Last night, I had dreams of our home in St. Charles. We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in a suburban mansion of sorts. We were home-schooled and my mom was blessed enough to have a schoolroom above the garage. It was always hot up there. You had to go up a staircase and there were always hornets hiding behind the accordion flaps of the air conditioning unit.
We also had a living room with french doors that went onto the back porch. We didn’t often use them or we weren’t supposed to use them. Either way, they were often painted-stuck to the floor-to-ceiling windows of the living room. There was a fireplace in there. I remember–and I think my mom holds it as one of the best memories in that house–a time around Christmas when we turned off all the lights and we had the fireplace going and we watched the blazing snow fly across the arcs of the floodlights stuck to the side of the house. We had guests over for a sleepover, two or three of her high school students. They were all huddled on the couch with blankets over their knees and most of the family was there, too. Dad stayed awake for us and so did Anna and Mom was on the edge of the couch drinking wine, I think, and I was there in the rocking chair. We all laughed together.
But that memory is not part of the visions I had last night. Last night, I dreamed I was in that house alone. I was in the schoolroom alone when the whole family, including my siblings in China, had gone out to do something fun together. Last night, I dreamed everyone went to sleep, but I stayed awake. I couldn’t go to sleep and sat in our living room, crouching under the rocking chair. And I had the impression that there were people in the house and that Grace had just gone to bed and that Mom and Dad were upstairs behind their closed bedroom doors, but were they really there? I was alone in a house that once held ten people for an entire summer. I believe I was alone in the memories of the place, my memories, looking out from the living room into the big blue twenty-foot windows of our bare white library, the blue moonlight hitting the tiny interior windows of Grace’s room hanging above the library like an observation deck. Was she really in there?
I had that feeling of complete emptiness I always got when our parents would take their Sunday nap. We had to stay locked in the finished basement (did they finish it, so we would have someplace to go when they took their nap?) because they could somehow hear your footsteps if you walked anywhere on the first floor. The house echoed easily like it was empty. And so we stayed in the basement watching TV, which was horrible because typically the only things on were PBS carpentry shows or Walker, Texas Ranger.
I woke up this morning around five. This is unusual for me. If left to my own devices, I would wake up at noon. Every day. I woke up this morning at five, more melancholy than I have been in my life, because I looked around the room, my college bedroom, my current life, my clothes on the floor, and thought, “Who is going to remember all of that?” I was terrified, because in one moment I saw a past and then I looked at a future and realized that I was going to have to let go of some burdens. It is going to be too much to carry. At a certain point, there will be places I cannot go back to.
When will the day come when I can’t go back to our home in St. Charles as an eleven year old?
I laid in bed, trying as hard as I could to hold onto the memories, the images–but how they fade! When wise men and sages talk about men and nations fading, don’t they really mean that it is all these memories which fade, not the men themselves? Men continue on after their deaths, but the body which falls–is it really just burdened by all the images we are too mortal to hold ourselves? Or maybe I am not called to remember. Maybe I am supposed to forget. But if I forget, who is going to remember home for us? The images fade, the memories fall, and with them so do the people we once met and knew.
When we are in the presence of God, I will ask him, “Father, can you please let me explore the memories of the people I love? What memories has my dad forgotten about his parents one morning at breakfast? And if he was to dream about a house he grew up in, would he dream that he was alone there?”
Imagination is time-warping, space-bending. It never pretended like it was anything else than pretending like it is something. Imagination is the gift to retrace our steps and to dream at our desks. Imagination is the ability to be grateful again, or to finally be grateful for things you once overlooked.
If you deny imagination, if you deny the past ever existed, you are really just doing it because you are scared that you are fading along with your past. If you deny that it ever happened and that you can go back to it like it was happening now, you are just afraid of death. You fear that what you love is a precious commodity, something “Not For Sale.” But, death doesn’t ask if what you have held is for sale. Death will just take.
How can you be afraid of death, Caleb? I thought you got over your fear of death at nine years old when you were so frightened of what you did not know that you shivered in bed and Josiah told you to go talk to Mom and Dad. So you went down the hall and saw Grace sleeping in bed and then you knocked on Mom and Dad’s closed bedroom door and they were there and you put your belly up to their master bed and said, “Dad, I’m scared.”
“Of what?” Mom took her reading glasses off and looked over and she closed her book on her finger. My lip started to quiver.
“Of death.” And I began crying and he held me and he said, “It’s okay.” And he explained to me things I didn’t understand, but he ended it all with squeezing my little arms and saying, “This is going to give you big faith muscles.”
I’m not supposed to be scared of death anymore then, I guess. But I am. I am afraid, not only of my bodily death, but that all the memories I have made with people I love are going to fade away.
But of what am I really afraid ? Am I afraid that my glory will fade? Am I just hungry for glory? Am I afraid that men will forget me? No. I don’t think that is it at all. I think I am afraid that particular people will forget. I am afraid that I will forget.
But, if when I am put into the nursing home one day, if when long after all my other siblings and parents and friends have died, if when I outlive the world I now know, if when I lay in bed and am visited by a young family like we once visited Mr. Anderson and his silent wife, if when my obituary is found like we found his years later, out of curiosity, wondering “what happened to Mr. Anderson,” if when that family becomes silent together like we did for Mr. Anderson and his beloved wife, I will remember that my past was never mine.
We love each other. We love creatures. We love dying things.