Do I bring spirits home with me from auctions?
I always wonder if the items I bring home from auctions hold the spirits of the people who once owned them. I wonder if bits of their spirits remain in the clothes they wore, the collectibles they touched, the photos they had taken of themselves.
As I comb through box lots or clean single items, there’s always that question in the back of my mind. In the quiet of my living room, I listen or look for something – a sound, a movement – but nothing happens. I’ve never felt a presence with me in the room. I do feel a reverence toward these people who lived years before I even existed.
Are they looking over my shoulder as I sit there going through their “stuff”?
Is the woman who left the stack of metal and bone knitting needles remembering the last shawl she made? Is the little girl who wrote her name and troop number in her Girl Scout Handbook remembering how proud she felt? Is the mother who carefully catalogued the family slides of the addition to her house remembering the construction mess?
Even if their whole spirits have gone, I do believe that each of them left a dab of themselves behind. We tend to put our hearts into the things that make us happy, so it makes sense that a snippet of us remains. Those snippets, I believe, are the things that connect us living beings with those who no longer live, a continuation of the life cycle that runs like a thread through mankind.
We all know the story of the most famous of spirits. The three that guided Scrooge in Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” opened up his poor small miserable life into one that welcomed others inside. Scrooge emerged from his Christmas Eve journey through his past – and future – a changed man who embraced family, love, giving and food.
I suspect that any spirits I bring home are of the same sort. I buy art at auctions, African American art in particular. The art speaks to my soul, and I believe that the artists painted from a place of joy, from the same place inside themselves that caused their creation to touch me. It’s a positive energy imparted through the paint and the lines and the colors and the subject matter. So if their spirits followed me home, they came as guides to help me experience and appreciate their works.
I do have a pencil drawing I got at auction by Philadelphia artist Julius Bloch called “Two Faces,” though, that gave me pause. The artwork hangs on a wall in my bedroom, and it took me aback once when I saw it from a distance: The bottom drawing looked like a spirit forming. It is the faint outline of the face of what looks like a little black girl. The top drawing has her in full form: her hair filled in, a ribbon tried around it in the back, puffy lips.
It’s a bit creepy, but a lovely drawing, perhaps a study.
I have to ask: Do spirits even exist? What about ghosts? I’ll leave those metaphysical questionsto my friend Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb, who writes the Soul Rhythms blog. Religion and spirituality are her bailiwicks, and she’s better inclined to speak about them than me.
In my auction finds, I’m even more curious when I come across old photos taken by people posed in their best Sunday outfits. I really do want to know who they were and what their lives were like. Photos, on the other hand, unnerve my auction buddy Janet. She left a group of old photos in her car for a month once, she said, refusing to take them inside her home. She doesn’t believe spirits follow her home but she won’t take any chances, though.
As the one who’s living, maybe I’m spending too much time wondering what the dead may be thinking. Maybe they’re just enjoying the afterlife and don’t even care that I’m going through their “stuff,” because they really don’t need it anymore. Maybe they just want me to enjoy it and leave them alone. If they do, I thank them and ask that they not follow me home.
Or just maybe they are watching over my shoulder and what they see is someone who respects what was once theirs and treats it as if it were my own.
(By the way, the photo below is African American photographer James Van Der Zee’s depiction of a ghostly spirit, a little handiwork apparently done at the request of this patron.)