Some friends asked us if we’d be interested in joining them on a Huntsville Ghost Walk last weekend. After confirming no significant football schedule conflict, I accepted. Sounds like a nifty thing to do with a crisp October evening, doesn’t it?
It went about like I expected. We walked two miles through the Twickenham district of Huntsville and heard from our guide, Van Brown, about the various spirits therein. He was an expressive and animated storyteller, and I appreciated his skill.
This spirit is drunk. That spirit is a Confederate soldier. This other one over here is a spurned lover. Van peppered his anecdotes with retellings of what “our medium” had detected, and shared enough personal insight to lend an almost intimate vibe to the evening. We had a good time. It was a reasonable use of $30 and two hours.
Lea, the boys, and I got back in the van. Before we were even out of the parking lot, I said “OK, kids. We’ve just been on a two-hour ghost tour. How many real ghosts are there in the world?”
“ZERO!” came the immediate and robust reply.
In raising the boys, we have never allowed for the existence of ghosts. We don’t say we’re not sure. We say no, there isn’t any such thing. Ghosts, the undead, and whatever else are Halloween costumes, not actual things to fear.
Now this is certainly not what I received at their age. I grew up with a teacher who was fascinated with 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. I grew up with a mother who, when I would ask her about the supernatural, would say “well, there might be something there…”
Oh, and guess what else? I was scared of the dark until I was almost 13 years old, and I was worried my friends and I would all be hellishly vaporized when we burned a Ouija board at the end of our street one chilly Friday night.
Coincidence? Doubt it.
I decided early on that it wasn’t worth it. This dad said that we were going with flat denial of the supernatural to our children. If they come back with what-abouts, then we’ll certainly address them case by case.
Well and good. But there are a couple of significant sociocultural complications here.
First, what to do about Santa Claus?
I got the full-up Santa story as a child. With our children, I was uncomfortable with it from the start. My thinking went “we don’t lie to our children about anything else. Why are we going to lie to them about this?” Our compromise was that we’d go with the myth, but the second either child raised a significant objection we’d come clean. We wouldn’t actively perpetuate it.
When that day came a few years ago, Nathan was absolutely as mad at me as he’s ever been.
“So I suppose the Tooth Fairy is fake too, right? And the Easter Bunny?” he snarled. Oh, he was furious. I let him be so.
After he calmed a bit, I told him I was very proud of him for being angry with me, and made sure he understood why. I asked him to consider that we had wanted him to have a positive experience with the tradition, but that our respect for him and the truth kept us from going on with the ruse after he objected. I got him nodding with me enough to salvage the situation.
Now the second big hurdle is the Bible. If we go to church, we’re eventually going to encounter tales of demons and angels.
Now I’m a Christian, but I’m not sure about those either. I think it at least as likely that they’re metaphors as that they correspond to actual entities. Consider that they would certainly make convenient mechanisms for explaining right and wrong to a primitive people, wouldn’t they?
I don’t spend much time worrying about whether they’re real, though, just as I don’t worry about slamming the door completely on the supernatural with the boys.
Though angels and demons occur throughout the Bible, it’s not belief in angels and demons that defines Christianity. And though there may be such a thing as supernatural activity, in nearly all cases there is a rational explanation for events so alleged.
If our boys know that ghosts don’t exist, then they lead with skepticism when they encounter such a claim. Given the motivations of some folks, that might save them some money someday. Certainly it helps with understanding of the world around them right now.
Did I mention that neither child has ever been afraid of the dark?