Keith Eubanks II

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

A Boy With Wings

In Dreams on March 5, 2011 at 6:11 am

“There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love.”

-Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller’s Wife

A few moments ago I sat at my desk, pencil in hand, and wrote the following words: “For many years now, I have had a recurring dream.” I look at the yellow notepad for several moments and then erase what I have just written. It isn’t true. I don’t have a recurring dream. I have a continuing dream. A dream that remembers the dreams that have come before it. In this dream I am learning to fly. It is an art I have practiced since childhood, and am only now beginning to master.

We spend about a third of our lives asleep and up to two hours of that time dreaming, so time spent in the dream world is not irrelevant, it is just another form of experience. Dreams, then, are another way of finding and understanding meaning in our lives, and when the mind is actively avoiding something, they may be the only way to confront those issues. Never tell yourself, “It was only a dream.”

It rarely is.

In dreams we can more creatively negotiate the realities of the physical world, free from its physical limitations. In the dream world time passes differently. In our dreams, we are all mind. I am not sure, then, how long it took me to learn to fly. Minutes? Hours? Years?

I sometimes think that I am losing track of time.

Or perhaps I don’t believe in it anymore. It occurs to me that while mankind spins on this great cosmic clock, we are the only one’s counting the minutes. The stars, the rising and the setting of the sun, the ebb and flow of the tides, all parts of a complex continuity defined as Time.

The rest of the universe doesn’t even notice. Nor does any other life form on this world. And should we suddenly find ourselves standing on another planet our understanding of time would be meaningless. The distance from the sun, the size of the planet, the path of its rotation, all this a reminder that our place in time and space is limited – and quite specific.

That other world? – It’s a completely different clock.

And yet lives are measured in Time. And while we are told that time is infinite -a concept that cannot possibly be understood by the human mind- the human experience is unquestionably finite. There is a clock -an internal clock- and it is ticking – a program functioning deep within the mind, working on a far deeper level of consciousness.

You know it’s true.

A sleeper will awaken, reaching for the alarm clock an instant before it rings, the subconscious mind always keeping count.

It is this ability that permits us to track temporal distortions – and they occur regularly.

A person waking from a coma or state of unconsciousness will invariably ask the same question: How long have I been out? Their first impulse to reset the internal clock, and then consider to what degree the world might have changed while they were away.

Friends, talking over plates of food and drink will lose themselves in memory. Watch them as they look to their watches or cell phones – aware, in startled acuity, that they have lost their sense of time. There is a bliss in that kind of elevated state of consciousness, but it can also be uncomfortably disorientating.

Every time traveller knows this.

Many years ago -according to the calendar, anyway- I woke to the sound of running water. Outside, quiet and a dark night sky. I left the warm, comfortable bed and found my girlfriend, Shelly, in the shower. “Why are you in the shower?” I asked her, concerned.

“I’m getting ready for work.”

She didn’t know it was 2:30 in the morning. When I told her, she burst into tears, her body shaking. The feeling – temporal disorientation. She believed it was 6 AM – and in her mind? – It was. The rush back to the present was like traveling backward in time. I handed her a towel and walked her back to bed. She was disoriented and fell quickly back to sleep.

Every time traveler will experience this.

Spend any significant amount of time away from a place or person – a childhood home, a friend from a distant past- and you will feel a little of this disorientation. It is fixed in your mind -this place, this person- in time and space. But see how things have changed. And the mind can’t help but inventory the differences as it brings the past uncomfortably into the present. To find something completely gone, when the memory or reality of it rests so implacably in the mind, is to feel the sensation of the finite as it travels down powerful currents of infinite time.

It’s like standing two feet from a train as it is rushing past.

There is a temptation to rationalize all of this as metaphorical, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it.

The state of being we call reality actually resembles the dream world in many ways. This might be the reason we are frequently unable to tell the difference between the dream world and the physical world – which I resist calling the “real world.” As in dreams, we cannot remember exactly where this physical world began. We just trust the narrative and add to it.

Nor can we remember when it began.

We know the story of our birth, but we cannot remember it. We are aware of a history – a narrative associated with this particular reality- but it is fragmentary and unreliable. We do not really know how we got here – just a vague, emerging sense of consciousness. We are told that the universe we live in is still expanding. Toward what? We don’t know. Through what? We don’t know.

