I had just hit snooze on the phone alarm a few minutes ago and was still lying there in that early morning half awareness. And I wasn’t thinking of it at the time, but I’d lit a nine-minute fuse that would burn down until that sound went off again. But gathering strength and will to pick up all the threads I’d laid down the night before and pull them into another morning, feeling those tasks and concerns pressing back in, I suddenly found myself talking to an old friend.
We were sitting outside in the clearing of a wooded area, very close together, face to face. It was golden hour, that hour before sunset when the light dims down to warm tones and slides in sideways with the texture and depth of long shadows. Behind his face I could see trees ringing the clearing and mountains beyond. The mountains were already cool blue shadow, but the trees still brilliant in the sun.
His face filled most of the frame though, in perfect focus, lit by that light. That’s what I remember, his face. Not what he was wearing or what we were sitting on or why or how we got there. In the strange way that dreams always start in media res, in the middle of things, I didn’t know how our conversation started or what we were talking about. And now, I can’t even remember what he was saying, only how he was saying it—calmly and earnestly, leaned forward and looking right in my eyes with a steadiness that hid nothing. Or cared to. And I remember he was making such sense, that between the words, tone, and eye contact, I was mesmerized and comforted. Even before I knew I needed to be.
I wasn’t thinking so at the time, but now I realize what a role reversal it was. My friend died three years ago, took his own life, and as his pastor first and friend later, much of our time together was spent with his questions on the table, with me trying to help answer and counsel. But here he was looking straight at me with a dense gravity and assurance that made me trust whatever he was saying about whatever we were talking about.
It was all so real. I knew it was a dream as he was talking, after all, it was Lenny, but it felt more intensely real than most waking moments. I suppose that’s my fault, not making more waking moments as real as I allowed this one to be. His voice was exactly the same as I remembered, his face the same as I saw him last or on the picture from his memorial program that still hangs on a framed cork board over my desk. I can still see his eyes and texture of his skin and feel that assurance coming from him.
Something welled up that I’d not processed fully in three years. I hadn’t seen him in the last few weeks before his death. When people are really intent on taking their lives, they don’t talk about it; they just quietly make their plans. I knew he was hurting and depressed. We had been talking, and I’d worked to get him into a new job, to maintain connection and contact, but I never saw it coming.
He took a breath in his monolog, my turn to speak, but all the emotion that hadn’t played through came out with the words and squeezed my throat, stung and blurred my eyes as all I could manage was, I miss you so much.
And he looked at me with a soft expression, but with no hint of sadness or regret or even sympathy really. Just a knowing, I think. I can’t imagine what he felt coming up to those last moments of his life. How he must have wept or cried out. The pain he felt. And yet now in the face of my pain, he was just completely present and calm, undisturbed, not drawn into my grief, but not separated from it either. It was as if he was saying, yes, I know these feelings, but there’s another reality I’m living now that you can live too, not sometime in the future, but right now, whenever you want, if you want. Even as I was still unable to speak, I could see his assurance the way a man overboard sees the life preserver floating just there—still out of reach, but just there.
And he seemed about to reply when the alarm went off again. I didn’t realize it was the alarm at first, but something was tearing into the moment, and the grayness started moving in from the edges of the frame dissolving the mountains and trees until only Lenny’s face was left, draining of color. I realized what was happening in a mixture of anger and grief, trying to hold on, to hear what he might say, but the alarm would be relentless, and I knew it wouldn’t stop until all was gone, so I let him go.
But his face remains. I can still see that expression, and though I have to pick up all those threads today, repossess those concerns and pressures, from his new perspective, the student has become my teacher this morning, and I’ll try to follow where he’s leading: in the direction of an assurance that all really is well.
Several calls have buzzed in as I write. I’ve been ignoring them, needed to get this down before the memory faded as dreams do. Time to let go of the dream and get back to the day…take calls and go talk to someone, anyone, with rock solid eye contact and a presence that both connects and transcends—fully in the moment and through the moment at the same time.
It’s time to cultivate an expression on my face that says more than unremembered words that all is really well. That we can know all is well any time we want by making the moment as fully present as any lucid dream…
…if we want.