-I wrote this piece in March of 2020. In so many ways, I could have written in yesterday; so much so that I am publishing it again with only minor modification.-
In my dream, the car breaks down at night in the dark country of old frame houses and curtain-less windows. It is at one of these that we knock, another woman and I; she is about my age but I cannot clearly see her face. The door is answered by a man, harmless, if dissolute, who offers us the attic bedroom for the night. He doesn’t need to say that it’s haunted; somehow that is known, but we accept the single mattress on the floor.
My companion is asleep instantly; I’m aware that whatever protection she confers comes from behind me, and I’m alone to face the ghost. I pull the covers over my face and I’m shouting, shouting that I know she’s there, but the malevolent presence is so heavy and close that I sit up, still shouting, and confront the wraith.
And for the briefest moment something gives in me and I am soft, filled with compassion, and she swells with warmth and humor, maternal and loving, and I know that fear has no hold on me.
Our current collective rolling juggernaut of fear will wear whatever crown you bestow upon it, be it disease and death, mass hysteria, sinister machinations, economic collapse, totalitarianism and servile obeisance, social chaos; whatever most terrifies you, it will become.
In that is its greatest gift: a looking glass.
It will reflect back to you the perfect place to begin.
I won’t pretend I wasn’t resisting this. I’m not scared of disease, for so many reasons, and when this began, (32 months ago and counting, in case you’ve forgotten), I felt like it didn’t really involve me. I was “beyond” the lesson.
Except there is no “beyond.” That feeling is a sign post; a message from the ego that “Hey, hi, I’m in here to get in the way until you do the work.” And on its heels came the breaking of the everything-wave; every gaunt, rag-clad specter in the psychic army bearing down. Would I ride this into transformation, or fight it?
In the next dream, I’m in a lighthouse museum, or perhaps the tower to a surveillance port in an old fort. I leave a well-lit room full of glass cases and enter a damp silo whose only light is from a window high above. The sky is bright and blue outside and there are tourists walking there. I begin to climb the metal staircase that is bolted in a spiral to the outside wall, but after a flight it closes off, and to ascend any further I must hang from the railing and step over a precarious gap.
This is a common motif in my dreams: impossible stairways and passages that I successfully navigate at first but continue to encounter until the absurdity becomes so evident that I can no longer proceed.
So which is it? Am I beyond my fear, or am I caught in a cycle of poorly learned lessons?
Just because the penny comes up heads 100 times, doesn’t change the probability the next time will be tails. Life was always this uncertain; I just never noticed. That reality is either terrifying or comforting depending on how many times I want to try to climb the impossible staircase. Two weeks to flatten the curve, two perilous injections to be allowed in society, two years until we are only allowed to eat bugs while our would-be overlords dine on filet mignon; then what? The only pretense is that we can know ahead of the moment of truth when our sojourns in the badlands ever end. And they don’t end until we are ready to embrace them.
Noah helmed the arc for forty days of flood. For forty days, Moses fasted, and Jesus wandered the desert. And me? I sat in a bed in Brigham and Women’s Hospital in floods and famines and wild lands. And then, for sixty more, I was confined to my home or walks on empty streets. I am not new to the world of masks and gloves and hand sanitizer, just new to their deification and weaponization.
I wasn’t supposed to be on the transplant unit for forty days. Scheduled for discharge, packed and ready to go after twenty-five, with blood counts recovered and meds ordered, my liver stopped functioning. My abdomen filled with fluid and the doctors told me they were going to put me on an experimental intravenous drug that required two more weeks of in-patient stay.
“I’m checking myself out.”
“I can’t keep you here,” the doctor said, “but I think you should stay. If you go home, you’ll need to go to the infusion center daily, if we can get them the drug, and you’ll need to be in constant contact.”
Of course I was going to stay; what else could I do? But I needed a moment of autonomy; a brief assertion that I was an actual person capable of making an actual choice, the primary agent who should be consulted on the plan, and not just a compliant cog in their process. (I dry-heave with terror at the thought of what the doctors might have forced on me had I been sick in 2020 instead of 2014 - I think it is unlikely I would be alive to write this.)
Like ascending the circular staircase, here I am again on the round-about, confronted with an un-passable gap: I do not consent to being part of a herd, decisions made for me and passed down from on high. Yet there is no stopping this momentum, and I can only respond, guided by my own reason and intuition, eyes wide open to absurdity and error and ignorance. All this is happening as me, woven from the same threads and into the same fabric.
This is an opportunity for transformation; I won’t turn my back on it. I won’t lose the forest of healing for the trees of pain. This cannot end until I learn what it has come to teach me, and I cannot learn it if I am waiting for the end.
Can you love this moment fully, absolutely? Can you cleave to the conviction that it should not be any other way?
Love the fear, and the fear becomes love. Within, I have been here before. Without, the ghosts await.