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It feels like I’ve been poised at the end of a diving board, muscles tensed, concentration total, waiting for the moment of push-off—it never came. 

Such has been my near yearlong experience with hospice nurses and chaplains coaching appropriate measures of self-care, given my rare terminal illness—Interstitial Lung Disease with Rheumatoid Arthritis, its called—that again appears to have plateaued upon new limits.

True, I‘m ill, but not actively dying, but if I’m completely honest, an undercurrent of my mortality has been leeching vital energy from my psyche. Evidently one of my caregivers also fed into this disorder and fueled an untimely dependence upon her. Because she is no longer around, I feel more myself, still in my right mind, and able to make decisions for my ongoing needs.

Again, it’s about acceptance, Step One of Chronic Pain Anonymous. Funny, how that graced word consistently implodes internal tangles and opens skies above it where the sun brilliances the next step: to walk to the other end of the diving board, climb down the ladder, and wait for the next right step.

My relief is huge.

Around 11:35 P.M., I awoke with this dream:

The late morning sun glints upon long rows of black-suited priests wearing Roman collars and parading down the tree-lined-boulevard. Their stooped posture, shuffling gait, and sunglasses speak of exhaustion. Yet, they march, at times, grimacing. Crowds overflow the curbs freshly swept for this event. Afterwards, many restaurants will serve buffet lunches for everyone.

This curious dream gave me pause. The color black, associated with mourning and death, scintillates beneath the sun’s glare; it produces an almost ghoulish effect upon the black-suited priests wearing Roman collars. Despite tailored-made suits contrived to give them youthful appearances, they seem spiritless, but willing to participate. Who organized such a march, marshaled the crowds to watch, and prepared the festival afterwards is unknown. No one questions the appropriateness of the demonstration. It just is.

Yet, the dream seems to be a parody on priestly functioning: Instead of evidencing conversion of heart through prayer and humble service, the priests seem bent upon display and congratulations.

On a deeper level, however, the black-suited priests wearing Roman collars suggest my own aping for the priesthood, when much younger, even leaving the Catholic Church for one that would ordain women. Such foolishness bore no fruit, especially since my recertification with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains was due several years later.

 Not that I’ve not uncovered my own priesthood in subsequent years, one of stillness and learning, for which I’m most humbled.

Whatever the dream’s actual intent, however, there will a banquet with choice foods and juicy wines, as found in the prophet Isaiah, for those who choose as to participate.

“Once upon a time in a distant land, but not that far away, lived…” So opens fairy tales fraught with cosmic clashes between good and evil, useful for today’s conflict resolution if properly studied in depth; and so opens listeners’ imaginations, hungry for worlds mirroring their own. Life has always been hard, and still is.

So how did these fairy tales as we know them come about?

In nineteenth-century Germany the spread of literacy and the improvement of indoor illumination began usurping the role of itinerant storytellers carrying tales of mystery from village to village. Such had been their practice for hundreds of years. Into this changing world came Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, both philologists, who recorded and first published their tales in 1812; their volume fire-stormed collectors from other countries, worldwide, to do likewise.

It would be interesting to track the accretions to the fairy tale “The Two Brothers,” before the Grimm’s Brothers recorded it. Twenty pages long, it contains the classic elements found in fairy tales: good/evil, golden egg-laying bird, a King, a Princess, their castle, talking animals, a fire-spitting seven-headed dragon, a witch, an enchanted forest, magic potions, contests, and trickery—Even the use of numbering to facilitate the memory of the storyteller. This fairy tale could have ended in several places, but seamlessly, it continued on and satisfied its listeners, and still does.

Unlike the integrity of the Grimm’s Brothers cherished tales, our collectors of stories—journalists—play havoc with truth, their intent to rouse fear and manipulate imaginations, rather than ennoble them. I wonder which version of the spin-doctors’ palaver, if any, will be remembered one hundred years from now.

 

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