I have a habit. I have these dreams. I haven’t tracked them for too long in the past. But I started noticing the dreams a couple years ago. My mother gets dreams too. I’ve known that for years. Her dreams range from scenes which show up when somebody’s pregnant to scenes which wake her up with a caution that I’m supposed to pass on to a friend to other things I won’t go into.
I dream when people are about to die. Not all people. I’d never get any sleep. No, just some people. I haven’t figured it all out. Indeed, I’m not really trying to figure it all out! I wake and pronounce to my wife as I did two years ago that “This is going to be a hard year,” and when she asks what I mean, I explain that a lot of people I’m connected to will die soon.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent, the time where Christians reflect on the life and death of Jesus. It’s the time leading to Easter, the lowest and highest event in the Christian calendar. As I move through Lent, I’m thinking about this disturbing habit of mine. Part of it is the normalness of death. It becomes increasingly normal as you age, right? I’m not that old, but the longer I live, the more I notice death. People have died since we’ve started reproducing, but noticing death takes time.
One of my spiritual mother’s funeralized her mother Saturday. I read of Manning Marable’s death in a tribute by Professor Michael Eric Dyson over at the Root. Another spiritual mother and mentor continues to grieve her mother’s death from last Christmas. I feel “in between” as I think about Rev. Beans, a father and friend to me, who died two years ago, about Michael Bailey, a CPD officer whose death still goes unsolved, and a long list of other people like Christopher Gary, Darlene Johnson, and my father-in-law, John McKinney–all of whom died last year.
I think about death in one form or another all the time. I feel like I’m aware of death whenever I “make my Easter speech,” when I preach publicly, because, in some way, the Christian message always passes over the grave. It doesn’t end in a tomb, but death is inevitably there in the message.
I think about death as a writer. The nagging words of one of my favorite teachers from the text, bell hooks, come back. When talking about the writer’s life, in Remembered Rapture, she invokes the role of time and death. She talks about how writers have to find time to write but that we also write against time. She says, “Without urgency or panic, a writer can use this recognition to both make the necessary time for writing and make much of that time.”
As I think about time and death, the inescapable entrance in something else, I have to connect my work as a church servant, my work as I writer and parent and person to what comes after death. That’s why Lent and Easter take on significance to me.
There are many little deaths. The unexpected departure of a friend when you made a pact to stay in the same community. Being fired from a job. A rejection letter by an agent signaling what could be the death of a potential novel. A struggling marriage which releases another piece of that dreamy romantic idea of what you thought you had. A comment that changed everything by someone you thought cared for you. A diagnosis, any diagnosis. Deaths are everywhere. Which is why I run to Easter, trip to it, and push myself to look up inside that mystical empty tomb, from all the big and little deaths. I think of resurrection, the stronger event after death, when I wake from another one of those wierd dreams, even when it takes me days to forget waking up as I catch my breath and look over at my wife whose eyes pop open to see me gasp. I think about death and for the Christian, what is the next fundamental event. Both are real, but I can’t help but be grateful for the hope that death isn’t all there is.