I died in my dreams last night. I don’t recall that ever happening before. We were in Paris, and German-speaking terrorists had been captured with a nuclear time bomb. WhenÂ I stumbled upon them they were handcuffed and laughing. They informed me in broken English that if I looked inside the freight container, I’d see that I had less than 10 minutes to live and that it was too late to escape the blast radius.
I called my parents as a ran back to the apartment my family was staying at about a mile a way. I spoke with my mom and dad, and ran so fast as to actually overshoot the street I needed to turn on and had to backtrack a bit. When I arrived it was a chaotic sceneÂ on the ground floor. The building was like a Victorian house with a wide, long front porch and adults milling about while kids ran here and there.
I found Erin and gathered the kids. I had them all, with me, eat a bite of aÂ tomato that a Messiah-like figure had promised would protect us. In eating this, he claimed, we would not die. Then I had everybody sit on a couch in the front room facing the bomb (so that we would all die instantly and not suffer), expressed my gratitude and love for them, and the bomb went off.
It was not painful. For the smallest instant, there was a flash and it seemed like things were collapsing. Then there was simply a void. Perhaps there were faint stars, but I mainly saw emptiness, like staring at a blank piece of grey paper. Â My body had disappeared. My consciousness was floating or hovering somewhere in time and spaceâ€”it had not ceased to existâ€”it just was.
And then I was back in Paris. I could see and hear workers, former professional soccer players turned maintenance workers, cleaning up wreckage and debris from the devastated city then ending their shift to go play a small-sided soccer match on a small, only partially constructed field. I was there with my familyÂ in, I think, corporeal form, and all was well.
I am a person who looks for thingsÂ in dreams. Not premonitions or omens, because I don’t believe dreams foretell anything. Rather, I think they can reveal a dreamer’s mental and emotional state and force a person to confront or think about things in ways that the day-to-day logical brain cannot. I’ve long found this helpful.
I’ve also long thought mostâ€”maybe allâ€”human fear reducible to existential fear, which is to say fear of death. It’s petrified me for some time, andÂ at the risk tagging the rest of humanity with my own limitations, I think it applies to nearly everyone. Just as there was no pain, physical or otherwise, in my dream last night, there was no fear either.
With apologies to my awesome friends for whom I have enormous respect, gratitude, and love, in my final minutes, I would be doing exactly what I did in my dream: Talking with and reassuring my family. I’d not really thought of it beforeâ€”and certainly not in these terms, but that’s what I’d do, and by extension, that’s where my priorities should lay.
“We’re spinning in our own little worlds now,” one my many friends named Jennifer told me yesterday. “We used to live in and focus on our extended families, then nuclear families, and now it’s just us, spinning in our own little worlds.” We might interact and care for those around us, but our conception of Who We Are is, at least in American society, based all around ourselves. (An aside: Want to live longer and be healthier? One thing you can do is be active in a strong (offline) social community wherein you truly invest your time and talent on others. Catch: This can’t be a chore, it hasÂ to be a way of life.) I think this has been far too true of me.
I attended a funeral service recently, something I utterly abhor. I am, as I like to say, attitudinally buoyant, meaning I might get down for a day or two, but I don’t stay down long. I’m usually back to cheerful optimism soon. Funeral services really pop the balloon, though. In this case, I couldn’t stop projecting myself as the widower and how awful that person must feel and how awful I would feel were I him. I think this is why we cry at funerals: For our loss or our loss as we project the circumstances for ourselves.
I’m moving into mid-life now at age 45, and though I’m AARP eligible in 5 years, that’s how I feel. Like I’m just moving into middle age, not like I’ve been there for awhile. I expect many, many more good years. (And it’s not like I’ve not taken some steps to insure them (he said with some pride): I’m playing soccer Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday; working out with a personal trainer at the Y on Monday and Wednesday; and doing Pilates and flexibility training on Friday. Saturday I get off for good behavior.) I’m not entirely sure what a mid-life crisis is, but I think it’s a reevaluation of previous beliefs and actions along with a strong desire to regain the glory of youth. Exercising more isn’t a bad manifestation of that, but I’m not sure it’s the only thing that’s coming down the pike.
I heard Alec Baldwin say once that he felt like the number of things on his bucket list was shrinking, but the stuff that was on there he really had to do.Â That resonated. I’m starting to watch the people around me die, and while I may never accomplish all that I, in my youth, thought that I would, what I need to get done, I really need to get done. I value my time now as much as I ever have.