Dreams happen all the time, I’m told, but I never seem able to remember mine. Well, except for that recurring dream I have where I’m sleeping comfortably in a double bed beside my wife when I’m roused by the sound of seagulls, then the roar of a jet. I sit up and realize that I’m on the runway of Reagan National Airport in Washington. The roar grows, and I glance up just in time to see the silver underbelly of a giant 747 with one of its giant tires only inches from the bed and my head. Instinctively, I shove my wife hard to push her out of bed then I dive off the other side just in time as the plane crushes the bed. I roll away from the destruction until I hit my head on something hard. That’s when I hear, “What the hell are you doing?” Slowly coming back into the present, I find myself on the floor next to my clothes dresser, my wife silhouetted and glaring at me over the edge of the bed. Sheepishly, I climb back into bed and try to scoot as far to the edge as I can.
That’s the only dream I can ever remember, until this morning. The dream I remember having last night is an incomplete memory, but I still retain the basic concept and premise. In the dream, I’m presented by a higher authority, God Himself perhaps, with a dire situation in which I must contemplate and field a reaction.
In the dream, I’m asked a simple question. “If you were informed that today is to be your last day alive on Earth, how would you go about living the day? What would you do? Who would you tell? How would you treat other people?”
As my dream-self begins to swish these questions around in my head, moments of clarity further define the situation. The cause of my death is not revealed by the Authority nor does it seem to imply that death is necessarily imminent (which comforts me in my dream). It was simply an intellectual exercise in how I should be living my life. What would I do? How should I invest in every day, not just the last day?
It comes to me as things tend to do in dreams that there are two camps. Once camp espouses, “Live life to its fullest, damn the consequences.” The other camp suggests that I make a point to truly experience all personal encounters through the day and make them all testaments of love and friendship, goodwill toward Man, and all that.
For several dream hours, I toss around both opposing ideas. I could go out and rob a bank and then go on a spending spree. I could buy or steal everything I’d miss in the afterlife. A fast convertible going 90 mph down a highway with the top down. The pleasure of a woman. A $2,242 bottle of “The Macallan 1946 with its rich lemon citrus nose which gives way to a strong peat smoke taste that lingers at the finish. The hard part of owning this 56-year-old whisky is finding the occasion to open the bottle.” Such a final day must certainly qualify as such an occasion. While I’m on spirits, I’d also sip from a bottle of Chteau Margaux 1995 and maybe tug from a Cuban. I’d like a rich piece of chocolate mousse. The last thing I’d do before being taken from this realm would be to go to a grocery store, find the register with the longest line, then break in to the front- consequences be damned. I’d scream to anyone and everyone as I flipped them all off, “Get outta my way! I’m in a hurry! I got somewhere I gotta be!”
As I think through those and other things I’d like to do in order to “Live Life to the Fullest,” I realize that I’m not really programmed to behave that way. It somehow becomes so apparent to me that if I had just one day, I need to make it count for something useful and productive. Something for the good of others and the world. It could be as simple as making a difference in the life of a child, co-worker, or friend. I wouldn’t need to tell anyone why I’d changed; it would be a quiet “Christmas Carol” moment. I envision myself taking that first grade child who always seems to be in trouble aside, find something positive on which to to connect with him, and encourage him to strive for excellence. I’d spend my day listening to the people around me and offering them my best attention and advice. I’d smile and laugh at their jokes.
Through the entire introspective exercise, I never considered another alternative that seems so obvious to me now that I’m awake: crying, running away, and hiding from the finality. It’s not that I’m so brave and noble that I didn’t allow myself that choice. It’s more of a realization that I would never be able to roll away from that dark 747 in time. No time to hide. No time to cry. Sometimes a plane just has to land.
PS. For all of the closet psychoanalysts out there, I find myself in a good, solid place in life as I write this…I think