I Dropped A Ghost Into The Religion Club

I Dropped A Ghost Into The Religion Club

Introduction

I’ve been playing with an idea: that imagining ourselves acting in bold, cathartic, and even shocking ways can be just as healing as actually pulling the behavior off. In fact, it’s safer; you reap the benefits without subjecting yourself to the messy awkwardness of real people reacting to your actions. Recently, I published a short story on Hevria with this theme — I fought back, finally, against some online bullying I’d experienced, in a hilarious but ultimately healing way. Writing about and sharing this fantasy felt even better than merely imagining it. I had the sense that I’d taken control over the original problem, transformed it into my own playground for my mind and my soul.

So I had a brainstorm: why not do it again, many times, as a kind of psychological and even spiritual exercise? I could respond to difficult situations in wild and wonderful ways, in my mind and on the page. I wrote the short story below in that spirit. Everything there is fictional; nothing happened as described. I may have encountered a vaguely similar problem in “real life,” but none of the story’s details correspond to actual happenings. The story’s dynamics and people are completely fictional: the religion club is just a container to explore the issues at hand. The narrator is me, more or less, but no other character corresponds to any particular real-life person.

Perhaps the most important thing: I’ve been laughing at the scenarios that appear in my mind. They create lightness where sadness and tension once reigned. I haven’t worked miracles: sadness and tension still poke out when I think about the “real life” situation that inspired this fictional tale. But I’ve moved it all towards humor, and even an odd thankfulness that it happened, because the fantasy pleases me so much. I hope you enjoy it. Maybe you’ll feel inspired to try this exercise yourself. I recommend it with great enthusiasm.

Part 1: Unexpected Encounter

The day was bright and filled with music, and then I spotted Roxanne. I could have avoided her. I’d been avoiding her, more or less — she’d been trying to catch me on the phone, and somehow I never got around to calling her back. The thought would occur to me at odd times throughout the day: “Roxanne has called you at least 5 times; maybe you should call her back and see what she wants.” Then I’d cringe and feel a little pain in my stomach, and decide against it. I figured this was her problem. If she wanted to talk to me so badly, she could just keep on trying until she caught me at the perfect time for me to talk — nothing going on, no appointments coming up, no sense that I’d want to use the bathroom or take a walk in the near future.

It was Saturday, and Harvard Square was hosting a small outdoor music festival. If you walked around the area, you’d bump into musicians of various stripes: rock bands, solo folk singers, a group of trumpet players belting out simple, lively tunes. I stood near one of the subway entrances, listening to a rock band. A teenage boy with long blonde hair pounded away on his drum set. A girl who looked a lot like him — I wondered if they were siblings — sang mournful lyrics as she cupped a hand over her eyes. They were a little too loud for my taste, but all this music in Harvard Square was a novelty, and I was enjoying myself.

Roxanne walked past me, in that no-nonsense way she had. She looked thin and fit as always, and she was wearing yoga pants and a snug T-shirt. Though she was probably around 60, she dressed a bit more youthfully than you might expect. She didn’t linger to listen to the band or even show much curiosity about it. Quickly, she looked my way, caught my eye, smirked, and kept walking. I felt like she rolled her eyes just a bit, as if to say: “I see you, you rude little thing who never calls me back,” but I might have been imagining that. I also wondered if maybe she didn’t want to see someone she knew in her yoga pants and T-shirt, since she always wore business-y clothes to the group we both belonged to. That’s how most of the women were. They got kind of dolled up, with decorative scarves and jackets that matched their pants, while I sat there in my boys department sweatshirt, intrigued by it all, as if I were visiting a foreign country.

I called to her. Somehow, I just wanted to get whatever business she had with me taken care of, and I had some free time right then. I also thought it might be interesting to do this in person, rather than over the phone. In person meetings often lead to more of a full experience… and I had the sense that something big was about to unfold.

She turned around and said: “Oh!” as if she hadn’t seen me a minute ago. I laughed a bit to myself. I could tell this was going to shape up into a fun afternoon.

Roxanne suggested we sit on the benches near the Charles Hotel, which sounded lovely to me. I often forgot about that little area: it’s kind of a peaceful place to chat, read, or just observe Harvard Square life. We sat down right across from the Legal Sea Foods outdoor bar, and I took in the people sipping drinks and eating oysters with small forks.

