February 3, 2020
The dimly lit dining room was a large, open space with a few, rectangular tables, and a deep red, industrial-grade carpet. Tables littered with dirty plates and napkins suggested a party with many guests had recently concluded. A few patrons remained, as one might find in a parish hall while Sunday coffee is winding down, before cleanup begins. I was aware I’d arrived near the end of the seating time. I noticed a few familiar faces as I found my way to a clear seat.
Across the table from me a woman with a large, round face smiled. The few people lingering after their morning meals all looked like people I’d known in my past, but I could not quite remember any of them. I don’t think I ever really knew any of them. But still, their familiarity set me at ease and eager to enjoy the specialty of the day.
I sat patiently for quite some time after I arrived, waiting inordinately in the company of the woman and her pleasant, plump-cheeked grin. She broke the silence to reassure me, “They were quite busy this morning. The kitchen has a lot of work to catch up. They work very hard.”
I smiled and nodded.
I continued to wait in contented silence. The woman across from me continued to smile, cheerily bobbing and swaying her head.
Well more than an hour passed. She reached across the table to pat my hand as she said sweetly, “It takes a long time, dear. There is a lot that goes into it.”
By then I was getting hungry. Very hungry. Again I smiled, and waited still longer.
“Oh look! She’s here!” The woman beamed, rocking gently in her seat with excitement.
A waitress appeared juggling a full-sized plate and a small side. Her hair was swept up tidily away from her face and off her neck, adorned with remnants of the morning rush. She smiled graciously, grateful to put down her last plate of the morning. Her damp face, sticky with sweat, betrayed her inner exhaustion.
The friendly woman across the table beamed, her eyes sparkling like stars. Finally, all that I had been waiting for had arrived.
Anticipating a hot serving of scrumptious scramble mounded high and rolling off the plate crowded next to generous helpings of savory sides, I shifted my gaze down to the clear, glass plates in front of me. They were nearly empty. The large plate was shiny and clean except for one place near its edge offering a few broken chunks and crumbs of a dry biscuit. The side plate was completely empty, still warm from the dishwasher.
Well this is certainly not quite what I was expecting.
I was famished. Typically I might eat too quickly, overindulge, then later have regrets of a tightly stuffed belly. I was glad for the opportunity to have a taste to snuff my roaring pangs, without the possibility of overindulging. I considered that the tidbits of biscuit dusting the edge of my plate may be exactly the same highly prized meal that all the guests before me had been served. Expecting anything more would be greedy. A full and flavorful plate would be nourishment that did not belong to me rightfully and that I should not have. Feeling greedy, I wondered how a few fragments of a dry biscuit on the edge of a clean plate could have taken so long to prepare.
With nothing else to satisfy my hunger, I started to pick up a tiny morsel. My fingers stopped just as they were in reach of the coveted meal. Surrounding the crumbs the plate was smudged heavily with greasy fingerprints. I’d been served someone else’s leftovers.
Why did I wait so long for someone else’s leftovers?
I did not need to eat anyone’s leftovers, and I certainly didn’t need to waste any more time waiting for something that was not going to arrive. I could never be fulfilled by the trifle that was offered, and I deserved a plate of my own. I did not need to stay there.
I pushed back my chair and started to walk away. The floor was still cluttered with boxes, dirty tablecloths, and other evidence of the morning’s festivities.
Beyond the clutter the wide expanse of floor was clear for some 20 feet under an unlit area that faded into darkness. The wall at the end of the room was nearly black except for an open doorway at the center. A blinding, white light shone so brightly from the other side of the wall that the doorway glowed on all four sides, as if there was no floor outside the room.
I took a few more steps, contemplating what could be on the other side of the doorway. I paused for a moment and turned slightly to glance behind me.
“Agh!” I shrieked.
An unexpected jolt from behind knocked me to the floor. I landed on my hands and knees, looking up into the empty dining room.
Suddenly, a force reached through my core into my chest cavity and began siphoning me toward the doorway. I collapsed onto the floor as I slid feet first toward the light. Frightened and confused, I wailed. The suction was so strong my outstretched arms gripping the floor barely slowed the force as it grew stronger.
Wait a minute—I don’t want to be here anyway.
What would be the problem with sliding through an open doorway into the blind light? I started to relax and loosen my desperate grip on the industrial carpet. The force from beyond the doorway strengthened its clasp inside my chest and pulled with greater confidence.
The white light means death! Humans always see a white light immediately before dying.
But what if I was in a dream? Such a gift it would be to explore imminent death, even as it is conjured by my subconscious. But oh, DEATH! If a person dies in a dream the body really dies. If I slide through that doorway I won’t wake up from this dream, ever! I will die eventually, but not because I give up on life.
I tightened my grip on the floor and began to wail again. This time, I wailed to wake myself, praying it was just a dream.
As my toes began to slide through the doorway I started to wonder where my friend was. If he had been near the room he would have waken me by now. Why wasn’t he with me now? I looked around the room hoping to see my friend rushing in to take my hands, but all I saw was the detritus of tables hosting a leftover meal of almost nothing.
“Friend! Friend!” I shouted out loud. Still, I was in the grip of my dream. Maybe it wasn’t a dream?
“Friend where are you?” As my ankles reached the threshold my eyes fluttered open and I heard myself calling again, “Friend! Friend, where are you?”
My calls transported me to a guest room by myself, half a world away from our Portland home. I shouldn’t count on anyone nearby to wake me up, though I’m grateful for my friend’s constant protection. Friend is my spiritual traveling companion. He is with me, always.
Why did I think I needed to escape the dream? I won’t escape death. In real life, an intense white light coming from complete darkness does not signal impending death. Dying in a dream does not prevent the lungs from inflating or the heart from beating. Sliding from the darkness into the light should not be frightening.
What was I afraid of? The permanence of death? I was being pulled by an external force that gripped my whole body from inside my heart and gut. I had no control and I was frightened to submit. Perhaps if I had relaxed as I called for my friend he would have appeared and taken my hands and I could have released control entirely. We would have both flowed like running water into the light together, effortlessly.
Intense, bright, white light signals life and resurrection, not certain death. Scientists only know that those who see the light while their consciousness is more vigorous than their body go on to live. No one living knows the energy or visions of those who die.
Whether I want to or not, I will enter the light. I have no choice. I am being pulled. I can go fearfully, afraid to leave the familiar, faded party, and afraid to let go of my unsatiated hunger. If I cross that threshold in fear, I will go feet first, on my face, wailing, crying, and alone. Or I can relax, release control, and be swept away in graceful forward motion, trusting that my friend will take my hands and we will dance together through that doorway into the beautiful unknown.
* * *
Ten months and a global pandemic later . . .
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