Sunday, January 19, 2014

Coleridge's Flower

Marty sat on a chair in the middle of a darkened stage. An overhead spot spread a cone of light around her.  I stood in front of her and she looked up at me and gestured.  Her lips moved, but the stage was silent.
It was clear she was trying to tell me something, to ask me something. She was near imploring.  I sensed another person in the shadows just outside the circle of light.  It felt like a male presence. A young man.  He seemed to be waiting and watching, and also silent.

Marty continued to gesture, continued to mime the words.  The silence endured and I cupped my hand to my ear and tried to sign: “What is it?  I can’t… I can’t hear you."

I woke up, flipped on the bedside lamp, and wrote it all down.


I'd been in security at St Vincent Hospital since being discharged from the Marines.  Marty was in public relations and I knew her just enough to say hello by name if I passed her in a hallway.  She was an acquaintance, and one I hadn't seen in months. Yet there she was, in my dream.

It had been nearly two years since Michelle had died.  That’s when the dreams started.  Michelle was 20, an IU nursing student, her soft blonde hair taken by the chemo and replaced by colorful and artfully knotted headscarves. She refused to even consider a wig.

Her mother Anna had sought out a skydiver to come talk to Michelle about parachuting.  After her leukemia returned, the idea of making a jump was the only thing that seemed to cheer her. Being both a skydiver and a hospital employee, I was the lucky choice.

I went to Michelle's room on 5 East Oncology. I took my parachute, a skydiving video, and a gift of a logbook and skydiving tee shirt, size small.  We talked about what skydiving felt like. I showed her how a parachute worked.  We watched the video together in her darkened hospital room.  I encouraged her to “get better” so we could make a skydive together, wished her well, and left her with her tee shirt and her log book.

The days followed and I found she haunted me.  Bald from the chemo and a bit puffy from steroids, she was still a beautiful young woman.  Bright blue eyes and a wide smile when she could manage it, she was at once vulnerable and strong.  I felt like there was more I could be doing than just dropping by a couple times a week and telling her about the past weekend’s eight-ways or cross-countries or night dives.

I started practicing some visualization exercises I found in a Bernie Siegel book.  I’d imagine light all around, the light that permeates every living thing.  I’d picture that light swirling through the crown of my head, gathering and focusing, and then pulsing out from my chest in a beam of concentrated and white blinding love. Not my love (though some of that was mixed in), but the love of creation, the creator.

It felt like that kid on a summer sidewalk with a magnifying glass, focusing the sun to a point of great heat and power. As I practiced throwing light in this way, it felt like prayer – but prayer using the image of light rather than using words or poems or song. 

What effect this practice had on Michelle, I cannot say.  For me, however, the effects were… surprising.  Heightened intuition.  Unusual coincidence.  And the dreams. 

I’d dream of an unusual image and then see it appear in front of me the next day. I'd dream of a scene involving a friend, call them up, and discover something like that scene had actually occurred the day or week prior.  In a meditation, I'd see Stevie Ray Vaughn in a leather vest and wonder what the hell he was doing in my head. An hour later I'd watch a guy pass me on the sidewalk: black, flat-brimmed cowboy hat; leather tassels on his vest; and scruffy Stevie Ray chin beard.

Something about this practice of meditating and visualizing seemed to be strengthening the connection between my sleeping world and the waking one.  Or it was making me more aware of the connection that had always been there. 

Over the two years following Michelle’s death, I found myself meeting people my age who had cancer:  Becky. John. Another Becky.

I found openings to talk with them about this practice of visualizing light pouring in from the world and washing through them.  What good would it do?  I didn’t know.  What good does prayer do?


I closed my journal, rose for the day, and wondered again why a casual work acquaintance like Marty would appear in such a vivid and unusual dream.

That evening, I stood outside the emergency room, just a hospital security guy chatting up a group of visitors who were waiting for the shuttle to take them around to the parking lot. I struck up a conversation with one young woman, dark and curly hair and olive skin.  Her name was Elizabeth.

“I’ve seen you around the past couple weeks,” I said.  “You have a family member here? Your husband or father?”

“My brother,” she said.  “His name is Rod Fasone and he’s a junior at IU and they diagnosed him with colon cancer.  He’s only 21. ”

“Oh man.  That’s really tough,” I said.  We talked for a couple minutes about how he was doing and she said how awesome his fraternity brothers were and they were always crowding his room up on 5 East Oncology.  She talked about how strong he was.  She told how even after surgery and chemo, how he went to Mexico on spring break with his buddies and went scuba diving every day.

The shuttle bus turned the corner and came down the drive toward the ER entrance. Elizabeth picked up her bags and got ready to board.

“Thanks for asking about him,” she said and turned to get on the bus.  She paused and looked over her shoulder at me and said, “Maybe you know our mom.   She works here. Her name is Marty Rugh.”

“Oh God,” I thought.  “The dream.” 

In the dream, Marty had been trying to ask me something.  Was some part of her asking me to go talk to her son?  To talk about being open to the light, for whatever good it might do? I reckoned the male presence just outside of the light, that must have been Rod.

I went up to his room the next afternoon.  I knocked, and with permission to “come in,” I entered.  Rod lay in bed, flanked by a half dozen fraternity brothers in a Beta Theta Pi ball caps and IU sweatshirts.  I felt like a nut job.

We talked several times before he died in December of 1992, a couple times at the hospital and once in his parent’s home on the north side of Indianapolis.

I don’t know if the ideas meant anything to him.  He may have politely tolerated this ex-Marine hospital security guard who had some odd ideas about letting light wash through your body like waters from some magic mountain stream.

But I felt like I had been asked, like I had been invited.  And in the form of the invitation, I wondered again about the connection between what we perceive in dreams and what we see in the waking “real” world.

The English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote:

What if you slept?  
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed? 
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? 
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand? 
Ah, what then?

Yeah.  What then?


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm busted...couldn't leave without a comment. This one was...powerful. Wrenching. Still echoing in my brain. ~cheryl

Joe said...

Thanks, Cheryl. I'm glad it connected. Joe