“So how are you?” she asked, emphasizing “you.” Her tone struck me as kind of sarcastic, a subtle allusion to the fact that I hadn’t called her back, but I didn’t want to start our conversation on a sour note, so I tried to overlook it.

“Just fine. I’m enjoying the little music festival. And I’ve been feeling peaceful. I don’t teach in the summer, so the only work I have is writing.” I figured I’d open up just a bit to set a good tone.

“I see. So you don’t teach in the summer at all? My regular semester ends next week, but I start summer school soon afterwards. High school goes longer than college, so things are just winding down for us. Next week I give final exams to my history classes, and then I get about a week off before summer school. Seems perfect for me.”

“I like having the summer off. I love the freedom.”

“That makes sense. I’m just someone who needs to keep busy, I guess.”

“Right. And I’m someone who prefers my freedom. If we’re both happy, it’s all good.”

We sat there silently for a few minutes, which was fine by me, but I could tell Roxanne was getting antsy. I figured I wouldn’t say anything. If she was so disturbed by a little quiet, she could figure out how to keep our conversation moving.

Finally she said, “I guess you realize that I wanted to talk to you about the religion club.”

“I mean, I guess I thought that was likely, considering that’s how I know you.” I was afraid that came across as a little sarcastic, but Roxanne seemed unfazed.

“So… you weren’t at the last meeting.” She gave me kind of a sharp look.

“That’s true. I told you all I’d gotten a ride to a suburb with some friends, and they weren’t able to get me back on time.”

“Oh, no, no, don’t worry. This isn’t about attendance. At least not for the most part.”

I started breathing slowly, to keep myself calm, but I didn’t feel all that agitated: amazing, considering that I was almost surely about to be scolded. “So what’s it about then?” I figured I’d just plunge Roxanne into this and get it over with. If she wanted to scold me, I was ready.

Roxanne sat up and folded her arms, like she was preparing herself for some kind of battle. A funny thought glided through my mind: that she was the kind of high school teacher I would have hated if I’d wound up in her class: all about organization and small tasks. I smiled and relaxed. Somehow, that thought took away the stress.

Then she stared into my eyes, and I could tell she wanted to hold my gaze. I figured I’d comply — no use in making this more contentious than it had to be. “Stephanie, at the last meeting, only the real, core, hardworking members were there. Somehow, that’s just how it worked out. And we talked.”

“That sounds nice. I hope it was a good conversation.” I figured I’d just play dumb and be super-positive at this point. Anything else would feed the tension. If I’d been in another mood, I’d have felt offended that I was somehow not a “real, core, hardworking” member. But the mood I was in — an early summer, calm, today-is-a-music-festival-and-the-weather-is-nice sort of state, allowed me to see this as a quiet adventure with no real consequences.

“OK, I’ll just out with it. Some people haven’t been putting enough work into the club, and you’re one of them.” I thought about the group. There were 12 of us, all women, and our goal was to share thoughts and reading that had something to do with religion. The others were all involved in religious organizations: a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a Hindu temple. I was Jewish but had never felt at home in a synagogue, so I was an outlier in that sense. The others were married with children: some young, some grown and out of the house. I was odd that way too: single with no children. It wasn’t a tailor-made group for me by any means, but I’d been involved for years. It felt like home, in a way: the kind of home where everyone else shares certain preferences and you’re a black sheep, but most people accept you anyhow.

“I can see that. Honestly, I feel like the group creates work where it’s not necessary. Asking us to read books that others in the group recommend just to screen them, before we even decide to read them as a group, for instance. And having designated leaders for discussions when we could just hang out and have fun and talk about whatever we want. I think we’d enjoy ourselves more if we made things a little more laid back. Like it used to be before things… changed.”

Roxanne folded her arms again. “It’s interesting to get your take, but the hardest working members just don’t feel that way. Really, it seems like you haven’t been putting in much effort during the past few months. I don’t even remember the last time you brought a snack.”

Now that stung. I always brought a snack when it was my turn. I even put some effort into it, looking through the cheeses and crackers or the candy with an eye towards picking something that many would enjoy. I couldn’t let that slide without defending myself. “I honestly think I’m very good about bringing snacks.” I felt ridiculous, but my honor was worth something.

“What did you bring the last time?” Roxanne said that with a real tone, and I wanted to laugh, but part of me was starting to get nervous. I searched my mind and remembered. “I brought an English cheese with dried cranberries, brie, and whole wheat crackers. I brought some gluten-free crackers too, in case someone wanted them.”

