Can I Hear the Voices of the Dead?

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Humans have long been fascinated by the idea that they could somehow speak with the dead. Most of us feel connected to them in one way or another, and we often ache for the chance to reunite. There are grieved lovers who want another chance to say goodbye; students who seek advice from deceased mentors; family members who yearn to make amends for past wrongs. Whatever our reasons, this craving for a continued relationship with our predecessors seems to be built into our DNA.

More than once, I’m sure you’ve thought, “if only I could hear the voices of the dead.” Well, what if I told you that you could?

Books are the answer.

When we read, our ancestors speak to us once more. Though death may have taken them, their voices remain with us in all that they’ve written, indelibly etched into the edifice of time. Books are the means by which we learn from our genealogical, intellectual and spiritual progenitors, as well as how we ourselves communicate with future generations, ensuring that whatever we learn during our ephemeral Earthly existence will never be lost.

They’re the voices of wise parents and teachers, telling us that our struggles were once theirs. They give us advice, and they teach us how to deal with our problems so that we won’t have to suffer the same mistakes.

They’re the voices of friends and lovers, who bestow comfort and hope in times of distress. They remind us through their stories — some joyful and others tragic — of how to love and how to feel. They teach us how to weather the storm of life, and in the midst of a world that often seems harsh, cold and uncaring, they help us understand that life is always worth living, and that everything happens for a reason.

They’re the voices of scientists, poets and philosophers, perpetuating beauty and knowledge from age to age so that both might never be lost. They whisper to us in the dark corners of our bedrooms and offices after hours, so that we too might be privy to whatever secrets they discovered before their Earthly journeys were complete.

In death, you too can speak to the living.

Just as your ancestors left behind their own voices, so too can you leave yours, so that when your appointed time comes, future generations will still be able to learn from the wisdom you attained in life.

Don’t have time to write a book? Don’t worry about it. Keep a journal. Freewrite for five minutes about your thoughts and feelings. Write letters to friends and family. Your words need not be formally compiled, edited and published by a major press. Some of our most treasured literary artifacts were those that were penned or spoken informally, passed down from teachers to students, parents to children or between friends and lovers.

Our ancestors will always be with us.

In books, we discover that the voices of those who’ve died persist, teaching, exorting, comforting, encouraging, continuing to dwell among each and every one of us. They give us hope for the future, and when we have hope for the future, we feel compelled to offer up our own wisdom, which we pray will be useful to those who come after us.

The next time you want to reconnect with someone from the past, don’t wait until your own demise to be with them. Just pick up a book and read.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

2 Ways That Characters Are More Intimate Than Best Friends, Husbands and Wives

If you’re like me, reading fiction usually involves an endless string of love affairs and heart breaks. It’s always the same. I meet someone new. I fall in love. I’m on an emotional roller coaster. I burst with joy when my character is happy. My heart aches when my character is hurt. I’ll invest hours of my time into the relationship, only for it to come to a sudden abrupt end when there are no pages left to turn.

The relationship between Reader and Character is intense and intimate. What follows are two ways in which this relationship is more intimate than those we share with our closest friends and spouses.

1. You, Along With the Author, Are a Character’s Co-creator.

In real life, when you meet another person, what follows is purely a process of discovery. Who that person is has already been fully defined, independent of you. A real person always exists outside your mind. You may be lead to believe certain things about who that person is based on your own observations and biases, but whether or not those beliefs are correct has nothing to do with you.

By contrast, while the author might provide you with certain details regarding what a character looks like, what he thinks about or what happens to him throughout the story, he’s only partially defined. It’s up to you to provide the missing pieces. Unlike a real person, your character only has the fullness of his existence inside your mind. As a result, it’s as much a process of creation as it is one of discovery. Together, with the author, you give life to this other person.

The unique role that you have as a character’s co-creator is what allows you to understand him so intimately. Who he is depends in part on who you are. Because of this, you know this person more completely than you could know anyone else.

2. The Relationship Between Reader and Character Has No Boundaries.

In your relationships with real people, there are always boundaries. Between husbands, wives and best friends, there are always secrets. When dealing with real people, you can only completely know yourself. What your friends and spouses experience in their own minds you can only experience imperfectly through what they choose to reveal.

In your relationships with fictional people, this is not the case. In fiction, a character’s innermost thoughts, desires and motivations are all laid bare before you. You can peer directly into a character’s mind and soul. You can know a character better than he knows himself.

Conclusion

There’s a reason we connect so profoundly with well written characters. It’s basic human nature to crave love and intimacy. We strive to know others, for it’s in knowing that we can love. The fictional characters we encounter in stories might not be real, but the love that we have for them most certainly is. It’s a very unique kind of love, one that, in some ways at least, exceeds that which we have even for those real people who we hold closest of all.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.