Yesterday there was a stranger in the side yard of our home, not particularly well-dressed, asking to come into the house. I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know why he was in our yard. I didn’t think he belonged there. I was reluctant to let him in. When I refused him entry, he made menacing gestures and remarks. Then, fortunately, I woke up.
This morning my dream was less threatening and was easily understood. There was no metaphor about the threats we may feel to our secure environments. It was a literal conversation, if not harangue, about the dangers of the pandemic. I was being admonished for touching my face. I woke up with an urgent feeling that I needed to wash my hands.
It doesn’t take a Joseph to realize that coronavirus has invaded my dreams. For this I’m actually grateful. I don’t believe there are any bad dreams. Each dream carries an important message. When my subconscious causes me to pay attention to things I’ve been overlooking, it’s up to my conscious mind to do just that—to inquire of the dream, what is it that I am missing here? Sometimes I do that quite literally. This morning I didn’t go through a formal dream interpretation process, but I did notice the thoughts that arose in the few moments after I awoke.
Like many of us, I noticed that in recent days there are people who are reaching out, demonstrating kindness and concern, and that I too have had a greater urge to reach out to others. Names from the past keep floating through my mind. Why would I think about a boss that I had nineteen years ago—other than to realize how important his wisdom and his kindness was toward the success of my career. Why would I think about a classmate from nearly fifty years ago—except to realize the importance of a friendship that has endured over the decades. In the current climate I feel the urge to do more than think about the people who have made a difference in my life. I have begun contacting them.
A question that continually goes through my mind takes me back to the two and a half years during which my brother was living with the severe diagnosis and prognosis regarding his glioblastoma—his terminal brain cancer. It was a time in which I watched him go on a pilgrimage of love. His heart was wide open. He went everywhere he could, searching for old friends and family to give love and blessings. In his fragile condition, he traveled from his home in Alabama to South America, twice to Europe, multiple trips to New York and California, and I’m sure lots of places I’m not even aware of. Everywhere he went he was bestowing love and blessings. I’ve always wondered why it takes a fatal diagnosis for someone to be able to open his heart in such away without being considered crazy.
I still don’t have the answer, but I am aware of the opportunity that this pandemic offers. Suddenly all of us are facing an existential threat. Never before have so many people been aware of the reality that has tacitly accompanied them every day of their lives—that they and their loved ones are mortal. With that awareness comes greater permission to be loving without being thought insane.
Before coronavirus, consciousness of one’s own mortality was not all that accessible to most of us. Intellectually, we all knew that we would die, but it was much harder to deeply take in that awareness and get a full sense of the finitude of our lives, not to mention the harsh reality that even the next day is not guaranteed. Every day we would walk through life with a sense that I’ve got this. Things are under control. I can make plans with clear expectations that they will come to fruition. That’s no longer the case. The sense that things are under control was always an illusion. Nothing is that certain.
Now many of us are experiencing the discomfort of uncertainty and the fear that accompanies it. Uncertainty is actually pretty powerful. It strips away the illusion that things are under control. With that comes gratitude for each day we are given and for the opportunity to continue to learn, to create, to be in relationship, and to make a difference in the lives of other people.
The Psalmist said, Teach us to number our days that we may nurture a heart of wisdom. He didn’t say a brain of wisdom. We already know everything we need to know about our mortality. With a heart of wisdom we may understand how precious each day is and how precious each life is. If we use these days of global crisis to nurture a heart of wisdom, we will grow in our capacity to be open, to reach out, and to bestow blessings and love.