Walking with My Ghost
Steven Levine, author of “A Year To Live,” suggests that we take a day off from living from time to time. He advises us to use our imagination to disconnect ourselves from life and pretend that we have died. We see the world as though it were the day after our funeral. We walk through a world in which we no longer are physically present. Weird? Maybe, but anyone who has seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” or went to a performance of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” can get the idea.
Anyway, I decided to give it a shot yesterday afternoon. I took a stroll around my own neighborhood, as it might look the day after I died. Initially, it felt sort of eerie. “Hank, you’re losing it,” I thought to myself. But, little by little, I began to get into it. I became an invisible spirit checking out where I used to live. I was an observer not a participant in life.
First thing I noticed was that my “spirit eyes” were picking up things I hadn’t noticed before. That towering California oak tree. Was that always there? That’s beautiful. The leaves on all the trees seemed greener, fresher looking. I reached out and touched a leaf. How perfectly it was formed! Odd, that I had never really looked at a leaf, not since I was a toddler, anyway. Hey, there goes a blue dragonfly. Wow!
I took a deep breath and my lungs expanded with the fresh early summer air. One of my neighbors had a backyard bar-b-que going and I could almost taste the aroma of hot dogs on the grill. Umm! Delicious.
As I continued, I heard a child’s voice drifting over a fence “Mom, can I have another cookie?” I smiled my ghostly smile, ah, how normal it all seemed. A part of me was already getting nostalgic for the simple things as though I were missing life already.
Across the street, I observed a man walking his dog. Man and dog seemed relaxed, content to be out together on a summer day in California. I tried to recall if I appreciated my walks with “Penny” or did I resent having to walk her. What a dummy not to have enjoyed those moments, now impossible to experience again. As I walked along, I was beginning to see and hear and smell and touch the very ordinariness of life and feel deeply moved by the experience.
I recognized I was going over the top when I was not even irritated by the sound of my neighbor’s kid breaking the sound barrier in his motorcycle. Good grief! Am I morphing into a latter day Jimmy Stewart? Life was not THAT wonderful was it?
No, of course not. I tried to think of some of my disappointments in life, my failures, the times I didn’t love my wife enough, the times I was lonely but you know something? All those shortcomings paled in comparison with the gift of life itself. All the bad stuff meant nothing when stacked up against the miracle of life. Why hadn’t I realized that?
My little ghostly walk came to an end, as I knew it would. But something remained with me making my re-entry to earth a little less traumatic. The experience will stay with me because it put me in touch with truth and beauty that is really here. Those are not pretend, not a product of our imagination. We just need to reach out and claim them for our own. They are present in our lives. For the moment at least I understood that life is way more precious than we have the wisdom to appreciate. And, if it takes a pretend day off from life to help us realize it, so be it,