“Well, I don’t remember that,” Roxanne snapped.

My agitation was real, but something saved me from true distress. I saw it all as a philosophical challenge. If you bring cheese and crackers but nobody remembers, did you actually bring cheese and crackers? Is it possible that they existed when I bought them, but somehow moved into the realm of illusion when people’s memories faded?

And then I had the most amazing idea. It was beyond perfect. Perfection is grand, but radiance is on a higher level: it reaches towards the mystical and the transcendent. My idea, if I do say so myself, was radiant. “Listen, Roxanne, I know I haven’t been the most diligent person when it comes to the religion club, but I’ve been contending with… a problem.” I said “problem” with a soft mysteriousness which I knew would arouse Roxanne’s curiosity.

“Why didn’t you tell us? What’s wrong? Can we help?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to bother you. It’s completely beyond your realm of expertise.” Roxanne inhaled deeply and seemed to hold her breath, waiting. She was one of those earnest types who would feel that she had to help, if the difficulty were the sort of thing she could fix or mitigate.

I waited a bit before answering. We just sat there, Roxanne holding her breath and then exhaling with force, over and over. When the moment felt right, I said, “I’ve been contending with a ghost.” I stopped there, let it sink into Roxanne’s practical, mainstream Protestant mind. She blinked hard and opened her mouth, but said nothing.

Figuring I’d need to say a bit more to get any kind of concrete reaction, I elaborated. “I know that sounds strange. Believe me, I haven’t told too many people. But a ghost has been visiting me often, sometimes more than once a day. It’s such a strange and unnerving experience: you have no idea. In the midst of it all, I’ve had a hard time screening books and stuff like that. I’ve probably missed some meetings because of it too. I’m almost positive I’ve brought snacks when it’s been my turn, but, for all I know, the ghost has tampered with that too. Maybe it wiped my snacks from your mind in that sneaky way it has.”

Roxanne looked away from me. She glanced at the ground, at the sky… anywhere but into my face. Then she mumbled, “Sorry, but I need to text my husband about something,” and started typing for a good few minutes.

No words could fully capture the pleasure I felt at that moment. Normally, I’m a terrible liar, but this lie came so easily, and was so perfect for the situation. A ghost. A ghost! I couldn’t wait to see what Roxanne would do next: what she would say, how she would act. This was an adventure of the highest order.

Finally, Roxanne put her phone into a pocket of her gym bag and said, “I’m sorry to hear about the ghost, but this group has certain expectations. You need to think about whether you can meet them going forward. If you can’t, it’s best to step down. Our club could be wonderful, but only if everyone involved has a deep commitment.”

I began breathing slowly to settle my emotions. Roxanne was minimizing the ghost! True, it didn’t actually exist, but she had no way of knowing that. What if I were trying to handle some kind of haunting: a deceased soul who had latched onto me, seeing me as bridge between dimensions, maybe a way to connect with living people who needed to hear from him/her/it? This would be an issue of utter sacredness. It would carry a gravity few this-worldly problems could match. I was furious, but I had to calm down. I’d created the ghost to have fun. This couldn’t turn into a nightmare for me.

“Roxanne, with all due respect, I think the group would be wonderful if people took actual spiritual dilemmas and situations seriously. I’ve long noticed that the group tends to focus on what this or that religion has to say… and not actual spiritual concerns, if that makes sense. We never talk about crises of faith, or mystical experiences, or communication from spiritual realms… it’s all about getting a sense for the tenets and rules of the different faiths. But what does that do for anyone, in the end? Doesn’t it all come down to the actual spiritual lives of real people?”

She looked me in the eye for the first time since I’d mentioned the ghost. I could tell I had pushed her to think, which was the most I could hope for here. “The ghost has been the biggest force in my spiritual life. I’d think that, with a spiritually oriented group, I could share my experiences, and get some understanding if I haven’t been as responsible as usual.”

A jazz band started playing fairly close to us. They weren’t overly loud; I found the music mellow, the kind of tunes that make for good background music. The college-age drummer seemed to tap, not pound, and he sometimes rested and let his saxophonist friend play slow solo songs.

Roxanne acted like the music completely distracted her. She kept turning around to look at the band, and then she said, “I must admit I can’t concentrate on conversation with such loud music all around us.”

“We could move inside the hotel. I bet it’s quiet there.”

