God, Ghosts, and ATMs 1/27/13

I sometimes get strange looks when I say I don’t believe in God. Most people haven’t thought much about the issue, and just accept that everyone does. Oh, they know there are atheists out there, but for most of them, it’s a rather odd thought. They’re not quite sure how to think of atheists, and suspect that we really do believe but just say we don’t. Maybe they think it’s a test from God, or something. And I’ve been capitalizing “God” on purpose, since most people, at least around here, when they ask if you believe in “god”, mean “God”. They’re not asking if we believe in Zeus, or Jupiter, or Quetzalcoatl, they’re referring to the god of the Hebrews of the first century. The one handed down to us by Rome and subsequent western cultures. Most of the believers are fine with the Trinity, Lucifer, and the angels, but I suspect most don’t really believe in too much beyond that. You don’t often read about folks who actually believe in demons, evil spirits, and witches in the old style. If you want a good laugh, read this one, about demonic Halloween candy. You’ll have to read about it here, because it was taken down from the original post at the Christian Broadcast Network’s site .

I don’t believe in God, gods, ghosts, demons, evil spirits, good spirits, angels, or zombies. I have had two experiences, however, that keep that sliver of wonder alive, that makes me say “what if there is something more than what we have knowledge of?” Not that I’m ready to believe in the supernatural, but we have had paradigm changes in our view of the nature of the universe before, and I’m sure we’ll have more in the future. Perhaps we’ll find something that explains the “ghosts” so many are willing to say exist.

My experiences involve the ghost of my paternal grandmother, and an ATM machine.

The ATM machine, first, since it happened first. It was the early 80′s, I think, and ATMs were making their first appearances in Visalia. I was a customer at Bank of America when they opened their new branch on Mooney Boulevard, at Beech Street. I had a new ATM card, and had to go pick it up at the bank, and activate it by using it in an ATM machine. I had set my password on paperwork I had filled out previously (this was well before the internet and automated appliations), and got a notice in the mail that my card was at the bank and ready to be picked up. I trotted myself down to the bank, picked up the card, and went outside to activate it. Those first ATM’s had keypads about the same as telephones in design and layout.


I went out to use the machine, and immediately ran into a problem. My password was a word, not numbers. The machine I was facing had a keypad, but it only had numbers! There were no letters on the keys, and I was nonplussed as how I was to proceed.


I stared at the pad for a bit, trying to puzzle out how I was going to solve this problem. The letters on a pad are the same everywhere, and I had seen them no telling how many times in my life, but as with many things you take for granted, I wasn’t sure of the layout. I finally decided to go back inside the bank, and tell them my problem. I walked up to the lady that had given my me card, and told her my predicament. She looked at me funny, and said “just use the keypad, thats how you input the password”. I told her my password was a word, not numbers, and the keypad didn’t have letters on it. She looked at another teller who was listening to our conversation, back at me, and then assured me that it really did have the letters. At this point, I’m now doubting either my sanity, or hers, since I had stared at the machine for several minutes, and there weren’t any damned letters on the keypad! She again assured me there were letters, and urged me to go try again. I agreed, and walked out of the bank, out to the ATMs. When I walked up to the machine…


… the letters were on the keypad! The only thing I can figure out, is that the universe was playing some kind of perverse game with me, and changed the keypad! Did you ever see the Twilight Zone episode, where the man and woman become out of sync with time, and discover a place where builders of the universe create each moment, as if it were a movie set? We pass from moment to moment, and they disassemble the past and build the future, with us totally unaware. The foreman in the story tells the man and woman that when you loose your keys, or some other object, and then find them later someplace you KNOW you already looked, that that was due to a glitch, that they made an error or somebody forgot to leave the “set” in the correct layout. That’s how I felt that day. I KNOW the keypad did not have the letters on the buttons when I first tried to use the ATM. While I was inside the bank, making a fool of myself, the letters re-appeared on the buttons of the machine! After staring at that vile machine for a bit, I put my card in, entered the password, and validated the card. No ATM has confounded me since, but I do always check the pad before I use one now!

The next event occurred in 1994, early one morning. My grandmother had been in and out of the hospital for several months, and had finally been sent to a convalescent hospital to recover. One morning, just after dawn, I woke up suddenly, certain someone was standing at the foot of my bed. As I tried to get my eyes to operate in the dim light, I was sure I saw a figure there. Once I looked again, of course nothing was there, and after a few moments, I chalked it up to a dream, and went back to sleep. About three hours later, my aunt called to tell me my grandmother had died that morning. I asked if she knew what time, and sure enough, it was about the time I was “visited”. If any of her grandchildren could be said to be her favorite, and she did have favorites, it was me.

So… did grandma pay me a visit as she left this life? I seriously have to say “no”. I don’t believe in such things, and can’t reconcile what I know of the world with that possibility. I don’t completely rule out the chance that there could be something that we’ve failed to understand about the universe, and that might be what we have interpreted over the centuries as ghosts, but I’m very doubtful. At least as it’s put forward, with ghosts spirits and demons haunting the world. And when you stop and think about it, if ghosts are real, or spirits really exist, then we have no privacy at all. Just think of all the things you do in private, from using the bathroom to having sex, and imagine that your dead relatives are there, watching. Creepy, isn’t it?

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