In my sleep, I was visited by a man in a flannel shirt with autumn colors in small squares. He wore a solid brown necktie unloosed at the collar. His hair was white and bushy, sort of like Einstein’s. He smoked a pipe and had the voice of Gandalf, Ian McKellen’s great character in The Lord of the Rings.
There was nothing menacing or alarming about his presence. He spoke softly, quietly. His face was rugged and carried deep lines of age and wisdom. His eyes, blue and intense, were nevertheless warm with soft light in them.
He reminded me of my maternal grandfather whom I called Pop, a big loving man with a deep Southern drawl. I told the gentleman this and he said, “You can call me Pop if you want.” I said, “Ok.”
“What troubles you?” he asked, as he put fresh tobacco in his pipe and lit it. It smelled of cherries or cloves or something sweet and delicious.
“I wonder if I got it all wrong,” I said.
“How so; got what wrong?”
“People. Life. Meaning,” I said, and I scooted deeper into the soft chair I was in.
“Ah,” he said, his low voice almost humming. “And you feel disappointed? Confused? Cheated?”
“Yes, I think I do.”
“It happens,” he said. “A man your age having been married, divorced, raising two great sons you felt you disappointed, leaving a long career that you never fully felt fit for, wandering about in jobs requiring skills you didn’t have or leaving you always feeling you were underperforming and not using the skills you did have, trusting people who betrayed you, possessing ideas others didn’t share or understand, struggling to meet ends, wanting dreams but not feeling deserving of them…these are human issues and all humans have them in one form or another.”
“Did I expect too much?” I asked.
“Of life…I don’t think so,” he said. “Of others and yourself, perhaps.”
I shifted in the chair and felt something move inside me. A sorrow, or maybe regrets. He leaned forward:
“Life is a bloody mess at times, at least for most humans. There is struggle and disappointment, loss and grief, failure and disheartenment. We want so much, for ourselves and for those we love. Sometimes it all goes wrong. We wander off the path. We stumble in the dark. And then we wander back; there are achievements, lovely surprises, and satisfying rewards. We hurt but we find comfort. We have rejections but we also have love and acceptance. Some people mistreat us but others smother us with affection. Some we never will please, and some we don’t have to please at all, they want to share not take, they desire equal participation, not one-sided control.”
I said, “I thought I knew all of that. Why does it sound new hearing it from you?”
“We learn from repetition,” he said. “We have to be reminded or else we get lost.”
“Lost?” I said. “Lost in what?”
“Fear, unrealistic expectations, illusions, guilt, sorrow…things like that,” he said, and he leaned back and smiled. “We just sometimes miss the good stuff,” he said. “The work we complete, however menial or complicated it might be. The people we attend whether a spouse or partner, a child or friend, a coworker or neighbor. The actual good we do, deeds of selflessness and generosity, acts of love, caring by listening and responding, by seeking and finding, by giving and sharing. “
“So it’s the small stuff.”
“Not always, but often.”
“Who are you?” I asked. “God? Pop?”
He fiddled with his pipe looking at it as he scraped out the ashes. Then he put it down and looked at me, his eyes flashing.
“No, I’m not God or Pop,” he said. “I am you.”
© 2016 Timothy Moody