Walt Whitman appeared in the best dream I ever had. About twenty years ago, I had the persistent shroud of depression despite treatment and was also a bit broken hearted over love unrequited. I had dropped out of college because I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of managing my time effectively and setting the goals necessary to complete my degree. I was working retail, too, which I found so miserable that I felt my time in the store should count as credit for time served in Purgatory.
I felt hopeless, but then I had a dream that was like a thunderclap of grace. In the dream I was walking on an Israeli beach with Walt Whitman, who looked rather apostolic. He told me that all is not either good or evil, but there is also folly. He recommended patience and compassion in dealing with folly, which can be mistaken for evil.
Then I seemed to be beamed into a review of my life akin to common stories of near death experiences. In my life review, a voice told me that in life we see through a glass darkly and that this was a chance for me to see my life as it is seen in Heaven. As I watched interludes from my life, I saw no reason for sadness, regret or strife. I watched what had seemed to be awful misfortunes in my life as a parent proudly watches a baby learn to walk. Even what was regrettable was still watched with love.
I cherish the memory of this dream as something that has helped sustain me through the years since. From time to time, I feel a moment of the ineffable peace, love and grace from that dream, and I am reassured that all will be well.
Some dreams are the opposite of a nightmare. I call them blessed dreams. My first blessed dream happened at the dusk of my teenage years. It was brief and involved my great aunts Ruth and Edna. This dream was exceptionally lucid, with a false awakening that made it seem even more real. While it is well established that very unusual things can be dreamed, their appearance was rare indeed. I have never met Ruth and Edna because they died in a car accident along with my great grandpa back in 1936, and I have only seen their death portraits.
In the dream, I walked into the long hallway of my parents’ house, and Ruth and Edna were bouncing a ball back and forth at the opposite end. The ball and their white dresses were embedded with an ethereal glitter. Seeing them provoked the most intense ambivalence I have ever felt, awake or asleep. I was shocked at their presence, but I was also overwhelmed by the profound joy they radiated. Before they noticed me, I realized I must be dreaming and forced myself awake because the emotion of this dream was so strong it could be withstood for just a brief time, or so it seemed at the time
There is a coda to this first blessed dream. When the fatal car accident happened back in 1936, my great grandpa’s extended family could not be found. The identity of his parents or siblings was a mystery until this year. I began building a family tree because I had taken a couple of DNA tests designed to find relatives and estimate ethnicity (23andme and AncestryDNA). At first, I had no close matches that revealed my great grandfather’s family. I mentioned my predicament to a friend who unfortunately passed away a week later. Now I get to the part of this story that almost begs disbelief, but I suppose that the simple explanation may be that I had all the information I needed but my dreaming mind was able to sort through it to offer a solution. I next had a blessed dream in which my recently departed friend told me, “You will find him with his mother.”
Right after I woke up, I looked once again at my great grandpa’s marriage certificate. I considered that it was possible that he was not born with the surname he used at the time of that marriage, so I began my search again with a focus on his mother’s first and maiden name. Within an hour, I discovered that my great grandfather was a man who disappeared from Minneapolis in 1923 and that he used a different last name for the remaining 13 years of his life. My extended family helped me contact the descendants of his first family, who I am happy to report also did DNA testing to help confirm my great grandpa’s real identity.
I relish vivid dreams, whether good or bad. Occasionally I am gifted with what I call a blessed dream, one that has moments or entire plots infused with a degree of happiness that is only fleeting in waking life. Some of these dreams seem to take on the quality of religious or meditative ecstacy. While I have heard the theory that dreams are wish fulfillment, I think the blessed dreams are more than desire. I do not know their origin. They could be feelings that the business of living has tempered out of us, like the inverse of a tantrum. It is possible that socialization has tamed away some good along with the bad. With that aside, I admit that I believe the blessed dreams are significant enough for reflection.
Last night I had a blessed dream about one of my aunts. In this dream, I was talking to her in a sparsely furnished room, almost like a 1940’s version of an efficiency apartment. There was nothing in this apartment that was made after her birth. All had the slightly hardboiled, worn and windswept character of the years right after WWII. As she approached me, she looked to be lit from within, aglow with grace and good. It also looked liked she had been considering something bittersweet, like a hint of mourning come back from the grief of long ago.
As dreams are elusive to waking memory, I recall little of my conversation with her. She showed me a black and white photo I hadn’t seen of my greatparents standing in front of a car from the 1930’s. She told me that no one has that picture anymore. Then I felt a great amount of love as we parted.
I have had a few dreams lately about relatives in which their good natures are made manifest. In real life it seems that over the years I repeatedly lose touch with my extended family despite that I care about them a great deal.