Hello everyone. Bowie kicks off this post because I love what he represents in our restrictive, little world. He is creative, free, exciting, interesting and a believer in continual reinvention. That can land him in hot water, as the photo above illustrates; however, his weirdness has worked for him on multiple levels. For most of us, however, taking a Bowie-like approach to the world condemns us to the margins of society where we are not taken seriously and are often ridiculed.
I teach an advanced conversation class in Spanish. It just so happens that the first chapter of our book is dedicated to the paranormal, supernatural and the line between reality and fantasy. I love the first chapter, and I always look forward to the discussions that follow. I never know how a class will react to personal questions on the paranormal. There is always a powerful current of fear around the topic. Most people are convinced that if they tell their story, someone in the room will laugh or deflate them. Sadly, that is often the case. This summer, we heard some amazing, inspiring stories that left me speechless. There were tears. There were goosebumps. And there was the student who declared that “she prefers to live in reality, not in some fantasy world, especially because kids are dying crossing the border and talking about ghosts is wasting our time.”
Kids are dying crossing the border between Mexico and the United States. This is true. Not only do we talk about it, we make sure everyone understands the issues surrounding this tragedy. I require them to conduct research and come back with more information. Most of the time, the people raising the complaint about ‘paranormal babble’–asserting that it has no reality–aren’t really interested in kids crossing the border or any other issue. They simply want to assert their world view and make sure the rest of us feel like crap for discussing something irrelevant and unreal. What are they doing to raise awareness of immigration issues in the U.S., Mexico and Central America? Nothing. I am not doing enough, but by bringing the issue into the open and asking people to share their personal stories about crossing the border, their families’ struggle to survive in California, we all learn tolerance and leave class with many stereotypes and misconceptions obliterated.
This post is not about immigration or the political/economic realities of Mexico and Latin America. This post is about how ‘stupid’ ghost stories can change your life, your perspective and your soul. This is how ‘stupid’ stories of the paranormal can make you and your community stronger and wiser. This post is about eradicating fear so that creativity, joy, empathy, creation and hope can flourish. Let me start with Marga’s story (not her real name). She is from Colombia, and does not speak English terribly well. I agreed to keep her in the class provided that she speak only in English and that she assist others with their Spanish skills. She agreed.
Marga has seen violence, death and despair in her country. She is Catholic, but only because most people in Colombia are Catholic. She didn’t FEEL her Catholicism. Marga’s father spent many months very, very ill; dying, really. Marga didn’t want to go back to Colombia to face this reality, but when it was clear that he wasn’t going to survive this life much longer, she boarded a flight. Somewhere during the trip, she felt an intense need to put down her book and start writing, as if she had been possessed by someone else’s will. She picked up a pen and started filling up page after page. All that writing was about her father. What exactly she was saying about him, or what he might have been saying through her, is private information. When she landed, the driver greeted her with the news of his demise. He passed away at the moment she put down the book and started writing.
She said that she stopped reading for years after that. The trauma of her father’s death and of her own country silenced her. Then, she said, about two years ago, her father came to her. He told her that she needed to start reading again. She picked up a book. Shortly after that, she enrolled in Pierce College. She is now working on her degree in Early Childhood Education. She would not have done that, she says, except for the fact that her father asked her to, years after he passed away.
So don’t tell me that the ‘paranormal’ is a silly, random subject designed for campfires and wasting time. Anyone who believes that lives a protected, angry life. You can keep your world view, but don’t do it at the cost of changing your life, or the lives of others. Stay in your box, if you must; but do NOT attempt to cram me in there with you. I won’t go.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD