I pride myself on having an open mind. I have faith in psychics. I accept that there’s probably life on other planets. I might even be persuaded to believe in crystals and quantum mechanics. But when it comes to ghosts, let’s just say my skepticism was alive and well… then I had a firsthand experience. I saw a soldier who had never made it home from the war, at least in life.
I had recently moved into a bungalow in an older section of Hollywood, CA. It was a neat little clapboard two-bedroom on a quiet residential street. The place came with the usual Tinseltown hokum: Charlie Chaplin slept there, the Fresh Prince had rented it, etc. What mattered most was that it had a driveway. This was important for two reasons: No more dawn bathrobe dashes to beat the weekly street sweeper ticket, and, more metaphysically, the driveway was where I saw my first ghost.
I took special care backing out the first few mornings, as I was still used to parallel parking. I looked right, left, and right again. My head turned as far to the right as it would go. Out of the very corner of my eye, I saw a soldier walking down the sidewalk in my direction. I was too busy with what I was doing to take any notice. I pulled out and took off down the street, thinking about work.
Only seconds passed before I felt overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness. Then I realized that I was homesick for no reason at all. I grew up here, and my folks were alive and well, a few miles away. Homesick? Why?
Abruptly, the image of the solider returned to my mind, even stronger now. There was something odd. His uniform was woolen and hand-stitched, I realized, and the badges on his sleeves were not modern, but rather like the ones I had seen in old war movies with John Wayne or Frank Sinatra. And he moved with the military bearing of that era. In that split-second, in the corner of my eye, I had seen a ghost on a sunny morning in LA. I had peered into another dimension. I knew it, I felt it, it was so real – not frightening or disconcerting, but enlightening.
The more I pondered him, the sharper my vision of his consciousness became, almost as if I could dial into him by thinking of him. It was effortless. He had been killed in action in WWII, and he was trying to go home, but he couldn’t, and he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t. This was his neighborhood, where he had had a tree house, his first kiss, the USO dance where he fell in love with the nurse before shipping out, where his mother had secreted a tin of cookies in his duffle. Where he felt afraid, but refused to show it on that morning he left to go to war, when his father’s eyes were shining with pride for a son who would never return.
I thought about that famous line from a speech by General Douglas MacArthur that now seemed so painfully true: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
Let us pray for peace this Memorial Day.