By day we bushwhacked the Autumn forest as we always have, seeking the views from the bluffs, the odd snag or boulder that needed pushing over, fleeting glimpses of the elusive wildlife (well, not so elusive -- we educated ourselves in shooing moose from our path when a cow and her calf blocked our way on one afternoon's wander), and color in all the leaves above and below us. We paddled the perimeter of our pond and plunged our sweaty bodies in its fiery cold water after arduous hikes. Of roaring, celebratory fires consuming hard-earned fuel there were several (one of them a real testament to skill and will), and we admired the night skies, with an early waxing moon and, in one fortuitous post-midnight pee break, an impossibly glorious, horizon-to-horizon skyful of stars that only a remote place can offer. Our fall trip.
But also nightly (and to be honest, on more than one afternoon), we fumbled with a new experience - a cabin. The day it blew rain and fog without end, we were glad of its shelter, which provided more than mere comfort -- it gave us a way to be together and interact without tedious struggle, and with misery's blinders lifted. The woodsy glow at night, the frame of a doorway to set off the experience of setting off for the day -- worthy sensations all. And to cook comfortably, and do dishes in heated water at a standup sink.......! Sheer luxury! And yet the comfort was uncomfortable. We chafed at its confines and fretted over what our being there might say about our character. Old farts grown soft........ We avoided mirrors.
Luxury, though, was not its salient virtue, especially with the notable controversy attached. Cozy, rather, was its greatest gift. A table out of the wind around which to gather, to talk more than to eat, bunks that coddled aged backs and harked us back to childhood. A kind of together that separate cars and separate tents and separate habits had eroded. We read aloud from the log of the place, sometimes crying with laughter at the genius or idiocy of those who'd been there before us. Drowsy listeners begged another passage, and some of us read until the chuckling responses had dwindled and become snores, evidence that a good, droning bedtime story still has power beyond our oft-bemoaned years. The wood of the place had that kind of feeling to it. And it seemed to invoke dreaming.
The first night we all slept 12 hours straight. During the nasty weather that followed the very next day, we napped, hard on the heels of that Protean sleep. As all of our regular lives were in such fast-forward overdrive, the chance to eke back a few notches from exhaustion was understandable. But we've never done Olympic sleeping marathons before. And as we gathered for dinner and talked (sometimes outdoors, to our credit), we heard from each one of us tales of really out there dreams. And this one is mine. It's not wholly original, but it is, to me, magically holy. A kind of second coming story. But not like that......
It's a movie in format and feel. I dreamed it knowing I was both watching, and in, a film, with a definite sense of cinematographic composition. Alas, I woke too soon and missed the "end" (Michael's puny bladder sending him off into the night through the creaky door), and I also somehow missed the opening credits, maybe some earlier scenes. There's only this one scene, really, but I can give a kind of brief prologue nonetheless.
It is the near (but not too near) future. Around our planet, organized religion has effectively ground to a halt, fallen prey to the weary wars and resultant disillusionment of fully globalized and aware people unable to ignore the hypocrisy of structures for belief which have failed to unite, wounding as much as they heal. Note: this is not the waking me on a soapbox speaking a point of view, just the sense of what anyone in this dream world would know reading the news of the years before this moment.
Few people gather for services anymore, and riots have burned most buildings and symbols. Though to call the angry actions of the recent decades riots is to imply a purposeful rage -- this violence has been sadder, more desperate than that. But it has still laid waste a great deal of what religion had built.
Occasionally, some still do gather, though.
My dream -- I am wandering down a hillside in what is otherwise a green and beautiful countryside toward a ruined Christian church where a few people have gathered to attempt a service. Such efforts are still made, but there is little commitment, either on the part of the congregation or by those who serve as clergy. Rather, habit, and a kind of futile hope, bring them to these places. It's all they know to do. These infrequent gatherings often attract others who come not for the makeshift service, but rather for the collective contact with people that is now itself rare. It is as if the dying out of religious gatherings had instilled a societal shame in any ritualized gathering. There is a post-apocalyptic feeling, just without the classic apocalypse. The people on the fringes of this scene simply miss people, or need something and don't know where else to look. And it is among the people on the fringes where I wander in, sensing I'll find something I can't name, just as they do.
There is a couple there, two to whom an unbearable tragedy has occurred. It's there in their eyes. A fragile stoicism contained in a balloon of hope as tenuous as a soap bubble. It might be the death of a child. Or the death of an entire family in a senseless act of war. Something awful which can't be shared and is carried by these two, isolated by its weight. They support each other, literally, pained but vacant eyes fixed on distant nothing. They are here for reasons I can't guess at. But I sense I will see them again and hear their story. I move on.
