J Pays a Birthday Visit!

February 22, 2011 at 9:34 pm (By Amba)

. . . albeit not to me.

A friend of ours, Nick, who is now close to 60, and has known and loved and been influenced by Jacques since he was 8, called me today to report an unusual dream he had last night.

Jacques dropped by to see him with Frank, J’s old Yorkville-born, German-Ukrainian-American, Greenwich Village running buddy, who died of lung cancer in about 1985, and whom J had often vocally missed.  Nick’s first reaction was, but you’re dead!  You’re both dead! and yet there they were, having a vivid, ordinary visit. Nick was sitting with his knee touching J’s and J seemed perfectly alive to him.  He was like, wait a minute, you’re not dead after all — Annie didn’t tell me about this! No, no, Jacques gave him to understand; he was indeed dead; but he was going to come and visit every now and then, nonetheless.

Nick said this was very different from the dreams he occasionally has featuring his mother (who died twenty years ago) or his father (who died a couple of years ago) or other friends who are gone.  We all draw a distinction between dreams that seem to be conjured up by our own fading memories or helpless longings, and dreams so vivid, autonomous, and realistic that they seem to be . . . well, visits.

The temptation is to go one way or the other — to say “It was just a vivid dream” or “That was J!”  Who really knows?  Whatever such dreams are, they come from a depth of the psyche that is not bounded by skin or by time.  You could say they are “just” exceptionally effective creations of your own unconscious; but at the level where it’s that effective, the unconscious is no longer “your own.”  There is something more than a self-comforting illusion going on there, some confirmation of the real contact souls make in — no, through — life.  Exactly what it is, we might best leave undefined.  But it’s a living bond across the threshold of death.

Nick’s dream has made me really happy (and only a little jealous).  For one thing, it seems to indicate that J has gotten beyond that awkward transitional period.  For another, my first reaction to hearing he was with Frank was, “Oh, they found each other!”  The two of them and Mas Oyama used to get in trouble together, and they were all highly nostalgic for those days.  Who knows, maybe that’s their idea of heaven.

— Oh, the punch line:  Nick had no idea (consciously, at least) that it was J’s birthday.


  1. Peter Hoh said,

    I had a professor who suggested that these sorts of dreams must have had a powerful impact on the consciousness of our earliest ancestors.

  2. amba12 said,

    I was thinking about how arbitrary are the constructs that we reify out of the raw data of experience. On the one hand, “consensus reality” obviously has powerful, practical survival value; on the other hand, what is held to be “consensus reality” has changed drastically a number of times in our species’ history.

  3. realpc said,

    “I had a professor who suggested that these sorts of dreams must have had a powerful impact on the consciousness of our earliest ancestors.”

    He probably thought the erroneous pre-materialist belief in spirits came from this kind of dream. Which, of course, was merely a dream, created by random firing of neurons.

    Since I am not a “smart” professor, I prefer the simpler explanation — that J paid a visit. I only hope he will visit Amba soon.

  4. karen said,

    I just think it’s very cool and it doesn’t matter what we know. It’s just a great thing to have happened.

    And the punchline here: i’m Catholic:0).

  5. Peter Hoh said,

    Realpc, nothing about my anecdote precludes the explanation that J paid his friend a visit.

    And while I wrote too little up above, there’s a reason that reading about Nick’s dream made me think of my professor’s comments. I’ll try to flesh out the details.

    It’s been nearly 30 years since I sat in that professor’s classroom. I can’t communicate the tone, but Mitchell had a great appreciation for myths and folk tales — and for those from whom these stories sprung. I’m certain that he never described their beliefs as “erroneous.”

    As best I can recall, he said something like this: Imagine what it must have been like, before we all convinced ourselves that dreams were not real. I have a friend. He dies. I see his corpse. The life is no longer in him. While I am sleeping, he appears to me. He lives, in this other world in which I spend time when I am not awake. How am I going to make sense of this experience? Is the dream not real? I experience it as real. But it’s not the same world as the waking world. There must be something beyond what I experience when I am awake.

    This was, most likely, just a casual aside in some larger, meandering lecture on mythology, but it got stuck in my brain. Reading about Nick’s dream dusted it off.

    Is there anything more real than the connections we’ve made with others? The stories we participated in creating, the friendships, the subtle and not-so-subtle impact we’ve had on each other. These are the things that will remain, when the life has left our bodies.

    Our dreaming minds give a nod to this reality.

  6. margaret said,

    Liiving in a world where true religion and faith seem to be shrinking from our cultures, my first thoughts upon reading about J;s visit to his dear friend were: “well, duh…” I am one of those “kooks” that believes in life after death, that our physical bodies of but a dot in the continuum
    line of eternity. Having had a vivid “dream”
    similar to this, only with my father-in-law visiiting not just me, but my husband too…simultaneously (we were in two different locations), I do think that more than memories are involved. It is simplistic to think it is just neurons firing in our brain. That is not the whole picture, just as we are more than our bodies…our individual personalities are testimony to the moreness of ourselves.
    Everyone whom I know was at the bedside of a dying loved one has said the same thing: “I just knew when the spirit was gone”
    It doesn’t even involve being aware that breathing has ceased, or the heart has stopped and the monitor is showing a flat line. It was something felt by each person reporting that to me. We touch each others lives in many ways, and the spirit of someone we love intertwines with ours in a sustaining way. Love doesn’t need a body to manifest itself to others, it just IS. And those who open themselves to Love from another create a link into the vastness of the universe, and its eternity. How sweet to be touched from beyond our imaginations. And Amba has J with her all the time!

  7. amba12 said,

    “From beyond our imaginations” — exactly! I don’t know about J being with me all the time, though — I think he needs a break! He was virtually my prisoner for half a decade, completely dependent and alone with me the great majority of the time. In his delusions he often revisited the most independent and powerful time of his prime. I think he needs to run with the boys for a while, get the taste of invalidism out of his mouth. More power to him! He knows I’ll be all right. He equipped me to be.

  8. amba12 said,

    P.S. When J left his body, he tripped a circuit breaker in the kitchen on his way out. I discovered this when I was unable to grind or brew coffee the next morning.

  9. karen said,

    What class were you studying at the time, Peter? Anthropological?

  10. Peter Hoh said,

    Karen, it was mythology as literature. Our reading list leaned heavily on Greek myths, folk tales, and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

  11. karen said,

    Joesph Campbell- he’s the fella that has the interviews during PBS fundraisers, right? I love listening to him- i like things like that.

  12. Peter Hoh said,

    Yes, PBS has turned the Moyers’ interview of Campbell into a cash cow.

    Campbell died shortly after completing that series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: