How can I sum up the experience that I had? I still do not know how to make sense of the whole thing even though it changed my worldview completely. I still don’t understand what caused it or brought this experience into my life, although that seems less important as time passes and the effect of the experience remains the same.
I moved to O’ahu to attend University of Hawai’i for my undergraduate degree in Anthropology. I worked as a temp live-in nanny for military families the first nine months that I lived in Hawaii. In some of the houses I lived in, several people had heard footsteps on the roof, the back porch and in the courtyard. Other than calling the police about the footsteps on the roof, I dismissed what I heard and swallowed the fear I’d felt as overreacting to regular noises or some actual person who was just lost. In May, I got a job as an RA. Two or three weeks after moving into my room, the damn ghost guy showed up for the first time. I woke up in the middle of the night, and he was standing next to my bed. I yelled at the guy to get out of my room. Nothing. Got up to push him, and he wasn’t there. Took a couple of hours to go back to sleep. Just kept seeing his face in my mind and was totally freaked out.
I quickly realized that although I had grown up a believing member of the church and also grew up “believing” in spirits as mentioned in church and the scriptures, I never really actually believed. I very quickly realized that deep-down, I had always thought that people who saw ghosts were having something chemical going on inside their brain or that it was fear induced and not an actual spirit. It is an extremely disconcerting feeling to face your own belief and realize that it was sugar coated and masking a deeper belief (or disbelief in this case) and to have to do an about face.
He showed up again a few nights later. And again every few days until I left Hawai’i to be an aupair in Switzerland 14 months later. Showed up usually after 11pm, never did anything, never said anything, just stood there. Long black hair, about 6’1″, white shirt with mandarin collar, black pants, looked Hawaiian/Asian mix in his face and had very angry looking eyebrows.
My initial response was to talk to him. That’s what they do in the movies, right? Find out why he was there. Nothing. After that night, I never said a word to him. It freaked me out and made me feel even more like a crazy person.
My next thought was to tell him to be gone in the name of Jesus Christ. I tried. Nothing. I started researching church history for different ways of dealing with spirits. I tried additional scripture-reading, fasting, praying. Still there. He never did anything. He didn’t seem like an evil spirit or a good spirit. Just neutral. And there. All the time. I got a blessing from the Bishop. Nothing.
I went a few different routes after that. I went to the student health center, who recommended going to the school counseling center, where I met with a psychiatrist, a lady who was kama’aina (local). She said it was normal to see ghosts (what the?? apparently it is fairly common in the Hawaiian islands). Definitely didn’t seem normal to me and definitely wasn’t something I wanted to live with. I was hoping I wasn’t crazy, but if I was, I wanted to get it taken care of, stat. I also wanted to be able to sleep again. Sleeping pills made things worse when I woke up with him there anyway; the pills just added a wonderful layer of hallucinations and paranoia. I only tried those for a couple of weeks.
I went to other churches trying to find a tool or some useful ritual for ghost guy removal. Tried a few. Some weren’t very helpful (Quakers- wonderful ideas, but not much on dealing with actual spirits). Tried to confess and get some help that way, but the father said that we should just chat; it was not really a confession type thing. Apparently, exorcisms are just for spirits in your body, not ones just chilling next to your bed a couple times a week. Tried a variety of Christian churches. And some Eastern religions, which seemed to involve a lot more figuring out the religion on my own or through meditation before I could see an expert. I started taking more religion classes. I confided in one of my anthropology professors who asked about my worsening exhaustion. She was Hawaiian and suggested speaking with a kahuna. He gave me a Hawaiian blessing to say and suggesting sprinkling my pee by doors and windows and placing leaves and rocks by doors and on window seals. At that point, it didn’t even gross me out. I was thinking Hawaiian ghost guy, Hawaiian religion–makes sense, of course I’ll try it. Nothing.
A couple of months after the first time I saw him, and while trying all of the things above, I went out for drinks with some friends. This was my first experience drinking. By this point, I was fairly depressed about my religion. What good is a religion, any religion, if it provides spiritual guidance and a plan for the afterlife, but can’t practically help with an actual spirit? I drank way too much, went home and slept soundly. My remaining year in Hawaii consisted of staying up really late studying (with ghost guy checking my answers) or drinking and passing out with a good’s night sleep. I did some things I regret. Even more importantly, I learned that having a drink does not make you a bad person, that the alcohol itself is not evil, but the way in which a person uses it (much like an overeating compulsion) can be harmful and disastrous to family and friends. This was one of the true blessings from my experience; I had to cast aside my judgments of others.
When I moved to a new place (twice during spring semester after no longer being an RA), it would take a week or two for him to show up. My first roommate moved our furniture all around the day after he showed up and moved out after the second time he showed up. The second roommate had a dream about a guy standing in our room and described ghost guy to a tee. Ghost guy was my fault, so I told her about him and offered to move out. She was the first friend I told. She was okay with it because he never seemed to hurt anyone. I never saw him when I went home for holidays, and never saw him when I went on trips to the other islands (although a few of my housemates thought someone was trying to get into our room while we were gone; they heard footsteps and someone messing with the door).
He never showed up consistently, or we could have worked out a schedule. It is nice to be able to joke about it a little. I was too scared to talk about it with friends and family until after I left Hawaii; I thought talking about him made him more real. And I still think that the amount of time I spent worrying and thinking about him, and my strong emotions of fear and frustration towards him, led to his continued appearance. It has been six years since I saw him and the fear has slowly but surely dissipated.
Was it all in my head? Maybe. Was it a product of my environment? Maybe. Was it the result of a physiological condition? Maybe. But regardless of the cause, the results are the same. I am, without a doubt, a believer in spiritual experiences. Anyone who says they had a spiritual experience, I believe them. I can’t prove otherwise and I know that it is possible through my own experience. If it is a chemical reaction in the brain, that doesn’t change the effect that the spiritual experience had on that person. I absolutely believe that Joseph Smith had the first vision and saw the Angel Moroni. But I also believe that Saint Theresa of Avila experienced the ecstasy. I don’t believe that spiritual energy is organized or restricted in any way or following a specific plan of a single sentient being. How can I? Not a single religious ritual worked on ghost guy.
I do consider myself a latter-day saint. I do not have a typical testimony. I do not believe that Heavenly Father and Jesus are physical bodies somewhere. I do believe in the power of prayer. I feel that the spiritual world is reciprocal to the energy of our world. The beauty and love of humanity creates a positive spiritual world and conversely, hatred and ugliness create a negative spiritual world. I will most likely never become endowed or hold a temple recommend. But I believe in people and in the good that comes from thinking of others and uplifting each other in loving everyone. And, quite often, I find that in my ward and I can help do the same. I can play “Love one another” for relief society or primary. I can attend service projects and suggest more service to the community. I can make new friends through visiting teaching. I see so many values that are positive and good among Mormon friends and family.