Leaning against the ruined wall of the church, which is roofless, open to a grey, post-rain sky, is a black man in a long black cloak. He is observing the ritual that is haltingly proceeding in the rubble where once may have stood an altar. Something in his gaze is hostile and purposeful (and familiar), and I avoid him, moving inside the ruins and mingling with the two dozen or so gathered there. They are mostly older and seem withdrawn into themselves. None greet me, which suits me, as I am not there to participate but to observe. The priest is coming to the end of something he is saying, and the people look up as he introduces someone to them.
The someone is a bedraggled old woman clutching a violin. She is a stranger to all, including the priest, and she seems very uncomfortable, wary, perhaps even terrified. The priest says a few more words by way of introduction and then steps away from her, leaving her quite alone, and there is an awkward silence for a few moments. Then she lifts the violin, but not to her chin, not with the intimacy of someone going deep into herself for inspiration or beauty, but tentatively, and to her shoulder, as if she were uncomfortable being seen with it. And she begins to play.
The music is unremarkable, except, perhaps, in that it is not what most would think of as church music from any faith. It is folksy, cheery, with a danceable cadence, but badly played. The woman holds the violin away from her as she scrapes the bow across its strings, as if the music, or the violin, or stage fright, hurts her. She stumbles through the music gamely. As she plays, she slowly spins in place, not quite a dance, but not just fidgeting either. Circle after circle she turns, and each time as she again faces us, she looks more terrified. And then she hesitates just a little more noticeably as she turns away from us, and the notes falter, and as she slowly finishes her last turn, all who were watching her gasp, and the rest start up from whatever distance their minds had wandered.
Facing us is not the aged visage of the musician introduced by the priest, but a radiant young woman of startling, luminous beauty. Her youth and vitality could not contrast more with the bent and tentative old woman of a moment before. The only thing in common, besides the violin, is the terror -- if the old musician had been scared to death, this creature seemed frozen in an act of surpassing extremity. She holds the stares of the congregation with the alert, poised-for-flight look of a deer facing a sudden predator, coupled with a fierce determination to not yield to that fear. That look is all that keeps the people from bolting, a sense that whatever fear they feel pales next to hers, mixing an odd sympathy into the mutual terror (the priest, however, backs a few steps further from her). Our eyes hold each other in a timeless vise, and a certain realization dares be acknowledged.
It's hard to say who notices first, but a visual gravity begins to draw people's eyes past her riveting stare to either side of her shoulders. Something shimmers there not entirely visibly. Think of heat waves on a desert floor, but remove the desert. Think of the reflections of water, where there is none. Bubbles, wind through leaves. And the color rose, perhaps. To give these perturbations a name is to fail the test of vision failed by so many before us. Making approximations and inventing euphemisms is a symptom of a peculiar human weakness, fear of the unknown, or the inexpressible. It is, however, a necessity of the human need to communicate with words, and name this we will. But they're not wings. Even if she is a fairy.
In a dream, such words have no ridiculous quality. Faced with the impossible made real, it is hard to laugh at it. No one in that ruined church was laughing. No one had uttered a word, least of all that word. But we all knew at once what had chosen to appear before us and why she was so terrified. Ridicule and hate have been so closely tied together throughout so much of human history that it is hard to imagine our kind without them. And for a being whose own kind had suffered so cruelly under our penchant for those emotions, who had left our existence rather than bear the increasingly institutionalized persecution that the organization of what we would come to call religions inflicted on them, this was a moment of unfathomable risk. And yet it was also one of limitless possibility. For millennia, the blindness that structure and codices had engendered in humanity had made it impossible for things magical to coexist with us. Only in this time of the final death throes of such systems, but before the deaths of the fires inside the people of a capacity to believe, could they poke themselves out from wherever they'd been and dare to ask if we were ready to live again.
As I say, I woke too soon. I will always remember looking into her eyes. They were all we could see for that moment. This is a dream hard to utter in the light of day, or even in the light of gas mantles, and even to such good friends. Not because it betrays some childish love of fantasy or offers itself up to penetrating psychoanalysis. Not because I couldn't keep the tears out of my eyes, even now. Hard, because it is hard to experience the joy and wonder and hope of that moment and have no framework to keep it alive. No photograph can fully capture the experience of a sunset, and this was all the world's sunsets rolled into one, the whole of belief and loss.
Would that I had stayed asleep for the rest of the reawakening, this second coming. Not of Christ, but of unicorns and fairies. Would that I didn't feel this quiver of embarrassment to use those words. Still, it was a marvelous dream, and it was a marvelous place to dream, and I marvel that I could share this dream at the time and that good friends could appreciate it.
I did say that it was a movie. Clearly, the dream was influenced by many movies -- I'll let you fill in your own list of probable sources. And movies are not complete without final credits, though I'll let you decide whether to roll 'em or not. I have no candidates for directors or producers (Oberon, perhaps?) and decline to cast myself (I was wearing a black cloak and may have been related to the cloaked observer, but I never saw my reflection). The credits are only for characters who clearly appeared for me, in order of appearance. May this not summon any ridicule which may have been held thus far in abeyance............