My favorite time of the day is the space between sleep and wakefulness, when you are vaguely cognizant of being warm and comfortable and you have not yet remembered the things that hurt. The blurry place before the light sharpens into hard angles when you cannot yet distinguish between what you have dreamed and what is real.
The place where, for one brief moment yesterday, I had a father again.
Like most of my dreams, this one came back to me in a series of disjointed pictures. We were looking for something. Keys one minute, pieces of a puzzle the next. One nameless object after another.
And then he was gone.
My body realized it was a dream before my mind. The weight of it crushed my chest, forcing out sobs of confused panic and longing that I had long since forgotten.
All loss is like that I suppose. There comes a time when it is not the first thing you think of when you wake up. But when you do, the hurt is so much more acute.
Not the good kind of hurt that I feel when I walk through the gates of Scott Stadium for the first time in the fall. Not the good hurt that comes when a little boy who is also lost gives you a piece of candy for Valentine’s Day with the same name as your dad used to call you.
It was the kind of hurt that you feel when you find something you had lost only to have it slip through your fingers. The kind of hurt that is tinged with regret for words not said. For something that ends before it could even begin.
I suppose I should have been grateful for the chance to see his face and hear his voice and watch the way he ambled into a room again.
But I didn’t. I just felt angry. Angry that he didn’t tell me we were living on borrowed time. Angry that he didn’t tell me it wasn’t real.
In my dream I was so busy focusing on the task at hand that I missed the gift of just being with him. If I had known our time was brief, I would have stopped chasing keys and puzzle pieces. I would have stopped hurrying. I would have sat down at the table beside my dad and just held his hand. I would have realized that the only thing worth looking for was the person in front of me.
And maybe that’s what the dream was about. Maybe I needed to remember all the things that hurt. Maybe it’s okay that he didn’t tell me our time last night was finite. After all, we rarely have the luxury of knowing that the last time we see someone will be the last time.
Sure, we say we live our lives as if there is no tomorrow but how often do we actually do it? Not as much as we think. We tell our kids to hurry. We run from one activity to the next. We chase nameless objects in pursuit of nameless goals. We succumb to the pressure to want more, to be more, to do more, when the more that really matters is right in front of us.
Love hard. Love big. It is the only thing we take with us when we leave this earth and the only thing we leave behind.