Yesterday while I was reading the introduction of Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God at Borders, a book on a short display shelf at the end-wall of a line of bookshelves fell off and hit the ground right in front of me. I was on the second floor of the store, sitting in a comfortable chair and surrounded by bookshelves with only one other person in sight…a woman who was busy scanning a row of books on one of the other bookshelves. She didn’t appear to notice the book falling, and I returned to my reading, thinking nothing of it.
Now, this is the weird part: There had been two copies of the book on the little shelf. It was the outer one that had fallen and was lying on the floor. Surely, the remaining copy would not fall, as it was the copy against the bookself-wall. So I was perplexed when it did fall nevertheless, about a minute after the first one had fallen. This second one landed on the carpeting in a standing position. How could a book that had been on the inside position on the shelf manage to fall over just because the outer book had fallen? Surely the shelf was not too short for the back one. Looking over at the woman still scanning a row of books, I asked her if she had heard the books fall.
“Yes, I did,” she replied.
“I can understand how the first one could fall…but the second?–I don’t get it,” I said in a flat voice.
She nodded in agreement as she instinctively picked up the second book and returned it to its back-position on little shelf.
“It must be a ghost,” she said with a smile.
“That’s just what I was thinking!” I said aloud as much as to myself. How odd!
Now, reading a book on religion and having seen Ghost years ago, I had thought just after the second book fell that maybe…just maybe…it might be possible that one of my dead grandfathers was there in some way and was trying to communicate with me in the only way he could. Would that mean he had been able to look into what I’ve been doing since he died? Oh, man…that would include sex! Oh, geez… This thought jolted me back to the modern world of scientific explanation. There had to be one. Perhaps the first book fell because one page too many had subtly shifted its weight forward by a draft. The draft caused by its falling off the little shelf might have caused a similar subtle change in the book behind it. Such an explanation is much better than the prospect of one of my ancestors visiting me uninvited who-knows-where.
It occured to me as I was reading Karen Armstrong’s argument that we as finite human beings can’t possibly know as much about God as we think we do. We tend to fill in the void created by our mind’s inherent inclination to transcend its own cognitive limits…only we don’t realize that we are the ones filling the void. In thinking of the possibility of a ghost tipping over the books–the second one, remember, landed standing–I was filling the void created by my own verdict that my scientific explanation seemed rather weak, or stretched. Here is the rub: I don’t believe I will know, at least while I’m alive, whether the cause was a ghost or some other cause more “worldly.”