This happened long ago; then again, not.
When I was young, very young, I had an awful dream. Here is the dream:
I’m half-asleep in my boyhood home, lying on the sofa in the den. It is daytime, and I’m napping – dreaming – and there is nothing worse than daytime nightmares. My toy dog, which had a body made of wood and red plastic wheels, and a tail of coiled wire, moves past my sleeping frame – clompity-clomp it goes, making its windup, corkscrew sound. And in my dream I was frightened to look at my toy dog – a dog that had given me such pleasure during my waking hours. During those times I’d shuffle along on my knees, pushing the wooden dog – I think it was a beagle – furiously, making the winding wheels go as loudly as possible, or at least until my mother told me to stop.
Then, I was in control of my toy.
In my dream, hearing and seeing the toy move of its own volition as if alive frightened me terribly. And then, suddenly, I’m in the side yard, where I played with my brother and sister and children in the neighborhood. We played ball, jumped rope and wrestled. There, in the middle of the yard – in the dark, in my dream – my parents were standing in the middle of a bonfire, burning, with their arms reaching out for me desperately.
The vision felt so real and so powerfully striking that, to this day, it still haunts me. I, of course, told my parents, who consoled me and told me it was only a dream. They assured me (as parents will do, but can never guarantee) that they were fine.
“Nothing will come of us,” I recall my mother saying.
I didn’t know what she meant by that phrase. My mother was English, and she was all the time saying things that I thought were a little funny.
Recently my wife’s mother died. As with any death, particularly one that is close to you, it conjures up other losses. Perhaps that is why I thought of my long-ago dream again. Or perhaps because it was Halloween; though real life can surely be more ghoulish than a night of pumpkins, black cats or children dressed up in costumes.
When I think of that dream, I am reminded of a frightened young boy who was afraid for his parents –afraid for their safety and afraid of losing them. Even now, though I admit to its irrationality, I think that dream has risen to the level of premonition. For my mother left in a few short years, vanishing from our lives, and my father died five years later. And naturally, within the recesses of my own irrationality, I have come to blame myself for their loss.
Sometimes words become a frail chattering for the mysteries of what it means to be alive. I’m not a religious person in the traditional sense, but I am open to mystery. And grace. Most of all, transcendence.
The older I get, the more I understand what it means to love and the sacraments that make it tactile. I have lived long enough and lost enough to enable me to understand no person misses out on emotional pain. Someday I will ask my mother – the person I found some 30 years after she left – about my dream.
“Do you remember me telling you about it?” I will ask, and I suspect she will look at me dumbfounded, sip her tea, her eyes peering through the steam looking rather lost and suspect.
“You had no such dream,” I think she might say.
I mourn this, and I sing gratitude for that. I give praise to found mothers and mothers who have lived long lives; and in gratitude for all the trails I can run on, for hills I’ve climbed and descended; for trees and roots and leaves; and for wives and daughters; and for not being spared pain and sorrow, so that I can know the other side of hurt.
And for dreams and nightmares, even though I may not understand them.
Robert Wallace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org