This week I had my first visit to Charleston, South Carolina, a beautiful coastal city filled with colonial-era buildings, old winding stone walkways, national landmarks, and ghosts. Yes, ghosts. In fact, Charleston is said to be one of the most haunted cities in the United States. The tycoons of its tourist industry claim a number of pirates, American Revolutionary and Civil war soldiers, and infamous criminals among the spirits that still lurk in its old prisons and historic structures. Subsequently, the sidewalks are lined with sandwich boards advertising “ghost tours,” and a quick internet search displays a number of Web sites with tales of paranormal experiences within the city limits.
Even as a kid, I never really believed in ghosts. The idea of the deceased hovering around our world unbeknownst to most of humanity, desperately awaiting revenge or recognition or mere remembrance, always seemed a rather hopeless, depressing reality to me. I did not like indulging the thought that anyone would exist like this, living or deceased. As I recall, I was never as disturbed by the possibility of being haunted so much as I was haunted by this sad idea that ghostly spirits might exist so restlessly, so helplessly.
Yet, as I passed posters and window displays depicting Charleston’s posthumous citizens, examining the melancholy in their hollowed-out eyes and the illusive outlines of their shadowy figures, I was surprised to find myself in them. Life as a young, left-leaning, faithful Catholic woman often seems a very ghostly existence. And indeed, I am restless with—and sometimes, saddened by—this existence: from my worship community, ministry, and writing, I call out to the official leaders of our church, begging to be recognized, listened to, remembered, or considered. Most of the time, they offer only a strange sort of acknowledgment, talking about “women” or “young adults” or those engaged in “secular culture” as if they are seeing right through me. Not hearing me. Not truly seeing me.
Unlike ghosts, I am very much alive, of course. And the struggles that characterize my life as a Catholic are not the stuff of paranormal fiction. The frustration and pain and loneliness are very real. Nonetheless, I am left to haunt to palace corridors of the Vatican. I whisper in the pauses and paragraph breaks of papal decrees. And surely, today, I am starting to believe in ghosts.
Jessica Coblentz plans to spend her summer haunting the bookstores, ice-cream shops, and sunny parks of Boston, where she is pursuing a Master of Theological Studies degree at Harvard Divinity School. Follow her writing on the Web at www.jessicacoblentz.com.