Speak To Me In Your Dreams, I Am Listening
Goodbye Old Friend, 20″X23″ Acrylic, paper, antique book pages and cardboard on panel with original poetry, 2005, Stuart Sheldon
“Speak to me in your dreams. I am listening.” Henry Miller
A friend of mine was a teenager when he lost his dad. In his early thirties, my friend told me, “I dreamed of my dad last night. It doesn’t happen often, but I always love when he visits me in my dreams. I get to see him and talk to him and catch up.” I’d never thought about a dream as such a critical interaction. But, of course, in this context, it is everything.
“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.” Albert Camus, The Stranger
I have not lost a parent. But I imagine, as Camus implies above, one can lose all sense of time and place in those moments just after one of your genetic ties to the earth is severed, and one of the only constants in your life disappears forever.
There is no rhyme nor reason for how life works. Though I felt ready for a child at 29, I was 44 when my first was born. Of course, prior to that moment, I was the child, the one cared for. My genetic relationships went only in one direction, upward. Then, I became a caregiver and took my place in the middle of the generational spectrum. The final of these stages occurs when a parent dies, and again, I revert to a one-directional relationship, this time downward toward my child (and his child, if I’m lucky).
Each of these transitions is earth-shaking. None of us is ready for them. They happen when they happen, and we deal as best we can.
I remember, the first night home with our first son. Mind you, we struggled for over two years to have a baby, and feared in our souls we might ultimately fail. Still, that first night home, our new roommate screeched uncontrollably, his face a bright red heirloom tomato with no teeth and squinty eyes. “What do we do,” I implored my wife, pacing the bedroom floor with Kai swaddled just like they showed us at the hospital. “I don’t know. I just don’t know,” Jodi barked, three hours into the maelstrom, her eyes bloodshot and shell-shocked. Nothing worked. Kai screamed for five hours, and we ended the night exasperated and sleepless. “Whose baby is this and when are they gonna come get it?” I teased my wife the next morning, my fingers like talons around a cup of diesel-fueled coffee.
Leveled off at cruising altitude
Of course, we do eventually gain our balance. We are a highly evolved species, trained in our cells to keep calm and carry on. The upshot of these seismic events is a megadose of wisdom infused directly into our spines (with a heavy-gauge needle). Our ability for love and gratitude increases exponentially from both death and birth.
A dear friend lost her father last week. As is to be expected, she is reeling. But he’s my dad. How can he not be here, I imagine her thinking. That’s what I would be thinking. She told me he was a great father, and she loved him deeply. If my children say that upon my death, I will have lived a worthwhile life. I can testify that my friend’s dad raised a truly exemplary daughter who is testament to the content of his character.
These stark moments of transition are the price of admission for living … and loving.
Sunday was my mom’s 75th, and we celebrated her amazingness properly. Fifty years ago, at 25, she made me exist. Now, I am 50, with 2 wee lads. My boys stand at the bottom of the mountain. I stand in the middle. And mom triumphs near the top. We keep hiking upward, looking ahead and back to check on one another, to be sure we’re all safe.
The journey is exhilarating, the views breathtaking, the milestones humbling and deeply gratifying.