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“No, Liz, I’ve never heard a patient say that. Usually, they’re unconscious or subdued by drugs when that happens,” said the hospice nurse as she pulled a chair closer to mine in the study, filled with sunlight. I’d never shared this with anyone, and she seemed receptive, given her years of experience. Her round eyes reminded me of a toddler’s wonder tracking a Monarch butterfly by the seacoast.

“Indeed, I’m happy for you,” she said, still moved by my experience as she unzipped her bag and pulled from it what she would need. “Sounds like it wasn’t the first time. Tell me more.”

I nodded. “Last year I began noticing it at intervals—usually afternoons, during nap times. The whir of the concentrator for my oxygen gentled my eyes as they shut down.

“On the threshold of sleep, though, my body became something else: my arms immobile at my side, my legs slightly bent at my knees, my mind emptied of chatter. No sense data. No colors. Just bliss. Only rhythmic breathing in my chest evidenced life. As these episodes increased, the less time I had to wait for what I began calling, the sinking.”

“That’s fascinating,” she said after jotting information in her computer. “I’m always glad when asked to come by. I learn so much—Did anything else happen yesterday?”

“Yes, the sinking lasted over three hours, longer than ever before, and I found myself practicing going to heaven—I never did that before, but I’m still here.”

Still masked, I felt her smile as she blew me a hug and left.

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

It is evening. I stop by the recovery center and discover it vacated, in disorder: ashtrays filled with cigarette and cigar butts, food remnants spoiling on plates and bowls, magazines and silverware strewn on the floor, armchairs pulled from tables stained with water and carved initials, rain splatting window sills, damp carpet beginning to smell. On my own, I decide to clean up the place and locate a bucket, mops, rags, and cleaning agents near the kitchen. Not sure where everything goes, I’ll have to guess. Later, everything is in order. I’m proud of my work and return home.

Again, in the dream, energetic and strong, I find myself in the foyer of the recovery center; its depths prod me to the disorder therein, shadow material, of which I’m unaware: pride, anger, greed, and envy, in all its expressions; shadow material triggered by others. On my own, I remain largely content. Since no one is around to help with this Herculean task, it’s up to me to remedy this deplorable situation.

But my discovery of tools: a bucket, mops, rags, and cleaning agents, near the kitchen, evidence an invisible helper—Perhaps the kitchen’s fire that animates my labor. Strange that I seem to know what to tackle next and do so.

The resulting shine within the recovery center, a sacred place of healing,will greet its guests in the morrow. I’m proud of my work.

This blog’s contrast with “The Unsettling Dream” of a few days ago suggests my fickleness in fully embracing the gentle discipline of the arduous path opening before of me—More correction for which I’m grateful.

Green Wheat Fields (1890), an oil-on-canvas rendering by the Dutch Vincent Van Gogh has inspired me, this month’s offering from my kitchen calendar; it is one of many wheat fields that Van Gogh painted during his short life, the later ones reflecting his revolutionary use of color, brushstrokes loaded with thick pigments, and the dynamic in-breaking of life into the ordinary. The viewer cannot not be involved.

Van Gogh’s lifelong obsession was to use his painting as a vehicle to unite the world of sense data, his spirituality, and his evolving art. To approach this monumental task, he relied upon the direction he received from his unconscious. So fierce was his output that people viewed him as mad. Abysmal self-care practices, depression, and drinking eventually led to psychiatric placements at St. Remy and at Auberge Ravoux where he continued painting through his open window.

But why paint numerous wheat fields, in all conditions—a whole series of them? you may ask, even two months before his death from the effects of an unsuccessful self-inflicted gunshot wound?

Life-long studies of scripture had opened Van Gogh to its psychic feeding. Through them, he grasped the metaphor of wheat as representing humanity’s cycles of life and death: a celebration of life and its diminishment, an example found in Jesus’s parable of The Sower (Mark 4:3-8).

I imagine Van Gogh muttering, “The next painting must work. I’m getting close.” But it never happened. Too painful to paint the critical canvas with its inspiring legacy for humanity, he chose to look elsewhere, in death. However, his legacy lives after him, even on kitchen calendars around the world.

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