Roxanne sat there staring at me but not making eye contact. It dawned on me that this probably meant she thought I was disturbed, the kind of person who is best avoided. I’ve been advised never to make eye contact with homeless people, or strangers who look extremely angry. “Eye contact is an invitation to connect, and sometimes, that’s an opening for danger,” a friend had warned at the beginning of my stay in a sometimes rough Brooklyn neighborhood.

So now I was someone for Roxanne to avoid. I reminded myself that this was funny, and based on a lie I had told to create some adventure. Still, I felt hurt. The ghost may have been imaginary, but it symbolized something realer than our usual reality.

Roxanne picked up her phone and stared at it. I can promise you that she’s the sort of teacher who tells her students never to stare at their phones while they’re talking to someone, but I guess I was the sort of someone who called for unusual measures. “So how are we leaving this? Are you ready to move on from the group? Is the ghost making it all too much?”

“Oh, no, not at all. I am trying to get a handle on the ghost. It may take a little bit more time, but I should be back to normal soon.”

“Well, I don’t want you showing up in the fall if you haven’t screened at least 4 books this summer.” I flinched. Members were supposed to screen books from a list the group had compiled — read them to determine appropriateness for discussion — but I couldn’t imagine that too many women were reading 4 books for this group in one summer. Didn’t people have other, unrelated books they wanted to read? Based on past discussion, I guessed most people screened one book at most during the summer months.

I said nothing. I didn’t want to give Roxanne the satisfaction of thinking she’d pushed me to drop out of the group. She sat there, staring at a point above my head, waiting. I turned and listened to the band, bobbing my head to the music. If this was how it was going to be with Roxanne, I could just go about my business and enjoy the world around me.

Then Roxanne said, “Well, be in touch with me about what you decide. Meanwhile, I hope all goes well for you.” She stood up and started walking quickly through the crowd. Part of me wanted to laugh and chalk this interlude up to an entertaining amusement on a fine summer day, and another part wanted to scream.

Part 2: The Ghost Meets The Religion Club

The religion club didn’t meet over the summer, and I was weirdly excited for the fall reunion. I was one of the women asked to bring a snack, and I chose a box of chocolates with all kinds of intriguing filling: banana cream, sea salt caramel, apricot jam, private stock vanilla (whatever that actually meant). When I set it down on the table in Christina’s suburban living room, I took a picture. I hoped this would guard against the chocolates spiraling into some bizarre ontological state of existing once, and then moving into a category of things that never actually happened in the real, verifiable world.

As usual, people milled around in Christina’s kitchen, hugging each other hello and catching up on everyone else’s happenings. Christina’s son had gotten married. Katie and her family were getting ready for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. Lily and her husband had spent the summer in India, reconnecting with family, while their middle school kids went to sleepaway camps for soccer and debate. I knew people wouldn’t be all that interested in my solo wanderings around Boston and New York, but I stood at the edge of things, listening. Lily had gotten a new short haircut, and everyone was gushing over it, asking why she decided to take such a big step in her hair life.

We had some attrition over the summer, and the only other women who had arrived at that point were shy Ellen Mattson — tall, blonde, and standardly attractive, but endearingly insecure, to the point where she often giggled before making any kind of comment — and Lisa Haynes, an aggressive young attorney with bright nail polish and a voice that reminded me of a loud drill: sharp, piercing, impossible to ignore. And, of course, Roxanne. I wondered if the people who had left the group had also been called out for spotty participation. Their names were mentioned softly, and no one seemed to have much interest in why they had decided to move on.

Ages ranged from 35 to 70 or so, and I liked that: it was hard to find social groups with such a wide span. Everyone’s perfumes mixed into an overall sweet smell that was quite pleasant. Most women’s outfits showed great planning as usual. When I looked closely, I saw that Christina’s scarf had the same pattern as her pants: subtle navy stripes on a tasteful tan base. It was all interesting up to a point, but part of me was starting to think that I had gotten all I could out of this group. One matching scarf and slacks situation was enough to file away as a memorable observation. Additional instances wouldn’t do all that much for my mind or my soul.

In the past, people would have called me over, asked how I was and what I’d been up to. This time, things were different. I could swear Roxanne looked my way and smirked at Aziza, a chic Lebanese woman whose high fashion clothing somehow never made her feel unwelcoming. She had breezed in a little late, as usual, stirring up a flurry of hellos and kisses. Aziza didn’t return the smirk, but she didn’t kiss me on both cheeks like she normally would have either.

