Late last week at 3:00 a.m., along came two whole different nightmares about the misty far-off past, leaving me wide awake and wondering “What does it all mean? How am I supposed to cheer up enough to go face the day?”
Then intuition got to work, trying to think up of some friendly tidings for a situation like this. Eureka! It delivered a special message. This one was in a secret code — a sequence of 10 sweet rising notes:
G-D (and)-B, G-D (and)-B, G-E (and)-C, A…
What lyrics go with that? What is it? Think. Keyboard? Woodwind? Strings? The vocals floated to the surface then, gender, timbre, accent. And there it was:
The + Ghost + In + You
Huh. Psychedelic Furs. Well… yes. No doubt. For extra moral support, I took out Father’s prayer book. (Father gave it to me in 2006 as a present when I stopped in at a local Orthodox church to say hello. He took it off the shelf and handed it over just like that.) I leafed open to the short penitential prayers of John Chrysostom. There are 24 of them, one for each hour of the day and night.
The short prayers of John Chrysostom always seemed a dreary lot before. And they didn’t seem a cheerful idea on a shaken up morning before sunrise. But I worked with them anyway, one prayer at a time, breathing each one every 60 minutes of the day. And they were just the right thing. That’s what it took, to let those prayers bloom open and to let me walk out of those dreams.
My proofreading assignment of the day was about treatment of wounds in communicable diseases — tetanus microorganisms in punctures, typhus from lice, rabies from dog bites. The treatment plan was never “It’s the louse’s fault. Make the vermin take the medicine instead.” The first step, no matter who caused what, was to attend to the patient by cleaning out that wound from the inside out. It struck me then. Penance wasn’t all about what victim deserved what they got, or who’s lower than anybody else. Maybe it was more about shaking off what weighs us down and climbing the mercy to get back into the sense of ordinary grace.
For me, wound cleaning on the psychic level also meant reaching out, or leaning out really, to other people here and now. It meant going to the co-worker down the hall whose name I’ve forgotten two times now, and asking for her name again please and this time writing it down. It meant going to the volunteer job and apologizing in person for being sick and missing so many chances to help. It meant finally stopping to meet that nice neighbor and wee dog who ride the bus every day. It meant bringing that funny news article to the team upstairs so they could make me laugh. It meant asking the bus driver what he likes to do on his spare time, and getting to hear about his 3 year old son, whose little world has been blasted open with excitement after his very first ride on Dad’s bus!! (Now he knows why Dad keeps leaving him behind with Mom! So now instead of crying when Dad puts on his uniform to go away, the little guy starts dancing and clapping.) It meant going back to the drugstore and asking yesterday’s cashier whether her daughter found her lost loaner viola. (Yes! Somebody turned it in to the school.) And all of those people, including the wee dog one, were just so welcoming about it. That turned a dark day into a good rich one.
Maybe having a ghost is not a bad thing. Maybe ghosts are not the harm itself, and they only seem harmful when we slam them into closets and ignore them. Maybe ghosts are there to say “Pst. Time for more clean water and sun and air and some new gauze.” So at home I looked up “The Ghost in You .” Humming along, “Inside you the time moves and she don’t fade; the ghost in you, she don’t fade…,” I picked up my copy of The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, to pack it for work so my colleague can borrow it. The book flipped open to a sentence in Chapter 1, about his childhood and later work. “My ghosts,” he concluded, “had become my teachers.”