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Belief and Doubt

In many ways, APPARITION is about belief. The subtitle on the front cover is “Seeing Isn’t Always Believing” and that’s no accident. It starts in the very first paragraph: Amelia looks out her bedroom window into the backyard and sees her mother gardening. But Amelia’s mother died two years ago, and Amelia doesn’t really believe she’s seeing her mother at all. She thinks it’s only a figment of her imagination. That’s what her grandmother and psychotherapist have convinced her. So when she finds out that ghost-tracker Morris believes her, she is finally able to admit to herself that she believed she was seeing her mother’s ghost all along.

IMG_1120I find the question of what we believe and why we believe pretty fascinating, so it comes up a lot in my book. For instance, during Matthew’s funeral, the preacher talks reassuringly about how Matthew is now happy in Heaven. She would like to believe him, but she is skeptical. She is reminded of how Matthew used to comfort her by telling her that her mother was in Heaven – when Amelia kept seeing her gardening in the backyard. And as it turns out, Matthew’s not quite in Heaven either.

Sometimes we believe things are true or real because it makes us feel better, or makes life easier. Which is fine, although maybe it would be more honest if we said “I want to believe x” more often, instead of just “I believe x” – as in “I want to believe my dead friend still lives – somewhere, somehow.”

But sometimes we believe things that we don’t actually like. Bad things about ourselves, for instance – we are not good enough, that we are unlucky, or victims, or losers. The appeal of being a pessimist is that at least we don’t have to live with doubt. There’s a certain pleasure in being certain – even of something negative.

The more certainty we have and the less doubt, the more secure we feel. We want others to share our beliefs because it makes us feel more certain if they do. Being part of a crowd all believing the same thing can be a big comfort. Having doubts always makes you feel a little alone.

The belief in ghosts is usually built on personal experience, and so it’s quite right that it is never free of doubt. Ghosts don’t care if you don’t have proof that they exist, or any witnesses, or any emotional motivation for believing in them. But what I like about doubt is that it can lead us to think for ourselves more. And that’s what I like most about Amelia – she’s trying to think for herself, even when she’s not sure what she believes. And that’s one of the secrets of her courage, even in the face of creepy ghosts.

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