I’ve been haunted by a ghost recently. No, not the kind that has “Boo” written over its chest or the one that encourages us to “Know me better, man.” A different kind. One that haunts us all in our own, unique ways.
There is a song that has been following me around for the past week, a song that has been made famous by shows like The Walking Dead, Irish minstrels like Tommy Makem, and movies such us Waking Ned Devine. The song, “The Parting Glass” was first introduced to me by familial St. Patty’s Day celebrations. I guess you can say it’s in my DNA, right up there with my Eastern European nose and Slovak thighs. (…My brother really did get all of the good genes.)
Over the past week, I’ve heard “The Parting Glass” no less than ten times. Now, this, in and of itself, is not highly unusual. Ed Sheeran has an extremely popular version attached to his song “Give Me Love.” This song is starred on my Spotify and is played often on my various singer-songerwriter Pandora stations. However, driving with a friend last week, the song came on twice and now, this morning, while using a new music app, the song came on again. Add this to the not-so-unusual occurrences and you’ve piqued my interest.
Now, many of you would claim “coincidence” and cite the fact that I listen to music (typically that of the moody man persuasion) on a continuous loop as an excuse for the continued reappearance of this song.
But I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe in ghosts.
Let me explain.
There is a line tucked into the neat folds of the Celtic tune that haunts me, playing like a ferris wheel inside of my head.
But since it falls onto my lot that I should rise while you should not, I will gently rise and I’ll softly call, “Goodnight and joy be with you all.”
“But since it falls onto my lot that I should rise while you should not” is such an interesting and complex line which sends my academic and artistic mind into a flurry. It speaks of happenstance, chance, Fate, a proverbial “short end of the stick.” Does it speak of coincidence? Maybe, but, then again, I don’t exactly believe in coincidence.
The line speaks about those whose memories we carry with us, the ghosts of our past, of people we once knew and of who we once were. It speaks on the responsibility that, although unsought, befalls us when those who make up our past leave us; the responsibility to keep rising and calling for those who loves us and left us. To me, it speaks on the idea of those who leave us in death, but never leave us throughout our lives. The ghosts that we take with us – a theme I’ve explored in several of my writings, most notably my play, SUMMER IN THE LIGHT/WINTER IN THE SHADE. (Insert shameless plug HERE.)
This type of theme also resonates in writings far more accomplished than mine, most notably Sherwood Anderson’s “The Book of the Grotesque” and William Shakespeare’s infamous “All the world’s a stage” monologue.
In Anderson’s story which serves as an introduction to Winesburg, Ohio, a short story anthology responsible for my dog’s name and my cultural reawakening, he tells the tale of an enfeebled writer who has a special bed made for him, a bed in which he can speak to the youth within and the ghosts that have followed him. As he lies in this specially made bed, the old writer watches as every man or woman he ever knew passes by him. Slowly, after the procession is over, he rolls out of bed and begins to commit them all to a story. They are described not as ghosts, but as grotesques, but for me the sentiment is still the same and the call to action, the call to rise and softly continue the story, is still felt.
Shakespeare’s speech is best known for its beginning lines, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” However, the part of the speech that interests me most is the last quarter. Performed by the perpetually outcast Jaques, the last few lines speak on our last two stages of life, one a shift into the “lean and slippered pantaloon” whose “big, manly voice” turns back into a “childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound.” The other stage: “second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
The mere oblivion that Shakespeare speaks about and the childishness that proceeds it does not affect those who are in their last leg of life. No, instead, like the writer in the bed, like the singer of “The Parting Glass,” it falls onto the lot of those who continue to rise, whose job it is to continue the call. The person who slips into death becomes a ghost, a coffin to carry around with those who have been left behind.
This is both beautiful and haunting to me. Beautiful that you can never truly die so long as someone carries your memory, your coffin, for you. Haunting in the idea that all of us bear the weight of those that have gone before us. When looking at an old lover or a new acquaintance, it almost becomes impossible not to look beyond their face, their earthly body, and see a long line of coffins, of their ghosts, that have gone on before them.
Perhaps my long line of ghosts wanted to remind me of this. Perhaps they wanted to remind me of the responsibility that I, too, bear. Perhaps they gave me a song to remind me of my “lot;” the responsibility that was given to me to carry on their story, to give them eternal life.
Or, perhaps, it was mere coincidence.
Perhaps… But as I finished writing that line, I looked out of my window and saw a huge flock of birds migrating to warmer destinations. They moved gracefully through the air currents, like ballet dancers on the world’s stage. Their tiny wings fluttered as they swelled and swooped, each beat of their feathered appendages crying, “Tell our story. Never forget us. Carry us with you. Give us wings.”
I never did believe in coincidences. Ghosts, yes. But, coincidences? That’s for the birds.