I was never one to believe in ghosts.
As a child, I enjoyed the thrill of ghost stories, but I never really believed in disembodied spirits that haunted hotels, or riversides, or government offices. I didn't believe in tormented souls who found no peace, or who could not leave the places where they died or where they considered home.
As a child, I loved to be spooked by the thought of a ghost, but I never really believed ghosts to be real. And it didn't stop me from spooking others. Once, in a cemetery, in Châteaguay, Québec, just down the road from my grandmother's house, I scared my cousins, telling them that they were going to die. That the evil spirits in the tombs would get them, would rise from their graves, place a hand on them, and that would be it.
They ran as fast as their legs could carry them, crying all the way back to Nanny's home, whimpering, "I don't want to die."
No spirits laid a hand on them.
Almost fourteen years ago, I felt a hand on my shoulder, but no one was there.
I was at a friend's house, with my wife. I say it was my friend's house, but really it was his mother's house. He was visiting Ottawa and was staying in his old homestead, so Lori and I were guests to a friend who was a guest for his mother.
The house was beautiful. Just outside the Ottawa area, on a large property that backed onto a forest, his family used to grow and sell pines and spruce trees as Christmas trees. The house was a large, two-story construction with lots of wood on the siding, with brick and stones. It was our first visit, and our friend was having us over for dinner.
Both our friend and his mother had worked hard to prepare a lovely dinner, and we were seated in the dining room to enjoy it. Lori and I were instructed to take a seat while our friend served us the dishes, fresh from the kitchen.
As he and his mother took there seats, I felt a firm hand on my shoulder, followed by a gentle squeeze, almost as though a familiar person was delivering a sign of friendship. The hand was on my right shoulder, so I naturally turned to see who had joined our meal.
No one was there.
Confused, I swung around in my seat to see where the stranger had gone, but it was clear that nobody was anywhere behind me. Everyone at the table noticed my movements. "Is everything okay?" my friend asked.
Not wanting to sound crazy, I said, "Yeah, everything's fine. This meal looks great!"
The meal was great. I'm not a fan of broccoli, but the way my friend had prepared it—blanched, then tossed in a creamy dressing with pine nuts and raisins—was delicious. I had two helpings.
But throughout the meal, I felt that someone was standing behind me. I could feel an energy, a presence. My eyes would occasionally turn upward, but I refused to look behind me.
After the meal, we all cleaned up and my friend's mother left us to relax in the living room and catch up. At one point in our discussion, my friend asked me what I was doing before we ate. He had also noticed that my eyes wandered during the meal and thought I seemed distracted at times.
"You're going to think I'm nuts," I said. "Just before we ate, as you and your mom were joining us at the table, I had a feeling on my shoulder as though a hand had rested itself there, and had even given me a gentle squeeze."
"Really?" he said, seeming interested.
"But the funny thing is, the hand was warm: not in temperature, but in sentiment, as though the hand was saying, 'welcome.' And, throughout the meal, it felt as though someone was standing behind me."
"That's fascinating," he said. "You were sitting in my dad's seat."
My friend's father had died many years before. I had never met him, didn't know my friend when he lost his dad. "My dad would have liked you," my friend added.
I didn't believe in ghosts before this dinner. But I was a believer from that moment on.
And I'm not afraid of them. If they're anything like the spirit of my friend's dad, I welcome them.