Anyone who considers herself a paranormal investigator–that is, anyone committed enough to spend the entire night in cold, dark and often disturbing buildings/ships/homes/hospitals, knows one fact above all else: whatever we find, or whatever finds us, is frustratingly vague. We catch snippets of voices on digital recorders, but we often do not hear the same words; we find anomalies in photographs, but someone usually offers a natural explanation; we see spikes or sharp drops in temperature, or watch the EMF meter light up like a Christmas tree, but we really don’t know what it means.
Interpretation of such oddities is often treacherous, since elusive or inconsistent findings create opportunities for self-delusion; even though I try my utmost to maintain a professional and scientific approach, there are times when I have defended a piece of “evidence” far beyond what it deserved. At one point, my pride and joy as a ghost hunter was a picture of a menacing face in a window at the Olivas Adobe. I sent that picture everywhere, showing it to as many people as possible. Almost everyone was impressed by photo, convinced that I had indeed captured something amazing, something out of this world. It wasn’t until several weeks later that Ty saw something I had not: the face was actually my own hand, contorted in such a way as to mimic the features of an angry specter. As soon as he pointed this out to me, my entire perception of reality shifted. I had no longer captured an incredible piece of evidence; I had, instead, taken a cool picture of my own hand. Such an elegant metaphor for the self-involvement of a deluded investigator. However, in my defense, I learned a great deal from that incident. My interpretation, no matter how convinced I am that what I have recorded is paranormal, is still simply my personal impression, my own experience. This is why a team of investigators is essential to finding anything approximating the truth: someone will tell you, gently, that your ghost is simply your own reflection.
We all have stories about the amazing evidence for the paranormal that turns out to be nothing more than a hand or a moth. And yet, there are those moments where the entire team is collectively in awe of a shared experience with no known normal cause. There are those snippets of audio that leave us all speechless: the inhuman voice at the Glen Tavern Inn, the photo of the transparent man at Alcatraz, the responsive pipes at Camarillo, the collective feeling that we are being watched, the heavy footsteps in the bushes by the bridge at La Purisima . . . as a team, we’ve been utterly astounded at what we’ve experienced, at a loss for an explanation.
So what do those moments mean? Are we going to find an answer to the ultimate questions of life after death, the significance of ghosts and spirits, the identity of the watchers in the dark? Probably not. Assuredly not; for that is not the point, nor do I think we are meant to know with any certainty what is, to my mind, the greatest mystery of the universe: what is left of us after we have moved through death? Where do we go? What meaning does our existence possess for us, and those who loved us?
There is a quote from Allan J. Hamilton in the chapter “Soul Survivor” that states it perfectly:
“God could make it obvious, but at a terrible price.” . . . we must content ourselves with this oblique glimpse and trust that, for now, as much has been revealed as we can withstand, for our own good. We cannot grasp it. Or measure it. Or map it. But maybe it has to suffice for now.” (202)
A good ghost hunter doesn’t quite believe that “it” cannot be measured or mapped; we have too many tantalizing hints that appear to point in a certain direction. The adventure is too promising to abandon, even if the answers will always be partial, or inconclusive. The whispered voice that said my name at Camarillo might mean nothing at all; but then again, it could be telling me that I need to keep looking. We all do. And so we pack our paranormal kits and head out to the next mystery.
In the middle of the night, huddled over our digital recorders, surrounded by shadows, we know something is out there; although we can’t tell you what it is, it’s powerful and it’s strange.
We will find something close to the truth; and we will have the wisdom to know that it isn’t simply our own reflection. That is more than enough for now.