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At 7:15 A.M., I awoke with this dream:

A very old nun is dying in her infirmary cell, its door closed until this morning when I noticed it.

This dream recalled my experience as a young nun with first vows, newly assigned to the community’s 12-grade Academy in New Orleans. It was August 1963. I was asked to take my turn praying by the bedside of a comatose old nun. The sister infirmarian saw my distress and explained features of the dying process, underway: irregular breathing, death rattle, sunken cheeks, blue feet, mottled arms resting atop the thin bed sheet. But there was no prayer that afternoon; instead I watched the oscillating fan wrap humid sighs around the old nun’s nightcap, tied under her chin.

Long years passed before squeamishness around the dying lessened, but that that would happen to me was kept at bay, even while working with hospice patients.

However, this morning’s dream appears to be another invitation to explore death, up close—my own. Weakness, difficulty formulating words, shortness of breath, need for oxygen, nightly cocktails of morphine and Lorazapan, Miralax for my bowels, decreased appetite—all speak of what’s coming. No longer can the death of my body be denied through the maintenance of my daily routine, the last vestige of control. I’m still supported by spirited caregivers, my new coaches into the unknown, one day a time.

It’s about letting go, about falling into the arms of God as others have done before me.

 

 

At 6:30 A.M, I awoke with this corrective dream:

Winter’s cutting winds knifed my cheeks as I headed toward church and its Sunday’s service. Inside the dimly lit vestibule, I pushed open the oak-paneled doors and slid into the last pew and lowered my eyes and waited. Only a handful of worshipers also waited. Footfalls upon the hardwood floor startled me. Without greeting me, relatives waited until I moved over, then sat down. Within a short span, more relatives joined them, until the breath of a double-belted crone, now sitting next to me, nauseated me. She grimaced as I crossed in front of her and moved to another pew.

 In this dream, there is no life, no Eros, no color. Death’s imprint cackles in uproar, spits nasties within psyches, and enervates resolve. Even worshippers resemble bleached corn-husks, forlorn in frozen fields, yet page dog-eared hymnals for sustenance. Indeed, Death reigns supreme in this dream.

So why has my Dreamer cast me in this story? What more is there still to learn?

True, I’ve spent decades searching for ultimate meaning in churches, in dream work, in the tomes of erudite philosophers and theologians, in study travels to prehistoric sacred sites around the Western world. Yet after the initial élan of each exploration, there was still another project to pursue the Ineffable.

So perhaps the Dreamer reveals the grief in my psyche over what was. True, my lifelong pursuits have carried me afar and that is laudable. But beyond the pale of these moments of ultimate meaning lies something else, far more profound, impossible of conception by the human psyche. This is the Ultimate Truth to which I’m called.

I pray to be faithful.

It is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in this broken world.

from Red Bird (2009), by Mary Oliver

Such words zing rhythms within creek bottoms, ooze exhilaration into hidden recesses of psyche, trickle down arroyos, and imprint joy upon freckled noses. Such has been my experience reading Mary Oliver’s poetry over the years.

Of special significance are these poetic words from Red Bird in the wake of last night’s absence of dreams. The dark has never been so dark. Within its grip, I felt throttled, locked within a turnabout, tumbled about in a washing machine—there was no surcease as hours limped across the face of the clock in my bedroom. Nor did exercises impinge upon the madness. Nor did prayer to Whomever, Whatever. Dry eye precluded reading. Only dawn’s whispers broke the spell and released me within exhaustion that clung like the virgin’s bower vine, sweetening fences, trellises.

Such agitation bespeaks of grief, a first for me, and leaves me with questions: Is it appropriate to dull such a trouncing with Haldol or go without and experience the lessons, therein? And what were those lessons? Certainly my powerlessness was paramount—It’s one thing to speak of it, even write about it, but another to experience it in the marrow of my bones.

Could this be the first of other thrashings, still to come, before my transition?

Yet, in this morning’s dawn my aliveness thrums. True, my old body and the world are broken, but no matter. There will be healing as Mary Oliver intuits in her poem: it just has to be held to our hearts—Song happens.

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