I had the dream again. It’s the same one I’ve had for months. I’m walking on one of my favorite wooded, running trails. It’s Autumn. The trees are a bright orange, red, and yellow. Every curve, every twist, in the trail brings out a new colorful surprise. Large antlered deer, rabbits, and other wildlife run and play in the woods.
And, I’m walking with my dad.
This is probably a good time to say: my father died more than 13 years ago.
Like it was yesterday
But in my dream, my father is alive and well. He’s got thinning gray hair and has the thick black, standard-issue glasses he used to wear, but there’s no oxygen tank, no shortness of breath or other health problems, not even a stoop in his posture. He’s walking with me step for step. He even seems to have a spring in his step, reaching up at one point to pull down a tree branch to get a closer look at one particular leaf. The other change from when I last saw him: he looks relaxed and at peace.
We walk for a few minutes before I say anything. There’s a million things that I want to bring up, some good, some bad. I want to ask him about the past and even the present, including where he’s been and what happens when you die, but I let it go. Instead, I tell him about his grandchildren, their achievements, their dreams, their highs and their lows.
The stories he missed
When he died thirteen years ago, my two oldest kids were still so young, they were 8 and 5 and my youngest son hadn’t even been born yet. He would enter the world kicking and screaming three months later.
I tell my father how my daughter, the oldest, is a college junior, has nearly a 4.0 in college, and spent this past semester on an internship helping the needy and working for social justice in Washington, D.C. He would like that she’s following her dreams, has strong beliefs on right and wrong, and is fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves.
I tell him too about my middle child, my oldest son, and how the little boy that used to like jumping up-and-down on his lap inherited my father’s belief in service and the military. I show him a picture of my son’s ROTC regulation buzz cut. I feel pretty confident in guessing that this would make my father laugh and would bring out a story on his own bootcamp haircut.
Finally, I tell my father how my youngest reminds me of him. I tell him how my son has the same smirky smile when he tells a funny story that makes everyone laugh. I tell him too how he’s scientifically driven, constantly questioning, and how friendly he is with others.
We chat some more, it’s more small talk than anything else, but still very meaningful nonetheless. It’s a good dream, because I know this would mean a lot to my father, my kids meant the world to him. He had his ups and downs as a father, but he was a great grandfather.
The dream that keeps on giving
As I tell him a few more stories about “Pappy’s kids” as he used to call them, I see tears of happiness spread wide across his face. He’s happy, in fact, probably the happiest I ever saw him. At least that’s how I envision it in my head. There’s no pain, hurt, or frustration, just tears of happiness.
The dream comes and goes. I’ll have it for a few nights and then it disappears for weeks at a time, before returning again out of the blue. When it returns and I wake, I think about the dream a few minutes and then roll over for a few more precious moments of peaceful sleep.
My wife likes to tell me that dreams matter and happen for a reason. I’m not sure what to believe and why I keep having this one, but I’m glad I do.