I walked over to a few women and started nodding and smiling in response to their summer tales. Normally, they’d open the circle up, hug me hello, and ask how my own summer was. But that circle was closed tight: they weren’t about to step back and let me in. Roxanne was way over on the other side of the kitchen, but I could tell her vibes had gotten across to everyone. I had been discussed in some kind of private conversation. The ghost and I, that is.

This was all fine by me: I figured I’d just enjoy the novelty of being in a suburban house (most of my friends were like me, with small apartments in Cambridge, Boston, or Somerville). That was one of the reasons I’d stuck with this group, after all: the chance to explore surroundings I wasn’t seeing in my usual rounds. But I had to admit that it was all getting old. I mean, I grew up in a suburban house: it’s not like this was new for me. As adventures went, I could probably do a whole lot better.

Then I remembered: the food! For all the to-do over the food, I was often the only person who showed any interest in eating it. I think most of the women ate dinner with their families before coming to the religion club, but I saved my calories so I could experiment with the various offerings. I wandered over to the living room and sat alone in front of the food table, nibbling on homemade spinach pie, baba ghanoush, samosas, grapes, fudge brownies, and of course my own chocolates, which turned out to be fabulous.

A few women gave me the eye when they noticed me alone by the food, and I stared right back at them. They were just as free as I was to eat instead of trading notes on summer programs and kitchen renovations. I had every right in the world to eat spinach pie and grapes that people had supposedly brought for the group to savor: it’s not like I was kidnapping a child or robbing a bank.

At the end of each meeting, the women who had brought food usually packed it all up to bring home with them. All except the portion I and maybe one or two other people had enjoyed. It was outrageously funny when I thought about it from a certain angle, and this wasn’t the first time that angle had occurred to me.

Gradually, the other women arrived in the living room, and we got ready to start the formal part of the meeting. Our focus this time was a novel about a Muslim woman who had grown up Irish Catholic, but converted to Islam during college. Sometimes we saw films or discussed an agreed-upon issue, but, since we had a whole summer to read, the fall conversation always revolved around a book.

Roxanne was the discussion leader, and she took her task with seriousness rivaling a prime minister preparing for grave negotiations. “OK, Ladies, let’s get started. I know you’re all excited to see each other after the summer, but I’m sure you’re with me in wanting plenty of time to discuss the book.” Voices died down, and everyone looked at Roxanne. Roxanne didn’t always lead our discussions, but she took the role more often than anyone else.

She sat erect in a plastic folding chair, preparing herself to begin. “Why don’t we start off in an open-ended way and see if anyone has a passage or area in the novel that she’d like us all to discuss.” Amazingly, no one said a thing. I looked at Lisa, who always had some kind of comment, but she was typing on her iPad, in deep concentration. If I had been the one typing, Roxanne would have glared at me, but Lisa wouldn’t allow something like that. She warded that sort of thing off with her own fighting spirit: a deep stare, a perfectly timed eye roll.

Seeing an opportunity, I rubbed my hands together and grinned. “There was one spot that deeply inspired me,” I announced. Everyone, including Lisa, looked my way. “That part where she’s missing her uncle who had died, and then she’s sure he’s there, on some kind of level. She just knew it, remember? She couldn’t have proved it, and the next day, she was already doubting it, but, right in that moment, she was sure her uncle was somehow communicating with her. That so resonated with me. I related to everything she felt: the fear, the peace that followed, the doubt that followed after that, and then… the kind of conviction she settled on months after it happened.”

“Anyone have anything else, maybe something more specifically related to Islam or Roman Catholicism?” Roxanne asked, the moment I finished speaking. I wanted to tell her that I knew she was a lousy teacher, but I had to keep my composure. Roxanne did me an enormous favor right then. I knew I’d have to leave the group. That one incident spiraled off into so many thoughts, and even more feelings. In closing me off, Roxanne shut down all my positive memories and allowed me to see the present with full, crisp clarity. I looked around at these women and their lovely scarves and anticipated better times on future Monday nights, when I’d discover something different to occupy my time.

