from PeterRollins.net by admin
was sitting on a plane recently watching the film Ghost Town directed
by David Koepp. What struck me at the time was the central insight of
the main character. In the last third of the film he comes to realise
that ghosts walk among us, not because they have unfinished business
with us, but because we have unfinished business with them.
moment in the film betrays an understanding of how it is impossible to
wipe away the presence of those we love when we feel that they left
before their time (and of course the passing of our beloved is always
Those we love will always be remembered, but when we
have unfinished business with them, when we feel that they died to us
before their time, they will continue to haunt us. While the light of
their life is extinguished, a faint but persistent aroma of their
While those we cherish were absent to us
before we ever met them, the absence that is formed in their aftermath
is of a fundamentally different quality. For this posthumously
generated absence has weight and substance. It is, as Sartre would say,
a felt absence. Indeed, more than this, our beloved’s very entrance
into our world transforms the absence that existed before their
arrival. In encountering our beloved we retroactively invest the
previous absence with a meaning it did not originally posses. Hence the
romantic insight of the one who says, ‘Before I met you I never longed
for you, but now that I know you I realise that I have longed for you
from the very beginning’. In other words, the longing for our beloved
is generated at a specific point in our existence (in our encounter
with them) and then retroactively projected onto our entire existence
(past, present and future). The longing is thus created within time and
yet manifests itself as uncreated and timeless.
And so the
passing of those we love creates a void in the very midst of our
consciousness. An emptiness in the amorphous shape of the one who is no
longer with us. And this ghostly presence of an absence is what haunts
us until we make our peace with it and let it go.
To do this we
must learn how to mourn, for mourning marks the passing of the dead and
allows us to make peace with our ghosts. As the psychoanalyst Darian
Leader would say, if we do not engage in the act of mourning, which
marks the death of those we love, then we will fall prey to
melancholia, the state in which we die with them.
In short, even though ghosts do not exist they are, as we know, all too real.