death and dreams

This blog is named after a tune of ours, “as long as there are birds”, a song which came to me almost entirely in a dream. In the twilighty space between sleeping and waking these three verses took shape:

In one hundred years
there will be nothing left of you and me
we will be the earth beneath somebody’s feet
we’ll be the air everybody breathes
maybe we’ll be free

As surely as your body gets its substance from the land
I’ll let go of your hand forever and be glad
so long as there is food for our children and the children of our children

In one hundred years
there will be nothing left of my mind to hold the memory of your beauty
the knowledge of the sound of your voice
maybe there will be soul

As surely as your music is a reflection of birdsong
there will be nothing wrong with our being gone
just so long as there are birds

In one hundred years
light will still find its way to the forest floor
here and there still mottled where we’ve walked before
maybe we’ll be home

As surely as our loving ebbs and flows like the blue sea
there will be no tragedy in our passing
so long as there is water for everyone to drink


***
Last week I listened to CBC radio’s Eleanor Wachtel interview Vernor Herzog, a man who insists he does not dream. And he proceeds to exhort young people to follow their dreams – “it really does not matter if you fail or not”, he entreats, it’s just essential that you have a vision, that you give yourself permission to try to live it. Dreams for sleeping, dreams for waking, dreams for living. I felt I was in a dream state as I listened to Herzog spin his stories and his myths and the tales of his own life and films- he has such a way of speaking! In fact I was driving at the time (standard transmission…dangerous!), and jotting down notes between shifting gears…”conquistador of the useless”….”exuberance of fantasy”…..”our everyday life is just an illusion behind which lies the reality of dreams”…his expressed desire to travel into space (“I would be good in space”)…his love of the jungle as a place of “fever dreams, of illusions, of the exuberance of growth and also the exuberance of murder; every plant has only one goal – to murder the one next to it in order to get to the light – it’s an overwhelming sense of asphyxiation and strangulation and murder”… I expect these gems will make their way into song.

***
Last night I dreamed that my mother and I had made a suicide pact. We lay in each other’s arms on the floor, as someone injected my arm with poison and her’s with a tranquilizer which she said would allow her the resignation to smother herself with a pillow. As we lay waiting for death, I was going back and forth between reciting psalms and trying to empty my mind of all thoughts – I couldn’t decide which was the more sanctified way to meet death – I was expecting there would be some one or thing judging my thoughts on the other side. Besides this confusion, I felt peace, and especially warmth in my mother’s arms. Death did not come, however, and my cousin and aunts and uncles starting filtering into the room, which I gradually became aware was in the apartment my grandmother lived in when I was a child. As it became clear to my mother and I that our plan was failing, we got up and starting visiting with family members at what had become a dinner party. After a short while I woke up; it was about 6:30 a.m. and the garish white cross on the Anglican church outside my window blazed dully. I felt most strange – sort of ashamed and appalled, and yet not really that distressed – it had been such an untroubled and wholehearted suicide pact.

***
There is something so obviously archetypal about the link between night and death. Night, darkness, the sub-conscious, a mythological journey to the underworld, and symbolically to death, a recurring rhythm of night-day-night, death-life-death, a dance, a dialectic. As mundane and cliche as this symbolism might be, it is not becoming less powerful or meaningful in my mind. It seems the older I become, the more fearful the night is to me. More and more often I wake up in the middle of the night with intense feelings of anxiety and fear- I worry that I am growing old, that I am squandering precious years, that my parents are aging and will die, that I am in immediate physical danger; unresolved emotional issues become amplified to overwhelming proportions and are almost too much to bear; countless other fears well up in a dream-like state – and like dreams they vanish in the morning as though mists on a lake – I can’t recall them all now, only the most pronounced among them. Where do these fears go during the day? Where do they come from? Why does the light bring waking and the dispersal of dreams, fears, and anxiety about death and decay? Why am I not able to recall the relief that comes without fail each morning, when I am in the throes of night-terror? Why, if illusory, are the reasons for my fear so persuasive and all-consuming in the middle of the night?

***

Compared with my bad dreams of late, there is something almost happy about the tone of “as long as there are birds”. Certainly it expresses more rational fears about looming environmental disaster – it is more concerned with the everlasting, or ever-renewing life of the earth than of the soul – it does not fear for the latter so much as for the former. While not making pronouncements about the destiny of the soul, it reconciles the death of the individual with a resurrected future – that is, a planet healthy enough to sustain itself, all its living things and processes. A dream of the earth, as Thomas Berry has written. In this dream, death is not separate from life- in this dialectic we are forced to see both at once, in relationship with each other. It is almost as if the liberation of the soul consists in the decay of the body and its transformation into food for new life. Is this the communion to which Berry refers, when he writes: “the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects”? There is still a warning, however, of a more final death – the possibility of a future in which birds go away, and the earth ceases to yield water and plant life. In this nightmarish vision, we are not absolved of our responsibility by our passing from life to death. Our bodies, our souls, rest peacefully only when our actions have secured a healthy future for those who come after us.

***

As surely as our loving ebbs and flows like the blue sea
there will be no tragedy in our passing
so long as there is water for everyone to drink

***

Felicity

hobsonschoicemusic.com