I wonder if the dead send us random thought mail? Ethereal messages from beyond the veil, their meaning intentionally elusive.
We would sit in a circle on the playground asphalt, amidst the tetherball poles, telling jokes. He had a hardy laugh, often spitting flecks of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich all over us.
“Being a kid was much more fun than being an adult. Life was sweeter then.” ― Trevor Carss
I didn’t know Lane well, and our lives intersected briefly. The private school we attended shut down and everyone scattered to different schools. I never saw or thought about Lane much after that.
Yet there he was, clear as day in my dream. Curious, I took to the Internet to see what he’s doing today.
We’re all connected in some way
The Internet can be a wonderful way to reconnect with the past or discover where the past has led. But one must be prepared. Not every story has a happy ending.
A few clicks and soon I discovered an unwelcome result. Lane’s obituary flashed on the screen. A fatal car accident just three years ago.
I found an accompanying photograph of Lane. It’s strange to see the fifty-year-old face of a grade school acquaintance. Yet behind the full face and wrinkles, Lane’s eyes still held their boyhood twinkle.
A twinge of sadness washed over me. At first, I thought it was for Lane. The unfairness of a life cut short. But then I realized that this mild melancholy crept into me before I dreamed about Lane.
“There are moments when I wish I could roll back the clock and take all the sadness away, but I have the feeling that if I did, the joy would be gone as well.”– Nicholas Sparks
I shared all of this with my wife. “What does it all mean?” I asked. “It’s not strange at all. When people die, they sometimes come to us,” she said, adding, “We’re all connected in some way.”
It’s easier to follow dogma than to think
Weirdly, Lane’s appearance in my dream sparked a good deal of personal reflection. I found myself ruminating about the past, present, and future.
I grew up before the Internet. Free time involved tree houses and the neighborhood dogs chasing us around the woods. We dangled from tree swings and played frisbee until dusk.
I try not to romanticize the past because things weren’t perfect back then. But they were simpler. People had their disagreements but seemed to get along a whole lot better than today.
Maybe it’s the pandemic, political division, and social unrest that has me feeling a little broken. The rhythms and interactions of life feel different and foreign now.
The culture I live in is shrill and judgmental. Fewer open minds, just name-calling and dogma (on both sides of the political fence). Society feels ugly.
“All of us, whether we are ignorant of philosophy or professors of philosophy, find it easier to follow dogma than to think.” — Martha Nussbaum
News programs have become insufferable, political noise. And everyone must be careful, lest we unwittingly say or write something wrong.
What it means to be irrelevant
I guess the world feels unfamiliar to me now. Maybe it’s my age? I think back to my maternal grandmother, an Irish woman who emigrated from the old country to America.
What it must have been like for her, to bridge two different worlds? And in her eighth decade, the rock and roll music I favored probably grated on her ears.
I’ll bet the fast pace of modernity was dizzying to her, having come from a world of green hillocks and farms. A devout Catholic, her faith was a reliable tether to hold onto.
My grandmother lived into her nineties. I wonder if people who live that long start to feel like a living ghost? Still a part of this world but no longer of it.
“You ask me what it means to be irrelevant? The feeling is akin to visiting your old house as a wandering ghost with unfinished business. Imagine going back: the structure is familiar, but the door is now metal instead of wood, the walls have been painted a garish pink, the easy chair you loved so much is gone. Your office is now the family room and your beloved bookcases have been replaced by a brand-new television set. This is your house, and it is not. And you are no longer relevant to this house, to its walls and doors and floors; you are not seen .” ― Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
He who has a why to live for
Perhaps the world is unfamiliar to me now because I’m retired from my past career. I am free from the weight of leadership and responsibility.
Freedom is a wonderful thing, but so is purpose. One of the risks of retirement is a growing sense of irrelevancy. The kids are all grown up, the professional career concluded. Now what?
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost anyhow.”― Friedrich Nietzsche
One can only play so much golf, watch so much banal television, or become anesthetized at nightly happy hours before asking, “Is this my life now?”
So what do we do about all of this? Pandemics, virulent politics, social unrest, difficult life changes. How do we manage an unfamiliar world when we feel broken?
Here are a few tips that seem to help me.
Family and friends
Cherish your family and friends, for they are among the greatest gifts in life. When we stop worrying so much about ourselves and focus more on our family and friends, the world seems to brighten.
Doing small, unexpected acts of kindness for your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, and friends will make the world a lot less broken.
Reach out to old friends and surprise them with phone calls, letters, or emails. They may share memories you’ve forgotten, and reignite parts of yourself that you’ve forgotten.
Yes, some families and friendships are broken. Protect yourself, but try to forgive as much as you can. There is grace and healing in this.
The author and his loyal pooches
And don’t forget the healing power of animals. They are a big part of our families and friends, and they love us unconditionally.
I retired early from my professional career to start a new one as a writer and artist. Thank God for passions. It doesn’t matter whether it’s music, art, writing, sports, woodworking, etc. If time seems to stop when you’re doing it, then that’s your passion.
There is a caveat. Passions have their ups and downs. Plateaus, breakthroughs, and setbacks. I love writing and painting, but some days are better than others. It’s just part of the deal you have to accept.
Don’t know if you have a passion? Then you need to start experimenting with different things. Maybe you’ve never been in a kayak, ridden a horse, or picked up a musical instrument. You never know what passions are waiting to be discovered.
The world is full of fascinating people, cultures, and places. The great outdoors is proven to be good for your mind and soul. Travel forces us out of familiar environs and into new places and experiences.
Yes, the pandemic has made travel difficult, but not impossible. My wife and I have found small road trips to be reliable therapy for cabin fever.
When we help others, we help ourselves. There is a deep fulfillment in donating your time and energy to the betterment of others.
Whether it’s walking dogs at the local shelter, feeding the less fortunate in a soup kitchen, or cleaning up beaches with an environmental organization, making the world a better place can go a long way to repairing your brokenness.
Believing in something bigger than yourself can help you navigate an unfamiliar world. My grandmother’s Catholic faith brought her enormous comfort and peace. Many faith traditions can offer this.
Learning should be a life long process. The more we read, study and invest in our intellectual life, the richer life seems to become.
My father spent every evening in his vast library, reading. He always had a book with him on the train rides to his law office in San Francisco. “Always keep a book in your car,” Dad used to say, “So you have something to read at appointments.”
My father in his law office
My love of books and reading has enriched my life immeasurably. Even if you’ve never been a reader or read slowly, it’s worth exploring.
Find books that interest you. If you start one and lose interest, move on to another. Your reading speed and comprehension will improve with practice, and your intellectual growth will excite and reward you.
Tomorrow will be a better day
Sometimes sometimes you wanna wanna go back
But it don’t work like that
I don’t think that Lane’s spirit visited my dreams recently to reminisce about our grade school days. They have come and gone.
I think Lane’s spirit came along to help lift me out of my melancholy. To remind me that life may be difficult at times, but it’s also precious.
Our families and friends are everything because love transcends pandemics and politics. Our passions, travels, volunteerism, faith, and education will enrich our lives.
The world may sometimes feel unfamiliar, and there may be days when we feel a little broken. But fear not.
You never know who might come along in your dreams to remind you that we’re all connected, life is precious, and tomorrow will be a better day.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Get on my free email list here for the latest writing and artwork.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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Photo credit: Artworks by John P. Weiss