Saturday, January 22, 2011

With 24 hours to live.

I just figured out why I'm still awake at 4 AM tonight. Sure, I've got that adrenaline rush that naturally comes when I stay up too late and my body forgets that I'm tired... but in the back of my mind, the real reason is that I'm sort of nervous about dreaming.

See, I had one of the most terrifying dreams of my life last night. And I'm about to tell you all about it, because I think it taught me some important things.

The dream didn't specify how I knew this, but in my dream, I somehow knew that I was going to die in exactly 24 hours. The entire dream took place during that one last day, the day of dreaded certain finality: the day that I knew would be my last in mortality.

Sometimes dreams have very vivid kinetic images, very memorable stories and events and information. This one didn't. My memory of this dream is certainly vivid, but only in an emotional way. The specifics of this dream's story did not matter; all that stuck with me is how it felt.

I remember that I spent most of my dream-time sitting down at tables and speaking with people, like family members or friends. These conversations were long, expressive, significant, and heartfelt. I don't remember what was said, or to whom I spoke, but I remember spending my time sharing feelings of appreciation, affection, and apology. I remember feeling a burden lift from my shoulders as I told loved ones how much gratitude I felt for the things they had done for me, and how much I wish I had helped them or listened to them more often - and more earnestly.

Two strong opposing emotions kept battling within me for dominance:

On one hand, I felt a pressing sense of urgency, like there were more things I needed to get done before my time was spent. More people to see, things to say, experiences to have, projects to wrap up, assignments to finish - and even dishes to clean.

On the other hand, I felt a strong sense of calm, a feeling that insisted I enjoy the here and now, that I let the current moment envelop my entire consciousness. This feeling pushed all the worry out of my head, adamantly refusing to let me fret about other tasks that needed to be fulfilled. I had too little time to worry about to-do lists, and the little time I had deserved to be relished and fully experienced.

No matter which of the two emotions listed above was "winning," at any given time I felt a third emotion, constantly and powerfully: regret.

I felt regretful that I had been so easily distracted, so easily manipulated, and so easily frightened in life. I felt regretful for the harsh words or overly critical judgments that I'd tossed casually at other human beings. I felt regretful that I had spent so much of my precious time focusing on materialistic or trivial pursuits. In short, I felt like I had not given enough.

At the same time, there was a hint of anger. I felt angry that it was my time so soon, and that I had not yet received the opportunity to marry and start a family. I felt angry that I did not have control over when I left this life. In short, I felt like the universe had not given me enough.

However, despite the regret and anger, not all of my emotions were negative. I did feel a strange sense of serenity throughout the whole experience, a feeling that seemed to say, "it is all right. You cannot change the past and you cannot control the future, but you can live right now, so you had better focus on that."

And I think that was the message. I am not usually one to interpret my dreams as messages, but perhaps I was supposed to learn from this one. Life isn't about checklists, and we shouldn't spend our time worrying about money, or things, or tasks. And life isn't about the universe "owing" you anything, either: the anger I felt in my dream was unjustified, and I knew it.

Life is about the relationships we build with other human beings, the relationship we build with God, and the experience of, well, of experience. If we don't stop to recognize that once in a while, we might let weeks or months or decades go by without feeling genuinely happy, genuinely home, or even genuinely human. Maybe that is what terrifies me most about this dream: the end of my life was approaching, and I didn't even feel like I had given my allotted time the attention it deserved. I felt like a child getting his toy taken away and thinking, "I wanted to play with that! But I forgot I had it."

After all, haven't you ever looked up while driving and thought: "Oh! I forgot those mountains were there. They are beautiful. Why do I not notice them every day?" I know I have done that. Hopefully from now on we can try to notice the mountains more often.