Just once I’d like to go forwards when trapped in an out-of-control vehicle rather than helplessly watching my starting point recede at a pulse-pounding rate. Experiencing one’s last moments backwards might seem fitting, a lingering last look in remembrance of what will forever be lost, but in this instance it’s constantly supplanted by a white-knuckled scream. My latest nightmare was depressingly similar to others and yet possessive of a more dramatic, if not traumatic, finale replete with an out-of-body experience, and it all started with the dropping of a pen.
In that odd way where dreams sometimes mimic reality, everything that followed hinged upon one seemingly inconsequential act. The driver of the vehicle in which I was a passenger parked on a steep hill so his wife could look at a family homestead far below. They got out while I remained in the back seat ruminating over whether the driver had set the brake and, if he had, how well it might be adjusted. Twilight was gathering shadows in the green forested valley like a rising tide, the sky shading to a rich purple hue. When the woman asked for a pen to jot down a note, I cracked the door and reached out but the severe incline snapped the door shut on my arm. The pen slipped from my grasp and fell.
And fell for what seemed an eternity, tumbling in slow motion as if the air had congealed into a viscous soup, the pen’s downward trajectory the harbinger of a doom that had befallen me. It struck the pavement with a faint click, bounced, somersaulted once, struck again, its imperceptible sound wave all that was needed to disengage the parking brake and set the vehicle in motion. A blur of sickening motion, screams and shouts, two horrified faces dwindling, the crunch of gravel, disengagement from the earth. My future, I thought, is behind me, and I was swallowed in darkness.
Later, or what passed for later in the dreamscape, I climbed from the valley and approached a small knot of people standing beside the road. Their utter disregard for my presence was clarified by emergency lights punching through my incorporeal being as if I had become smoke. I didn’t feel dead; indeed, I felt the same as ever, only a little dismayed that such a transformative process had gone unexperienced.
Dismay was not what I expected. Complicating matters was a quotation I stumbled across the next day from the actor and playwright Noel Coward. “We have no reliable guarantee that the afterlife will be any less exasperating than this one, have we?” he asked, perhaps as a rejoinder for the pie-in-the-sky, blissful afterlife we’ve been led to believe was our just reward. Funny how there’s never a glimmer of doubt that things will be better. The thought that we might wake on the other side to find ourselves still setting the alarm clock, still going to work, still paying our bills and still needing cavities filled was shocking enough that I settled into a deep funk. It was just one more thing to worry about.
Friends e-mailed telling of their own struggles with faith. Many had opted out of organized religion for a more personal, if not bewildering, search for spirituality. One man turned atheist while others were somewhere between the two in a sort of theological limbo. But if being freed from the well-defined tenets and doctrines of Christianity secured a less restrictive sense of divinity, and perhaps even a broadening awareness of how other cultures perceived God, life and its aftermath, it came with the burden of uncertainty. Most admitted to having fewer answers and more questions.
One friend, Mark, enrolled in a spirituality class that included past life analysis and channeling. At first skeptical and then grudgingly accepting, he had grown to trust his spirit guide to a degree I found inspiring and not a little scary. So many priests, pastors, imams, rabbis, lamas, gurus, swamis, shamans and charlatans profess to know the one true way that any reasonable adult is left wondering which among them is dead wrong. It’s not inconceivable that they’re all deceived. As I warned my friend, I trust nobody who claims to have all the answers.
Nevertheless, he went to bat with the spirit world for me, asking his guide about Sheba. According to Bill (channeled through a female medium), she was still with us but disappointed that I couldn’t sense her presence. “He is not willing to sense it,” the guide said.
He went on to say that she had not been reincarnated into the wild but remained acceptable to the notion of returning in a domesticated rabbit. “Give it a few months,” the guide said, “and then start looking—but not before June.”
“Sheba was a familiar?” Mark asked.
“Definitely,” the guide said.
Somehow it sounded too pat, too convenient. It’s what I would have said, given the chance.
The essence of spirituality, I felt, was little more than grasping at whatever life preserver happens to float past. Yet one evening I was climbing the stairs to the bedroom when I recalled as I often do the moment of Sheba’s passing, how her body slumped in my hands and grew still. The recollection usually blindsides me when I’m alone or late at night after the house has grown quiet enough to hear only the beating of my heart, and always exacts its toll. And even as I staggered under its weight I recalled Mark’s admonition of Sheba’s continued presence, and rousing myself imagined running my fingers through her luxurious fur, how she loved to be cuddled, and without effort fell headfirst into the moment and let it carry me forward. Her presence was as real as the books on the shelves or the stairs under my feet, though tangible only to senses other than sight. However, whyever, she was there, and in bidding her goodnight some hard thing inside broke free.
In the morning I rose refreshed, and reaching for my pants froze in place. There on the pants leg was a tuft of silver rabbit fur, silky soft, redolent of Sheba’s scent. Another awaited on my office chair as if deliberately set in place.
You tell me what’s going on. Tell me, if you can.