“I love this place, but it’s haunted.” Those are the first words that I ever heard spoken in the place that I now call home.
My college is located in Williamsburg, Virginia, on the periphery of a historic reenactment area, one rife with ghost stories, war stories, and legends of women who jumped out of third story windows upon the discovery of their husband’s extramarital affairs. Football games aren’t complete without a fife and drum procession and freshman year begins with a debriefing on all of the haunted classrooms, bathrooms, houses and pathways around campus.
This seems like an appropriate place to throw in a disclaimer: I do not believe in ghosts, just like I do not believe in love at first sight or destiny. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, even though those are my mother’s good-intentioned words of comfort whenever anything goes slightly wrong.
Instead, I believe in long runs in the morning, karma, and my best friend’s ability to make me laugh. I believe in the power of the written word and a daily adrenaline rush. I believe that chocolate is good for you, so more chocolate must be even better for you.
I do not believe, however, that there’s any good reason for people to hang around here after they die. After all, it’s crowded enough already.
Skepticism of the paranormal aside, I love a good ghost story as much as the next person. I just don’t limit them to scary tales told around a campfire, or groups of tourists shuffling around Colonial Williamsburg while a theatrically-trained historical interpreter recites dramatic tales.
Instead, I believe ghost stories happen every day, all around us. They’re any story that’s left behind, all the words that we say and footprints we leave. Every conversation we have — these all linger somewhere around us too. When I’m studying in an empty academic building late at night during finals, and I hear a little whisper in the vents, I don’t think that there’s a ghost floating around the old English building. Instead, I think of all the people who have studied here before me, some dead and some still living, and wonder what their stories are. Stories of people who dropped out of college to pursue a career in acting. People who now have a lot of children. People who run this country, and people who died in the 1800s.
These might not be ghost stories in the traditional sense of the world, but these are the stories that I truly believe we leave behind. Ghost stories can be lantern-led tourist tours and black-and-white photographs with photoshopped white orbs floating above the heads of bearded men. But ghost stories are also the legacies we leave in monuments and textbooks and famous quotes that teenagers use when they want to sound cultured. They’re around us every day in favorite recipes lent to neighbors or an ugly flannel that makes its way from thrift store to thrift store as people buy it for theme parties.
So here’s to making love stories and friendship tales and great adventure epics out of these ghost stories. Here’s to the stories in everyday objects and stories that leak out of the cobblestones that we walk on.
And here’s to everything haunted, because without these things, we’d have no story at all.