For maybe the first time ever, I let my own internal sense of time and meaning propel me forward. I’d fully intended to stay for the whole meeting one last time, but I felt the need to leave. I stood up, mouthed “I have to go,” grabbed my jacket, and slipped outside. I couldn’t decide whether it was amazing or fitting that nobody said goodbye or asked why I was heading out. Katie had started chattering about the narrator’s desire to marry someone who shared her religious passion and her openness to different ideas. Roxanne was pleased, and solicited related observations. I started laughing to myself, then out loud as I reached the door, about the simple fact that these ladies were sitting there letting Roxanne play teacher with them. Why weren’t more of them like me, wishing for free discussion among equals?

Outside, it was dark and slightly cool, and I started walking towards the bus stop. If nothing else, making my way to Christina’s house once each month had expanded my possibilities somewhat. I realized that some suburbs were accessible through public transportation: I didn’t have to limit my adventures quite as much as I’d once thought. Occasionally, I visited stores and restaurants I’d noticed on the bus route. I vowed to do this more often. To open someone’s world even a crack is to build the foundation of a palace filled with wonder.

Halfway down Christina’s block, I felt compelled to return to her house. Was it instinct? Habit? A mystical pull? I’d love to say it was a mystical pull, but, honestly, I couldn’t say for sure.

Christina left her door open, and I headed quietly back inside. All the women stared as I made my way towards the chairs. Aziza said: “Stephanie! I’m so glad you’re back, because I was about to share something that you would definitely relate to.” Everyone stared at Aziza, waiting, including me. She sat back and collected her thoughts, secure in the knowledge that no one would interrupt her. Being Aziza must have been wonderful at times. Other times, maybe it was safer to be me: no inherent personal power warded off people’s hidden darkness and fooled me into false friendship.

She brushed her jet black hair out of her face in that casual yet glamorous way she had, and continued: “Guys, I once had a feeling very similar to the one we read about with the dead uncle. One very early morning, maybe 2 a.m., I shot up in bed, sure that my grandmother was in my room, or in my soul, or… somehow in my midst. I felt like she had something to tell me. It was the strangest thing. I tried to open myself to her, but I was terrified! And, you know, I had the hardest time after that. I felt like she wanted to communicate with me, and I didn’t know how to make that happen. Should I try to call her back into my awareness? Could I handle another visit? I didn’t know what to do. I… still don’t.”

“So it was like… a visitation from a ghost?” Katie asked. People shot their gazes above my head, next to my face, into my lap. They felt strange around me, not Aziza. I was ghost woman; Aziza was a classy soul who had opened up in a delicate, appropriate way.

“That’s what the word ‘ghost’ means, I think, right?” Aziza said to her rapt little audience.

I figured I’d say nothing, just let the newfound acceptance of the ghost concept hit everyone and sink into their minds. The ghost had become my special version of light, a principle to defend, a symbol of breaking out, of exploration, of imagination. It was no longer a lie. In fact, it was never a lie. It was one of the only shards of truth I could truly count on… even though I wasn’t even sure I believed that ghosts existed in the standard way most of us call up when we think about existence. Truth was many-layered and hard to pin down. The ghost was the only concept I knew of that could reach towards it and make it easier to grasp and to see.

I had a gorgeous, though tenuous, sense that I had shared my understanding with the women in this group. They were quiet at this point, but I could tell they were thinking about what had been said, trying to fit it into their minds somehow. They glanced around the room, catching each other’s eyes, connecting around the issue at hand in a kind of intimate silence.

Roxanne looked at her watch and announced that it was after 9 p.m.: time for the meeting to end. She made eye contact with me and told me she was glad I had come, and I figured that was the closest thing to an apology I could ever hope to receive. We all said our goodbyes, and everyone was friendly, grinning at me along with everyone else. Outside the house, I heard a bit of chattering about Aziza’s ghost. Lisa wished her luck with it, and Ellen said, “Yes, keep us posted.”

Once again, I made my way towards the bus, walking in the opposite direction of everyone else, who headed towards their cars. I’d never return to this group. That decision was final, and it suggested change and potential. But now I could depart with light, goodwill, and a feeling that I’d left a gift for those who would stay… and that they had offered me something to bring wherever I went in future days and years.

Can I ask for more than that? Knowing me, I’ll try. I brim with greed and desire. But maybe, sometimes, I can sit back and appreciate the ghost and everything it represents… and bask in what is, rather than pining after what might be.


Stephanie Wellen Levine

Stephanie Wellen Levine is the author of Mystics, Mavericks, And Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls: winner of Moment Magazine's 2004 Emerging Writer Book Award. Currently, Stephanie is on a spiritual quest as she completes a second book and teaches at Tufts University.

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