A different—and perfect—ghost story for Easter.
At the root of Easter, the fundamental holiday of rebirth, there is a ghost story. Whether one takes that story literally or as a metaphor really doesn’t matter. The larger point is that we have something within ourselves that allows us to rise again—even in the areas of daily life—if we give ourselves over to a joint form of strength and openness.
Halloween gets the credit as the ghostly holiday, but Halloween ghosts are more about haunting us, whereas a ghost story of Easter is about helping us. When we discard a portion of the self that no longer works, or never worked at all, we’re making a change to live in a different way, which creates a ghost of who we used to be.
I love the idea of Easter ghosts, because they remind us that life and death are closely related and may overlap. One can choose to live better than one did the day before, to come out of the cave and present something different to the world.
Each year at Easter, I read a ghost story that is among the very best I know, and which is unique. That story is called “The Ghost-Ship.” It was written by Richard Middleton and published in his book of the same name in 1912.
Middleton wrote little, because he suffered from depression and took his life, aged only twenty-nine. And yet, Middleton left us with a weird, joyous, witty, story rammed with life that is the perfect fictional work of Easter and its core tenet of regular renewal and rebirth.
It is spring in the small English village of Fairfield, an old-fashioned place, when there is a storm that carries a ship into the planting field of the landlord of the Fox and Grapes. The ship has a full company of men, who are now moored in this garden of turnips. But here is the catch: the men are dead and all ghosts.
Middleton plays the story straight. There is no “Wow! Look at how crazy this is!” It’s life, because there is also death in a living sense, which is the key distinction.
We can be dead in life when we stagnate. When we keep making the same mistakes and driving people away. When we fear the risk and vulnerability necessary for true connection. When we give in to what ails us.
Easter is two-pronged. First, it is about acceptance of a situation. Then it is about the rising up. The coming out again.
The people of Fairfield commence friendly relations with the crew of the ghost ship. The initial concern over what the ship will do to the turnip crop passes. The ghosts no more bat the proverbial spectral eye at the villagers than the villagers think the ghosts are unseemly.
Friendships are instigated. The living and the dead attempt to help each other, which is the perfect metaphor for Easter. I laugh when I read this story, but the laughter doesn’t cross the threshold of my lips; it is the laughter of the soul. The laughter of “hear hear” and “You can do this—you may step out from behind your personal rock.”