Where are we, really, in this vast, infinite expanse of Space and Time? ¬†We don’t know.

We spend our lives trying to interpret the experience and learn its mysteries. There is joy, horror, revelation . . . and magic.

Once upon a time, when I was just a boy, there was trouble in our home, and I began to look for a way out. One night I hid in a closet as my parents fought – their war shaking the foundations of our house, our family. The arguments were muffled against the coats hanging on the rack, a line of light at the edge of the door making its way through the cool darkness of the closet. There was a crisp, clean, earthy smell in there. I remember the closet was lined with cedar.

To this day, the smell of cedar reminds me of violence.

At night I dreamed. And in my dreams I realized I could rise above all of this. I was walking on a long stretch of beach. Then running. Some how I knew I could do more and pushed myself into the air in a long exaggerated jump, floating gently back into the soft white sand. I jumped – or floated- higher and higher until I felt the fear of being up so high. The fear turned quickly to panic and then I lost control. I crashed, rolling across the beach and certain that I would die. But I didn’t, and for years I did this in my dreams – pushing earthly limits, floating higher and higher into the sky and then crying out in fear as I hit the ground.

But I kept trying. Again and again.

Over the years I tried to control my body as I moved through the sky, as I tried to bring myself back to the Earth, always failing. For years I failed.I loved to fly, but I feared the end of these dreams. And it was only these dreams, the flying dreams, where I remembered the successes and failures of the past. Flying was so much different than the way I had thought it would be. Influenced, I’m sure, by Superman comic books, I imagined flying through the air at incredible speeds, my arms stretched out in front of me. But it isn’t like that at all. I will myself into the air. It has nothing to do with physics.

It is an exercise of the mind. A suppression of everything we believe to be true – or possible- and then letting it all go.

Sometimes I float above my bed, and I see myself sleeping. Sometimes I am looking down on my house. Sometimes I travel further – much further.

One afternoon, years ago, I was napping at home in Livermore, California, dreaming. In the dream I was standing in the same room where I was sleeping. The door was closed. There was some kind of commotion – a fight- in the hallway outside the door. I had a sense of immediate danger. The voices were louder. This time, instead of light, blood began seeping under the door, across the hardwood floor, and into the room, moving toward me.

In my dreams, there is always something trying to slip under the door and find its way in. Something undefined, dangerous . . . and waiting.

And then they were coming – trying to break through. I crossed the room and opened the window, remembering I could fly. I told myself, before I jumped, “Today I will fly better than I have ever flown before.” And I shot out of the window at lightning speed – just like Superman. I had never flown this way before, and haven’t since. And in a moment I had returned home, flying over Tranquillity and the field across from the house where my grandfather once lived.

He could also fly – airplanes.

I landed gently in the middle of a cotton field, wondering why I had come here. There were no people. No cars moving on the roads. Just a place waiting for me. The air was still. The cotton turned from green to brown and then burst in soft white blooms. It fell into the dry Earth as new green shoots sprung from the ground. And this repeated itself again and again as clouds formed and dissipated over my head with unnatural speed. And then my feet were sinking into the Earth and part of me wanted to let it cover me. At the last moment I rose up into the air and left that place – and I have never returned to it – in my dreams.

But I have been other places.

Last year I dreamt of an old and dear friend who is struggling with an addiction. He is not what he once was, and I am worried about him. I was flying through an old bazaar, or market. There were smells of middle eastern foods in the air and long sheets of fabric hanging like tapestries from the ceiling. The fabric was rough and rustic. They were woven in many beautiful colors, and moved gently in a breeze. The building was two stories tall with small businesses not much larger than closets selling foods and jewelry and bolts of fabric. There was music. I was near the ceiling, my hands at my side, moving slowly through the air, parallel to the ground, turning my body as the thin sheets of fabric brushed against me. I was in perfect control as I moved through the length of the building.

And then I was outside on the street talking to my friend. I was explaining to him that if he could just get his feet off the ground he would master his addiction. There was a tall street light next to us, and I began to demonstrate, floating slowly into the air and balancing my feet gently across the arc of steel that held the light – just close enough to give the illusion that I was actually standing on it.

