I had a most curious dream the other night, deeply moving.
In the dream, my gorgeous ex-fiancee, my dear lady wife of forty years, had been told that she only had a week to live. So we flew to Fiji, where we lived for years. We rented a room in that most historic of buildings, the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva.
In my dream the hotel was right on the edge of a gorgeous calm lagoon. She sat down and started meditating in front of a big picture window. Outside the window, the lagoon water had that lovely turquoise blue of the tropical ocean over a shallow reef. She looked so peaceful, perfectly serene, completely at ease.
I was in total turmoil.
I left and wandered out into the main room of the hotel. There was a table full of pastries. I was weeping, weeping without surcease. A hotel employee came up to me. He said “Would you like a pastry?” as though that would cure everything. I ate one. It was deliciously sweet.
I thought “How can something taste so good, and my wife is dying?” It was unbearable. Pastries were still sweet, people around me were laughing, the world was going on, and she wouldn’t go on with it. How could that be?
I left, I couldn’t take it. I went into town, but there was nothing there. I jumped into the back of a dump truck to ride back to where she was staying. When I got back the bed of the dump truck lifted up and dumped me out on the beach, back into my life.
It also dumped out a couple of newspapers. I read one. There was nothing in it about my wife dying. The unfair world continued turning.
I went for a walk along the coast. Even though it was Fiji, the coast was lava. The lava was sharp, a’a lava like they have in Hawaii. I was barefoot. The pain was almost welcome. It brought me out of my head into the moment. The coast was stunning. As always, as I walked I was awed by the beauty of the tropical ocean.
As I was making my way back to the hotel, I looked up, and glory of glories, my dear lady was walking toward me. She said that she couldn’t stay meditating in the room, she had to walk. I was overjoyed to see her, I ran towards her …
That was the dream.
As to what it meant to me, I divide life into three periods. Early youth is from birth to thirty-five. Middle youth is from thirty-five to seventy. And late youth? That’s everything after seventy … so at seventy-one, I’m in my late youth, and my gorgeous ex-fiancee, being seven years younger, is in her middle youth. And except for the usual facts of advancing age, we’re both in perfect health.
I suppose that when a man is in his late youth as I am, it’s natural to dream about death. But this was the first time I’ve ever dreamed about death, whether of myself or of anyone close to me.
And what did it mean? As soon as I woke up, I had the very clear thought, “I gotta up my game with my sweetheart!”. But it wasn’t like I had to change large things in my relationship, give her big presents or something. It was more that I had to stop living as though that dear woman and I were immortal. If living as though you’re immortal is not one of the Seven Deadly Sins, we ought to add it to the list.
No, it’s more about the little things, the everyday things. Like when I’m up to my ears in my scientific research, my brain hopelessly lost in Fourier Transforms and climate datasets and linear regressions, and she wants to talk about some dang thing or other, and I get all curmudgeonly and say “What do you want? in an unpleasant tone … huh? Where’s the joy in that? Where’s the support in that? Why can’t I smile and ask what she wants, set aside my endless thoughts and attend to the present?
That was the kind of change the dream was telling me to make.
Now, I don’t expect that the change will happen in an instant. I grew up a cowboy, and now I’d describe myself as a somewhat reformed cowboy. I went to the Betty Ford rehab clinic for recovering cowboys, and I enrolled in their 12-step program … but every time I get up to the fifth or sixth step, my foot lands on a banana peel and before I know it I’ve tumbled back down to the first step. So I can see it will be a long path, but at least I’m making the first moves.
Because as a result of my dream, I’m choosing to do what the country song says, to live like I was dying …
He said “I was in my early forties
With a lot of life before me
And a moment came that stopped me on a dime
I spent most of the next days
Looking at the x-rays
Talkin’ ’bout the options
And talkin’ ’bout sweet time”
I asked him “When it sank in
That this might really be the real end
How’s it hit you
When you get that kind of news?
Man, what’d you do?”
He said “I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said “Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying”
My best to you all, dear friends—enjoy the day, tell your family you love them, dream your dreams, remember to do the little things, for the long dark night is surely coming …