How a Comedian Helped Me Pray the Ghosts Away

The first time I remember being terrified of ghosts, my mother had taken me on […]

Sarah Condon / 11.19.18

The first time I remember being terrified of ghosts, my mother had taken me on a well-meaning bonding trip to Natchez, Mississippi. There, on the plantation home tours, the guide would allude to all of the Victorian-era blonde girls who kept making ghoulish appearances on the grand stairwell. Even as an 8-year-old I remember thinking, “Why is she telling me this? This is for sure going to haunt me later.”

Windsor Ruins, Natchez, MS.

I have always had a fear and fascination with all things ghostly. I am not one of those people who enjoys a good scary movie. I am one of those people who sees a promo for a scary movie and thinks, “Great. Now the thought of nun witches is going to keep me up tonight.” This is despite that fact that I do not regularly converse with nuns or witches.

As a kid I would cope with this tendency in incredibly unhealthy ways. I would ritualize bedtime to “protect” myself, as diagnosable people often do. I would count the number of times I tucked and untucked the covers over my head and then tightly bind myself under the weight of 3 blankets. And then I wouldn’t breathe so that I wouldn’t miss the footsteps of whatever vampire-monster-eyeless-dead-child-witch-nun-puppet that my brain had conjured up. I once didn’t sleep for week because someone had told me that Vincent Van Gogh cut his ear off and I was terrified his ghost would come in the night and cut my ear off.

Ahhh childhood.

(As a side note, my mother feels terrible about these memories, and I have to constantly reassure her that it was not her fault that I was a bizarre small person. Which reassures me as I raise my own bizarre small people.)

I wish I could tell you that my belief in Jesus made this whole thing a lot better. It did not. I would later learn during a stint in psychiatric chaplaincy that religious tendencies can actually make paranoia much worse. “That explains why I had 45 crosses on my wall as a 13-year-old,” I thought silently to myself. The religious and the terrifying have a long and storied romance of driving people even crazier.

And truthfully, there is some beauty to be found there. Because everything from the theological depths of All Souls’ Day to the set of ghosts that warn Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol are incredibly moving. The creepy and the convicting intertwine more than Christians would like to admit. And so there I was, a deeply religious kid with little trust that Jesus could save me from the haint of Vincent Van Gogh.

I wish I could say that adulthood and (YEARS OF) therapy have helped. They mostly have not. For my entire childhood, I would tell myself that some day I would marry someone and would not have to sleep alone. But there was that one time when we went to New Orleans for our 10th wedding anniversary and took a ghost tour (my idea), and then I learned our hotel was a “portal for the spiritual realm” and woke up my husband every two hours by screaming at full volume, “OMGODJOSHWHATWASTHATNOISE!” despite that fact that he was lying in bed next to me.

But honestly, these days, it is when my husband is out of town that the old ghostly thoughts begin to haunt me again. I will wonder if dead relatives will come back to avenge something I did to hurt them. I worry that the undead will come and snatch my children in the night. You know, normal Mom thoughts.

Embarrassingly, in these moments, my context of mercy and heaven just fall completely apart. I find almost no comfort in the idea that “God is always with me.” People will say that your faith could fall apart in the wake of a cancer diagnosis. Apparently, I just need my husband to be away on a work trip. And we all know that me telling myself I should think more sensibly (or hell, theologically) will not work at all. In other words, my religion continues to not help me.

But a stand-up comedian unexpectedly did.

Recently, on Conan, Kyle Kinane explained why believing in ghosts is actually a benefit of white privilege:

“I know I have white privilege because I believe in ghosts. And that’s what you get to believe in when you don’t have any other real problems. Like, that’s how you know your life is fine. You know? Like what about the disappearing middle class? What about poltergeist? Poltergeist are out there also… Like, if I meet a black guy who believes in UFO’s I’m like, ‘You’re taking on a lot right now.”

To be clear, I realize it’s more than just white people who are afraid of ghosts. Paranormal fear is the one thing in this world that might actually be colorblind. But Kinane is a comedian, and his observations cut right to the bone, hysterically.

Kinane artfully manages to talk about white privilege in a way that might disarm most white privileged people. The entire clip is worth a watch. But in truth, it was the observations about ghosts that stuck with me.

Because while I do have real problems (everyone does), ghosts should not be on that list.

So the other night my husband was out of town. And I was crawling into bed prayerfully thinking about what I had seen on Conan (#proverbs31lady). And I thought, don’t want to worry about ghosts anymore. I’m tired of being afraid of things that are not there. I mean isn’t that what most of life is anyway? Do I really have to add “ghosts” to my list, which includes being struck by lightning and child abduction?

I knew that the answer was not to focus on my “real problems” as I was trying to go to bed. That doesn’t help anyone sleep. So I decided, rather earnestly, to focus on someone else’s.

We have some very dear friends who have been trying to get pregnant for years. And they have just become foster parents. Their first child is a toddler-aged girl. She will only be with them for a short time. And they got her this week. So I lay in bed and thought about their little, beautiful, complicated, temporary, long-hoped-for family. I cannot image the heartache and mercy that such a situation demands. And so I prayed for the child and for her first-time, brand-new, foster parents.

And then I went to sleep.