And then I floated down to the ground.

I repeated this demonstration several times, but my friend was not willing to try. He shook his head, and explained that what I was doing wasn’t possible. He was visibly agitated. I was upsetting him.

I realized that he could not fly while he was wrestling with his beast.

I gave up and we walked together down a long alley littered with trash. I was tired. I looked at my feet and noticed for the first time the tall, thick leather boots I was wearing. They were heavy and I felt my energy leaving me. “No wonder more people don’t fly,” I thought looking at the heavy black leather. I wanted to take them off and rise up into the sky, but I didn’t want to leave my friend alone in the alley.

The cares of this world, I think, weigh us down. We accept the rules. We live in them. We believe we can’t – so we don’t. I think, somehow, that in the next life we are restored in spirit and remember the gifts we have spent an earthly lifetime forgetting. Perhaps we get the chance to really indulge ourselves.

I think one of the first things we do is fly.

Today is my birthday. I am forty-eight years old – or sixteen. It’s easy to lose track. I am a time traveller, and I can fly. Both of these abilities often transition into the physical world in ways that might surprise you. As a teacher, I see a lot of heavy leather boots. I see people that believe what they have been told about themselves. And every good thing is obscured behind that one time they were told they weren’t good enough, or that they didn’t matter. Not all of them, but more than you might guess.

I know how it is.

If I begin my class by telling them they can fly I will lose them all. So I start slow. They will figure it out on their own – eventually.

It’s funny what success will do for a person’s self-esteem. Sometimes, I can almost see their feet leave the ground. And the rush? It’s in the way they walk, and the look in their eyes.

And then they begin to time travel. Back to the past, to find out exactly where they lost themselves. It’s a tough way to start. The future is usually hostage to the past, so most time travelers begin there. It’s important to understand the past – and that’s the best you can ever do: understand and accept. We cannot change the past – despite what you might have read.

If you decide to try this remember one thing: Time is not linear. The Earth is curved – so is Time. And you never know what is just over that horizon, around that corner – or seeping under the door.

Today, I sat in a doctor’s office and listened to a man tell my wife that she has breast cancer. The past, the present, the future – all came together and for a moment we stopped moving. It was a hell of a birthday. As I sat there in that office I felt the need to move back into the past – away from this. I was standing in my apartment with Brooke. She was telling me she loved me – that she thought that I might be the one. That guy. Her guy. I said I wasn’t ready to hear that. She was crying. She is crying, pulling tissue out of a box sitting on the doctor’s desk. And I am that guy. Her guy. She listens to this man, trying to appear calm, and I go away for a while, moving through the years, realizing again how brief it all is. Wondering how we got here. I can’t quite remember.

It’s like standing two feet from a train that is rushing past.

How long have I been out?

My friend -my wife- she needs me, and she is in the present. And now I am in the present, afraid to miss a moment. This doctor, he has pulled us out of time and into this world, this specific place, and here there is a clock, and it is ticking.

How long have I been out?

I write a letter and put it into a bottle. It is for you, the others, traveling through time. All of you. You have loved. You love. You will love. The past, present and future in single syllables – and you are all moving through it. We are such complex beings, living in the past, holding onto the things we cannot or will not leave behind – defining ourselves through experience. We struggle to live in the present – perhaps the most elusive state of being. And we look to the future, usually with optimism, but often with fear. We live in a collection of moments – a tempest of time- the stuff dreams are made on.

And I am standing in the current. The force of it hits me like a great wind, pushing against my face, my skin. It roars like a waterfall. My eyes squint as I stare into it, and lines are etched permanently into my face. My hair thins. My body bends into the force of the current and never fully straightens. There is a bright light -growing brighter, just beyond my reach. Pieces of me fly off into the torrent like shingles off the roof of a house – and I am diminished. I try to catch them, but I cannot move my hands fast enough. I cannot hold on to them. There are more layers than I could have ever imagined. And then the glow is coming out of me, brighter and brighter. I stare into the light, and then I become the light.

I know that I will have to fly again – for her- and better than I have ever flown before.

There is a temptation to rationalize all of this as metaphorical, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it.

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