“To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life …”
– Hamlet’s soliloquy, William Shakespeare
Dreams. What do they mean? Most of the time, probably, nothing. Just a healthy mind having fun and being sporty while the body rests.
And yet … some dreams stay with us. Comfort us. Haunt us. Inspire us. Sometimes over and over again, they revisit us randomly in time, form and sequence.
I’m going to share three of my vivid and often recurring dreams. But first I’ll need to tell you why.
I’ve always had a fascination with the tremendous miracle that is life. Life is an innumerable collection of miracles; it is an awesome wonder in all of its forms.
Lately I’ve also had what could be called a fascination with death. Maybe it’s because I’ve realized that time wounds all heels, like me; eventually those wounds are fatal. More likely it’s because of several close encounters with The Reaper himself over the past year and a half, including the passing of my father, just days from the 86th anniversary of his birth.
I’d like to think that I’ve come to a sort of emotional and spiritual peace with the process. Part of this acceptance is that – I now believe – the mind must provide us a sort of easing through this passage via visions … or a dream.
Dream 1: The Monarchs
This dream is a repeated re-visitation to a real life event.
I am 4 or 5 years old. It is early summer. My dad is working in the yard, and I am “helping” him. He’s perhaps mowing lawn, trimming trees, pulling weeds. I am not actually helping, of course: only watching him model adult male behavior.
A butterfly appears. It is beautiful. It flutters by. I am enthralled.
Now I am frightened. The butterflies bounce off me – off my face, my arms. In my little-boy brain the terror switch flips. I look and can see only butterflies swooping by; my view is largely obstructed by butterflies.
My dad realizes what’s going on. He senses my terror. He comforts me.
With a hug and whisper he tells me: “This is wonderful. You are experiencing a rare and special moment. This is the migration (what does that word mean?) of the Monarch butterfly to Canada.”
(“Canada” was some exceptional land to the north – like Oz – where my mother lived as a girl. She spoke of it often. Yes, of course, butterflies would want to fly there so they could be with the little girls of Canada, like my mum when she was young).
In his comforting embrace, together, we enjoy the spectacle of a million billion beautiful little creatures in flight, on a mission. It lasts but a few minutes. It is a singular experience of a lifetime.
It is a vision and experience I’ve been able to recall consciously. And one that pops into my dreams from time to time.
Dream 2: The Time Traveler
This dream is also based, I’m pretty sure, on a real life experience.
The real life experience: Way back in about 1990 we had only two young children. I was at work on a warm weekday summer afternoon. As my wonderful wife Audrey tells it, she was about to take the boys on a walk in our quiet townhouse neighborhood. She was fetching the classic Radio Flyer red wagon in the garage so she could pull Mark, the younger – about 2 years old – when he got tired. Aaron – the older, about 5 – was “helping” her and Mark was at the end of the driveway, waiting.
Suddenly a sports car came careening and screeching around the corner, roaring down the street. Audrey was helpless as the car turned wide, missed Mark by only a few feet and disappeared as rapidly as it appeared.
Audrey had that moment of panic and fear that only a parent can feel. Her fear was palpable even hours later when she told me after I got home (remember: no cell phones).
The time travel dream. My dream occurs either moments before or after this event. It is lunch time and I am walking down the street toward my family. Instead of the young me (the virile me, the me with hair) … it is the old me. The “me” from whenever I have the dream: 15, 20 or 25 years later. In my dream, I have time traveled to this exact day and minute for a reason.
My face is time worn. My hair is spotty and silvery. I walk slowly. I have the knowledge of all the hard times that my wife will endure from that moment in 1990 until the time of the dream. The countless surgeries, accidents, illnesses, disappointments, careless and thoughtless mistakes. Our arguments. Our enduring love and commitment.
She looks at me and recognizes me, – and she recognizes that something is off. “Joe? Did you come home for lunch? Is that you?”
I have only a few moments to comfort her. I am permitted but few words to give her a comfort that will last decades. I take off my hat and get up close so she can see that I am the Joe from the future, decades hence.
“No, I’m still at work. This is the me from far in the future. I’ve come to tell you something. Listen closely and never forget. Everything – EVERYTHING – will be OK.”
One last moment for us to exchange the-look-of-love. She is young and as beautiful as I remember her, even though a little scared. I am old, and saggy, and slow moving. It’s time for my exit.
“I have to go. I love you.”
I turn around and walk away. I’m not permitted so much as a glance back over my shoulder. I’m hoping and praying that I’ve made the most of our brief miraculous encounter. I just walk away and neither of us say anything more. And then … I … just … slowly … melt … away.
Dream 3: The Park
This recent recurring dream has no such direct link to a specific real experience. And still, it haunts me.
Of course we’ve had a third child. Although now 23, in the dream that child is about three years old. I take a summer afternoon off work to take him to a local park. For some reason, it is the Old Joe, about the age I am now, not the Young me when our son, Kurt, was three years old, around 1995. The park bears a strong resemblance to Scott Carpenter Park, in Boulder, CO.
We climb on monkey bars and on the rocket. We bounce on see-saws. I push him on the swings. What a beautiful, glorious day. We are both gleeful. Almost delirious. But it gets better.
More people show up. Dozens more. A tent goes up. Then hundreds more people with children appear. Clowns with painted faces, bright clothes and bright hair begin entertaining the countless children. There are brightly colored balloons, banners and clothes everywhere. The tent and banners have purple and pink polka dots. On a bandstand a musical group is playing delightful children’s music.
What a pleasant surprise! How were we so lucky to happen across this festival? Everybody is so interesting and having a good time. We are meeting such interesting people. And then, …
And then every parent’s greatest fear. My child!!! I can’t see, I can’t hear, I can’t find my child. And I’m in a huge crowd of complete strangers.
I try to yell out my child’s name: “Kurt”, but the name catches in my throat – “K—kkk!!!!!!!”
“Where are you?!?!!?”
No one is paying attention.
Over and over I try: “K—!!! Kkkkk!!!!”
If I whisper ever so softly, I can say it: Kurt!!! But no one hears that.
My child is nowhere. Lost in the enormous ever expanding crowd.
Frantically I run from person to person. Few seem to care. They ask what does my child look like? What was it wearing? “Oh shit. What was he wearing? Bright clothing. But everyone has bright clothing.”
I try to find someone in authority. I try to recruit people to set up a perimeter so that children cannot leave. In return for my effort I get – Absolutely No Cooperation.
I – have – TOTALLY – screwed up. Royally.
My child is gone. I am not capable of saying their name, nor even describing them.
But – everyone else is having such a wonderful day. The sun is out, the music is gay and all the colors are bright.
I am sweating and crying … and gasping and thrashing. What a way to wake up.
When I die, I’m really hoping for some version of the first two dreams.
Perhaps, if I’m lucky, when I pass, it will go like this: A monarch butterfly lights gently on my hand. How lovely. The monarch metamorphoses into my dad. Not the old frail man of recent years, but the young virile 30-something stud who patiently modeled and taught me important things. He comforts me, hugs me, and then whispers ever so gently … he explains that I’m experiencing a rare and wonderful once-in-a-lifetime event. Everything will be OK.
Joe Girard © 2015