Monday, May 10, 2010
image courtesy of photobucket.com
There are plenty of folks who say the Civil War is still being fought around here, though perhaps not in the way most would think. I speak not of the lurking and sometimes blatant racism that is just as much a part of the South as it is the North and West. No, I’m talking about another sort of fight, the reality of which depends completely upon your point of view.
Among the great reasons to call Virginia home is its history. Some say the Indians first migrated to the our valley around five thousand years ago. Take a walk with me in the long cornfields by the river’s edge near my home, and you can find evidence of their centuries here—arrowheads and tomahawks, pottery and spearheads.
After them came the time of Washington and Jefferson and Madison, giants whose courage and vision founded history’s greatest nation. And then came Lee and Jackson and a time when that nation was torn apart.
Yes, lots of history here.
Lots of ghosts, too.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I spoke with an old-timer who told me of a house in the city that was once a hospital for Confederate soldiers. There’s a reddish-brown stain on the parlor floor there, he said. About the size of a small spill. According to the homeowners, the stain has always been there. If it’s cleaned up, it reappears soon afterwards. If a rug is placed over it, the stain somehow seeps through the rug.
Local legend states it’s the blood of a confederate soldier. The homeowners agree. Quite an outlandish claim of course, but to a lot of the people here it’s just one more ghost story among thousands.
Like the Indian warrior who haunts the factory near my home. Or the spirits who inhabit the local cemeteries. There’s an abandoned house near the railroad tracks that’s haunted by the ghosts of two murdered brothers.
Keep in mind this is just in my town. Get out of there and up into the hills, and to hear the stories you’d be led to believe there are more ghosts than people.
Such tends to be the case for those parts of our country still immersed in the old ways, where religion and folklore entwine in an always rich but sometimes clumsy dance. The older people tend to see these tales as true. The younger ones generally use them for late-night campfires with easily-frightened girlfriends.
But back to that old-timer.
Nice old guy. He’s lived in this town for ninety-plus years, and he says his family has been here for over a century. He’s a believer in the ghosts. He says there are parts of life we may never get a glimpse of, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real.
And he said this: “Those ghosts are stuck here in this world, you see. For whatever reason, they can’t let go. So they’re left to roam. They’re not living, but they ain’t dead either. And for that, they have my pity.”
In that moment all of those ghosts had my pity, too. I still didn’t believe in them, of course. To me, they were nothing more than rural fairy tales. But fairy tales tend to have a lot of truth wrapped in them, some warning or lesson to be heeded. And I began to think maybe our town’s fairy tales did, too.
There’s a lot to be said for holding tight to something, whether it’s a dream or an ideal or a hope. Perseverance and tenacity are virtues, I think. Good things.
But there are times for letting go, too. Times when holding on means to neither live nor die, but merely to roam. Our perseverance and tenacity can become twisted into something it was never meant to be, leaving us bitter instead of strengthened and a mere specter instead of a person.
And I thought, too, of those things I hold tightly to in my own life, things valuable and real. And I wondered if when the time came I could let go. I hoped so, I really did.
It’s a matter of faith, letting go. It’s the epitome of trust.
And we’ll often find that when we let go, we’ll grasp Someone who will never let go of us.
To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.