The Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield, New Hampshire is haunted. I didn’t know this when I was visited by a ghost while in my room on a break between writing workshops during my MFA residency through Southern New Hampshire University. It was my second semester in the program and our cohort’s first residency at the resort.
The ghost appeared in the bathroom as I unceremoniously sat on the toilet. Like smoke, she curled through the doorway and exited through the tiled wall directly in front of me. Her long, blond hair hid her features. She wore a beige, cotton nightgown. The bottoms of her bare feet were the last thing I saw of her before she disappeared. A chill filled the bathroom, and I grabbed a sweater on my way out.
Before joining the scheduled workshop, I reported the sighting to the director of the MFA program. She gave me a knowing smile and recommended that I share my experience with someone at the front desk. Upon doing so, the desk clerk listened with interest before producing a large ledger where she recorded the event. “I believe you saw a young woman who once worked here.” The clerk said. “Poor girl fell down the servant stairs and died. The stairs are gone now. They were back near the room you are staying in.”
“Oh, I see.” I said. “I didn’t know the hotel was haunted.”
“We don’t advertise,” she said. “You just described a spirit many people have seen in that part of the hotel over the years. I believe it was the ghost of the servant girl.”
Word got out that I had seen a spirit. The following morning at breakfast, the dean of our program approached me and sat down. “I understand you saw a ghost last night. I would love to hear about it.”
I told her of the encounter, and she seemed genuinely interested. When I finished, she patted my hand. “That’s a lovely story, dear” she said, “but I don’t believe a word of it.”
That left me puzzled. Did she think I had lied about seeing a ghost, or did she not believe in ghosts? The first made sense. She didn’t know me. Perhaps she thought I made the whole thing up. My second assumption is what I still wrestle with when I tell people I saw a ghost. If the dean took me as a credible source, then she was implying that she didn’t believe in ghosts. If this is true, then how would she or I explain what it was I saw in my room. Certainly, a girl with blond hair wearing a nightgown did not appear in my bathroom only to disappear into a tiled wall. I hadn’t been drinking and wasn’t on any medication. I also had no previous knowledge that the hotel was haunted. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could share the story and not be believed.
Belief. It’s a tricky word. The definition by Oxford Languages states, “[Belief] is the acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.”
In my case, the spirit existed. I saw her. The story I told the dean was true. But beliefs have nothing to do with the truth. Not really. They are based on attitudes, and as the dictionary states, an acceptance that something is true, not that something is true. Our beliefs are hard wired and often begin at home when we are young. My Catholic mother believed in the Immaculate Conception while your mother may have believed in the teachings of Buddha, which is why I pray the rosary and you may use mala beads during meditation. Beliefs affect our thinking and our perceptions of the world we live in. We hold steadfast to them whether they are the truth or not because our families and friends share the same beliefs. Who are we and where do we go if our beliefs differ from those closest to us? I may believe that ghosts do or do not exist, but the truth is something or someone other than a human being entered my bathroom that night.
I have thought a great deal about the dean’s comment over the last several months: I don’t believe a word of it. We are being forced to choose sides based on our beliefs, and now that the holidays are just around the corner, what are we to do?
I’m hearing from friends that the situation we are in because of Covid-19 is creating family arguments and mudslinging before we have even gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. People are being accused of wanting to stay home when in fact they fear getting others sick or getting sick themselves. Some have been given ultimatums. “Well, if you don’t come to our house for Thanksgiving then we’re not coming to yours for Christmas.” Still, others are being ostracized. “If you don’t like the way we do things around here, stay home.”
Many of us continue to work on our relationships as Covid-19 has become politically weaponized. Whatever your beliefs, we are all experiencing tough times right now with many of us pushed to our emotional limits. I have lost count of the people in my life that have suffered because of Covid-19. I am sick of it. All of it, and despite my beliefs or yours, this is still something we must deal with every day.
Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Emil Frankl, wrote about his experiences living in various Nazi concentration camps. He noted that people who kept track of the days and dreamed of being released by a specific date (For some it was a birthday or anniversary. For others it was the beginning of Hanukkah or Passover.) often tried to escape when the day came knowing full well they would be shot and killed. He said the human spirit isn’t designed for that kind of disappointment. Instead, Frankl survived by relishing the memories of his family and of the life he had before the Holocaust. The holidays may look different this year, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Whether you are like the dean at Mountain View Grand Resort who didn’t believe in ghosts or like Frankl who believed in the resilience of the human spirit, be good to yourselves and to the people you love. We all deserve it.