Ghosts and giants


I thought I saw her today. A small woman with short blond hair. She was hurrying along Pine Street. My mother. I was riding on the 2 bus when I thought I saw her. It couldn’t have been Mom. She’s been gone quite a while now. Maybe I only thought I saw her. But it sure looked like her. Her birthday was on March 7. Maybe our memories are like alarm clocks set to go off at certain times to make certain that we don’t forget people we love.

It’s not unusual for me to think I see loved ones long after they have gone. I don’t know how many times I think I’ve seen Dad driving around town. His white hair peeking out from the Jeff cap tilted on his head. Wearing his tan Members Only jacket. Serious behind the wheel. Ready to curse out what he called “Sunday drivers.” Saw my sister, who passed away late last June, strolling in Rittenhouse Square.

She’d been in Rittenhouse Square maybe once or twice, if that, in her entire life. But I saw her there. As clearly as I see the living.

Am I playing the part of that kid in “The Sixth Sense?” I don’t think so. None of my “ghosts” ever talk to me or

acknowledge that I’m there. They just go about their business, whatever that business is when you’re gone. You would think if they were ghosts they could at least wave or nod in my direction. Sometimes I catch up to these visions, and they don’t look anything like the people I have mistaken them for. Mistaken identity, not ghosts. It’s the times I lose them in a crowd or see them riding a bus that passes me by — when I never do see who they actually are — those are the times that haunt me just a little. And then I settle back into whatever routine I’m in that day.

It’s the same way when we see loved ones in our dreams. Vivid. Like they’re reaching out to us. Sometimes to comfort us. Sometimes to warn us. So real we could touch them. Dreams that stay with us through the rest of the day. I think they bother us — or I guess you could say haunt us — more than if we’d seen them on a busy street corner.

I remember one time — I guess I was 8 or 9 years old — walking somewhere with my parents. Something was bothering me and I blurted it out. “Suppose we’re just part of a giant’s dream?,” I said to them. Both of my parents looked at me kind of puzzled. Mom was always the more expressive of the two. I think Dad always thought I was kind of weird, but I always knew he loved me … even when he showed it by shadow boxing with me, much to my annoyance.

“Does that thought scare you,” she wanted to know.

“Well, yes,” I remember replying. “What happens when he wakes up?”

I’ve revisited my childhood concern from time to time during my life (I think Dad was right. I am kind of weird). I don’t always find the thought of being part of a giant’s dream frightening anymore. Sometimes when life gets tough or somebody gets elected president who you think has us on the road to destruction, it can be comforting to realize that all the scary things were just part of the dream of some giant. When the giant wakes up, we wake up from our nightmare and vanish into nothingness. Sometimes nothingness can be a good thing, can’t it?

Have you ever been in a hospital with a loved one who’s just died? I was once. It was on a sunny day in May. The family packed up his things and put them in a bag. We left and walked out into the blinding sunshine of a beautiful spring day that had just been rendered meaningless. I sensed that all of us felt as if we had left our loved one behind. For years after I passed that hospital, I would get the urge to take that elevator up to his hospital room. Just to look inside the room and satisfy myself that he wasn’t still laying there. I never did. But it was then that I realized that death doesn’t always bring closure. Maybe nothing brings closure.

The day was overcast. The wind still had a bit of winter’s bite. Like most human beings, I put depressing thoughts out of my head. Concentrated on the few things I had to pick up at Trader Joe’s. Soon, the sun peeked out from behind a cloud. I thought about the fact that in less than a month another baseball season would roll around. The chances of late-season snow diminished by the day.

Trader Joe’s was crowded. They were out of the chunky no-stir peanut butter. I found the fresh tasting orange juice. The one I love so much. “Gently pasteurized” to extend the shelf life.

Life was good. Maybe the new guy in the White House would figure out just enough about governing so we could survive his four years in office. The ghosts had disappeared. And the giant was still sleeping.