gift. “Patience. Charity. Temperance. Tongues.” All the gifts were there.
He came to me, paused, applied the oil to my forehead, and hesitatingly reached toward the top of my head. He immediately shot back his hand, looked me square in the eye, and simply said, “Cynic.”
I don’t recall that being on the list of spiritual gifts listed in Second Peter.
“Faith can move mountains,” I had always been taught.
“Why, then, when I ask for something earnestly in prayer, are my prayers not answered,” I asked?
The response, “Because your faith is too weak.”
When I stood before my father’s casket, even though I was a young adult, I couldn’t believe God had taken my father. I had lost my stepfather just a few years earlier. Two losses in less than four years. As I stood before him, I inwardly screamed, “God, why? How could you do this to me—again?”
At that moment, the assurance of faith, the story of Lazarus, the denial and shock that always accompanies loss possessed my entire being.
After my mother remarried, I had seen little of my birth father, and once my stepfather died, I had just begun to work toward a renewed acquaintance with him, spending a few awkward hours here and there, sometimes just enjoying the feel of his warm hand as he took mine, standing silently beside a wooden table that was used on communion Sunday.
It was the most solid piece of oak I have yet encountered, impressed with simple egg and dart design featuring a bold, Gothic-style inscription, “This Do in Remembrance of Me.”
Beside his casket, I longed to once again feel the warmth of his touch, and in a moment of faith, I reached out, believing as I did that God would let me feel it at least once more.
I took his folded hand in mine.
Nothing but the cold, hard feel of dead flesh.
I walked away from the casket, tears streaming down my face.
The ghosts I seek most. I haven’t found them yet, in spite of the e-bay equipment declaring me to have been followed by those few in the old cemetery in Iowa. But as I lay on the grass each day awaiting the cool of the evening so my girl and I may continue our journey, wiling away the hours painting, blogging, editing photos, it is then when I feel most close to the creative spirit of the turn-of-the-century expatriates.