I dreamt about my friend X last night. I don’t think I normally dream about him, and don’t recall having done so before.
We were having one of our lengthy, inconsequential conversations, the purpose of which is to circle ever so gently back to him, his recent travels and achievements. Not having any of my own to talk about, this took less time than usual.
X was complaining of an ear ache, which became one of his eyes. He put his hands up to them, rubbing them comically. ‘Can’t you hear that?’ he said. ‘That sound. It’s the sound of me losing my eyes!’
‘Fuck off, X!’ I shouted. ‘Why does everything always have to be about you?’ And with that my dream ended, or my memory of it anyway.
It has puzzled and disturbed me for a good while, on and off, for the rest of the day. My usual practice is to forget my dreams five minutes after waking, but this was somehow different. For one thing, I swore at a fellow human. I sometimes swear at objects, yes. But people, no. Now, I don’t mean to give the impression that I live like a nun, but I do pride myself on going about my business so that no one can tell if I am in conflict with them or not. Central to this stance is a belief in my ability to coerce out of myself the necessary politeness and self-restraint to make a situation pass sweetly, however much I my feel in a given moment the lack of those qualities from my interlocutor. But here I was, swearing, at full volume, the very point of which was not just to silence my friend, but to do so with such venom that it would attract the attention, and I assume, admiration of those standing nearby. For, though they made no appearance in the dream, those other invisible friends created a social context into which I deployed my expletive. To be clear: I have no quarrel with X. We are, in the jargon, ‘good’. Yet here I was swearing at him, and enjoying it, both the act of it and the horror on others’ faces as they watched me.
Later in the afternoon (I had an errand which required walking to the other side of the city) I found myself encountering the answer to the riddle of my dream. I was shouting and swearing not at X, but at the others.
A bit of context: my father in law died recently. He had been ill for a year or so. Nevertheless, when it came, his death was both peaceful and quick, occurring, as death does, in the middle of life’s other trials, both personal and professional. It was more than two weeks before we could hold the funeral. Into that space poured much activity: the visiting of relatives, the construction of a funeral mass, conversations with the undertakers. Some of this happened remotely, via text and email. The rest required travel. Even with the help of newly-downloaded traffic-avoiding apps on our phones, it was exhausting. The time we had at home we spent watching detective shows, or sleeping.
A week after he died it struck us that we were now able to divide our friends all too easily into two groups. Those who left flowers and wrote cards, and those who did not. The vast majority of the former were from our older set of friends, closer in age to our parents than our own. I can count on one hand those of our peers who wrote. For a reason I will never be able to prove or understand, I believe it was at the friends who had not written that I swore in my dream: all with their trials, no doubt, all with good excuses, their busyness, their children, their jobs, but barely any of them reaching out beyond the force field of their vortices to empathise or even spend a moment contemplating our unasked-for negotiation with the question of mortality. And I am no better. I can count the number of such letters I have written on one hand. ‘Can’t you hear that noise?’ we say. ‘It’s the sound of us losing our eyes.’
That was lovely – I’ve missed you.
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So true. I have recently been informed of the death of three close family members ( over a period of about a year) by Facebook…messages left on timelines about people who timelines have come to an end. Can’t you hear that noise? It’s the sound of us losing what makes us human.
This is so honest and poignant. But I don’t quite understand: why in your dream were you swearing at the the former group — the ones who sent cards or flowers? Is there something I’m not getting?
It’s very good to have you back, for whatever reason. If possible, don’t go away,
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May your father-in-law rest in peace and rise in glory. But I’m glad his death has prompted you to blog again.
As always, good to “hear” your voice, Anthony.
ps: I’ve missed you too.
With the deaths of my stepfather and both my parents, I learned that it is a great comfort to have someone reach out to you in sympathy, whether it is through a kind word at a visitation, attendance at a funeral, or a simple card or flowers. So, I always try to reach out in a simple way when I hear of someone else’s loss. It needn’t cost a great deal of money. I believe that there is an overall lack of civility in our world that is a very dangerous trend. It makes the world a far less nurturing place to be. My condolences to you and your family.
I’m very sorry about your father-in-law. Thank you for this post. I’m sure nuns have a good old swear, sometimes, in their dreams.
Very happy to see you back, and giving us thought-provoking ideas.
It is good to read you again, Anthony. Although it would have be better without a death in your family, of course. Dreams are quite telling, aren’t they? When my dad passed away at the age of eighty-two most people who had known him well were not exactly young people. So my mom received lots of cards at his death and for weeks after. She found comfort in these cards written in so many different styles and telling so many different things about the relation people had had with my father. I stayed with my mom for a little while, but I never told her that I was looking forward to the mailman. These cards sent by people I had either known as a girl or barely known meant a lot to me. I re-discovered my dad and often discovered him. After all I had left home for Paris when I went to the university and then France for the US when I was still young. The life I shared with my dad was relatively short. These letters helped me during the period of grief.
So yes, writing when someone leaves this planet is much more than offering condolences. It is honoring the memory of a person who mattered. And when someone matters we take the time to care for this person and the ones he or she leaves behind.
I am sorry that you didn’t receive many marks of affection for my father in law and I got it why you swore.
Sadly it is something that I don’t really like in our new lifestyle.
Take care, Anthony.
It is so good to hear from you again, Anthony. I hadn’t realized how much I missed you until I saw your email in my inbox this morning.
I loved this, and it will come back to me over and over, I know. I wrote a card toy mother’s cousin last week. Her husband had died: another loss. People pop out of the world with increasing regularity it seems, and I do think writing is important. I don’t want to lose my eyes. Thank you for confirming and perhaps explaining to me why it IS so important to write in this situation. What could be more important?
I am very sorry for your loss. I have many dreams that make me question my life. I’ve read that eyes may be a symbol for knowledge or understanding. Perhaps this death has unbalanced your previous understanding about human life. Your depth of expression in this blogging world is rare. Keep sharing.
Dearest Ant, Sorry about radio silence. Chelsea on course to win the title, Grecians on course for play offs. We have been thinking of you and Tatty over the past few weeks. Much love. A chat some time ? Did you read that Sebastian Barry novel ? I didn’t want it to end. X P
It’s wonderful to hear from you. Thank you.
Grecians and Chels both rays of sun in tough days.
Haven’t got round to the Barry novel yet, but heard it on wireless. What writing!
Would love to hear your voice. It’s a plan xx Ant
Welcome back, you have been missed.
Dear Anthony, Very sorry to hear about your father-in-law’s death and all that you have been going through. My condolences to your wife especially. But what I also want to say is Welcome back! I’ve been wondering how things were with you. Jeremy Harvey (who has one signed copy of your book, after your Taunton talk.)