Monday, May 10, 2010

Letting Go (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of

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.


Melissa_Rae said...

Ok, you freaked me out with the ghost stories...but left me speechless with the ending. I wish I could write like you, Billy!

Heather Sunseri said...

That's beautiful, Billy. And very difficult to consider - whether I'm strong enough or my faith is strong enough to let go.

M.L. Gallagher said...

wow! Great post. Thanks for this wonderful start to my week. I'm letting go of my expectations and taking a leap of faith -- Someone is holding me in His loving embrace.

jake said...

Wonderful! I think that clinging to things really is that bad for us, too. Bitterness is probably the worst thing to hold like that because it really will do that to you!!

Andrea said...

Praising GOD for the faith that allows me "to let go."

Doug Spurling said...

1 Thessalonians 5:21
"Test all things; hold fast what is good." letting go of that which is behind press toward the mark, the high calling of Christ Jesus.
Thanks Billy.

Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus said...

You've got me thinking about the ghosts of my past that I think I've buried, but that tend to creep up and haunt me again.

There's plenty in my life that I've had to surrender, and then surrender again. Thankfully, even when those ghosts of the past reappear, they no longer have a hold on me.

Cassandra Frear said...

Great post, Billy. I know a little bit about letting go after the last 18 months.

It's still not easy.

Helen said...

I believe in ghosts. I don't seek them out, nor do I seek out stories about them. I believe a world of spirits exist, and it is entirely possible ghosts are among those spirits. While I most certainly believe God will protect me from these spirits, I don't seek them out. For what?

But the "ghosts" of my past? Something for me to work on...

jasonS said...

Sort of like Ecclesiastes--there's a season for everything. A season to hold tight and a season to let go. The important thing is knowing which is which.

Duane Scott said...

I'm the guy that collects ghost stories. Ironically, Iowa is full of similar stories. I am fascinated by them, and this post was amazing.

S. Etole said...

not living ... not dead ... definitely not a good place to dwell when abundant life is available within the arms that hold us

Kelly Langner Sauer said...

recently, you've been writing to a question I've had that I haven't asked, defining something in me I haven't been able to finger. I know you don't know it, but I am needing what you are writing. you take me back to young, through the wounding, into innocence and back again... it's like God picked your writing for this heart-task He is accomplishing in me. the story is amazing...

Beth E. said...

"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."

I totally's one of the hardest lessons I've ever had to learn. *sigh*

Another great post!

Heather of the EO said...

Well, yes. You've done it again. And that's all I have to say.

Bobbie said...

Beautiful post, and something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I have this dream at least once a week where I'm in a haunted house and can't get out. I was told it means I'm repressing something, holding onto something, hiding something. I just need to figure out what that something is.

I grew up in southern Virginia (and miss it!), and one of the reasons my father moved there from out West was because of its history... the living and the dead.