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An Ode to Ghost Ships



I'm a writer, author, and online educator who loves helping others build intentional lives through the power of habit and meaningful routines.







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There’s a line from a book I’ve carried around in my back pocket for years, like a treasured folded-up note from an 8th-grade crush. The words had true staying power on my soul. I’ve brought them through so many seasons with me.

The line is just this, “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

I’d venture to say there are a hundred thousand lives you and I could have lived but never will. Like pieces of thread, they split at the root every time we make another decision. To stay or to go. To lean in or to show up. To say sorry or to walk away. This is one of the most beautiful yet maddening truths about this lifetime: we make choices and, because of those choices, there is a whole collection of lives we will never live.

I am not someone who lives with regret. I like to believe I’ve made the right choice at the moment it needed to be made. But, when it came to love in my twenties, I used to be really good at corralling ghost ships and keeping them safe in a self-made harbor. I lived at that harbor watching the ghost ships go in and out.

You see, God plagued me with the Nicholas Sparks Curse— the one where all the guys I dated walked straight out of romance novels. I cannot tell you the number of times I sat in coffee shops with girlfriends and relayed yet another ghost story to them. All the details. All the perfect, little moments. All the angst that came with walking away. The ending to the story never changed— I was always the ghost. Always the one to walk away. Because it felt way more appealing to me to be “the one who got away” than to give up a narrative I thought made my life interested.

The thing is, I was the ghost. I was the one who always walked away. I simply figured that, when the story was perfect enough, I would figure out how to stay.

Telling ghost stories will make you popular for a little while. You’ll definitely be interesting. But after a long time of telling the same stories– over and over again– you will grow sick of it. You will grow lonely. You will grow exasperated over talking about the things that never panned out, the stories that left you standing all by yourself. And you will begin to watch all those around you cultivate a life out of things that stay. The longing for something more— more constant and sure— will grow thick and wild inside of you.

I remember this one evening, years ago, where I was visiting a friend in Connecticut. She was cooking dinner for us. I stood by the countertop and I filled her in on all my disastrous and heartbreaking dating stories as she chopped the onions. She smiled and nodded and handed pieces of veggies to her kids as they came in and out of the kitchen. And I cannot really explain it but this feeling of loneliness spread across my whole body as I stood there and I suddenly felt like, “All you have in your possession is ghost stories– stories about lives you didn’t choose. And what she has… well, this means so much more.”

Suddenly, I was tired of the good stories that led to nowhere. I was tired of being the spectacle, the girl who got away. I had to admit that I casted myself in that role. That I reveled in that role. And the end result was loneliness… it could never keep me full.

I wanted to be the one chopping onions. I wanted to be the one rooted in a home. I wanted to be surrounded by people who stayed. I wanted to finally put down my suitcase and let someone in.

At any point in time, you can let go of the past and forge a new path. It’s possible and the option is always available to you. You can decide to start over. You can clear the slate. That doesn’t mean you need to burn it all down or walk away from your life. You can simply decide to stop living in the rearview mirror, wondering what could have been, and just start planting yourself in the present moment.

The present moment is rich. So rich. You might not even know it because you are too busy thinking the grass was greener five years ago. What you have right now– all around you– are not ghost stories. This is your reality. This is what you have to work with.

People ask me all the time, “How did you know Lane was the right one for you?”

My answer is simple and it never changes.

“Lane isn’t a story at the end of the day,” I tell them. He’s not a walking-talking Nicholas Sparks novel. He isn’t bursting at the seams with lines from Dawson’s Creek like the guys I used to date. He is steady and he is real with me. He is constant and he opens my doors. He is there, even when I am boring or dramatic or crying for three days straight. He never wavers. He always finds the bright side. He chops the onions. He knows that so much of life’s essence comes from chopping the onions.

But I would never have found Lane or paid any attention to him if I was still so fixated on stories that looked more like explosions than steady fires that burn slowly through the night.

You get choices.

Every single day is stacked with choices on more choices. You get to make decisions. You get to stand at the crossroads of your own life and decide if you want to change, and let go, and forget some things, and walk away.

You get to decide if you want to forgive yourself. Because you, like everyone else, deserve to be able to bury your past in a tin box in the backyard and never look back. You, like everyone else, deserve to be able to say, “I could hold on for ten thousand more years. I really could. But I choose to let go. I will not script my own life into a ghost story.”

Just because you can hold something or someone longer does not mean you should.

You know, it’s always easier to cling to the things that used to keep us alive with a false sense of identity. It’s so much harder to admit the truth: your past is not a name tag you wear on your chest. Your past is not who you are when someone reaches for your hand at a party. Maybe you’ve acted like it could be though. Like some story or some poem or some other set of eyes could actually set you free. Do you know what’s really freeing? Looking forward instead of clinging to the rearview mirror like a lifeline. It’s not a lifeline. It’s simply what happened and what’s not yours anymore.

It’s the fight to be here now. The fight to be fully and relentlessly in your life.

This will always be your fight. And it will always be your choice. It will always be in your power to shred the name tag or walk away from the harbor or stop telling flashy stories but, instead, grab a knife and start chopping the onions.

Some would call that “moving on.” Some would call that “finally letting go.” Some would call that “saying amen— so be it— and giving up the quest for ghost stories for something more steady and real.”

p.s. How to be a modern-day ghostbuster.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I read this several months ago and came back to it today. It’s time to let a ghost ship of mine go, along with the hundreds of what-ifs that plague me along with it. I never thought I’d be the person who was so stuck on something, someone, she doesn’t even know anymore that I couldn’t be present in the middle of what I always wanted. Heres to starting fresh… for real this time.

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Hi, I'm Hannah

I love writing about all things faith, mental health, discipline + and motherhood. Let's be penpals!


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