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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dreams of Seeing

I am not sure of the precise moment I died, but I remember well the shock that followed. There was none of this "fade-to-black-followed-by-nothingness"; on the contrary, I could still see.

That in itself might seem quite surprising - after all, how can you see when your eyelids close? When the lifeblood stops flowing? When neurons stop firing? When riggamortus sets in? Just like that, a lifetime of sinister hints and ominous foreclosure notices ("oh, my aching back!", "oh, my balding head!", "I'm not as young as I used to be...") suddenly come due with a vengeance. Decay and Decomposition show up for dinner uninvited, and they will not leave until you're finished.

Of course it probably should be surprising. How can you possibly "see" when your eyes cease to function, when your body gives up the ghost and finally expires? Yet for some reason, the scientific incongruities did not trouble me in the least.

(Ok, I admit it - I've never lost a lot of sleep over unsolved math problems or inexplicable phenomonological events. But I suspect I'm not alone. I mean, we know they're important, theoretically speaking, but most of our scientific facts are so sufficiently detached from "real life" that it doesn't really bother us that much to suddenly discover they were wrong. After all, how many of us really care about global warming? When it's hot, we worry and fret; when it's cold, we laugh it all off; and if only our favorite politician would get elected, things would work out in the end. Now if I could just afford one of those new HDTV flat panels! Damn the price of gas these days - it makes it impossible for a guy to get ahead...)

We are people of the moment, and truths which cost us little are easily discarded. So it was with me - I realized I was dead; I realized I could still see. Neither of those surprised me in the least. No, what actually surprised me was the quality of my sight. Not only could I still see - but I could see as I never had seen before.

Now, I have had terrible vision ever since I came down with scarlet fever as a child; remove my glasses and I was blind as a bat (no wonder I got stitches playing baseball in 3rd grade - I couldn't see the ball until it was less than ten feet away). It was quite obvious now, though, that I no longer needed glasses - they were still laying on my prostrate from, sprawled over there upon the ground; and I, standing over here, could see like I've never seen before.

It wasn't simply a matter of improved clarity or definition. True, I could see a whole new array of details, like when I first got glasses in the 4th grade: "Holy cow!!! I had no idea people could see like this! Whoa..." This was certainly like that, only much stronger and with no headache an hour later. In fact, I felt like I had just gotten over a headache, a nasty migraine, and I could finally see clearly again.

It was rather like awaking from a spell of color blindness to discover whole range of colors, hues and tones which I had never before known to exist. The Indian Paintbrush beside the trail was simply screaming - vibrant, stunning, glory! The mountain grass surrounding it, pulsating like moss beneath the water - drowning, breathing, alive! The granite backdrops, bleeding ochre and rust, mixed with flecks of gold and diamonds, sparkling in the afternoon sun - once a molten river, now frozen stiff, impassible.

The whole scene looked like a watercolor canvas, before it dries, that mystical moment when the colors come to life and go dancing of their own accord across the paper. This is what the artist yearns to capture, and yet it never lasts, it always dries and fades; and there I stood: not gazing at a painting, but standing within it, the source, the inspiration for all paintings, the place only the best of artists ever sees, and even then only in his mind's eye - colors swirling, beauty unleashed, creation mesmerizing. (No, I did not pass away while nibbling hallucinogenic mushrooms, for those who are wondering).

My other senses were similarly affected. I suddenly realized what it would have been like to be born a dog, to be able to read scents like the pages of a book - earth and bark, grass and loam, deer and elk; over that way, the hint of mountain grouse; over this way, the smell of bear, blood, crushed berries. All this in multicolor, like I had never smelled it before.

The same was true of sounds - I could hear the winds in the pines and the grass; the timeless drip of water on stone; the rustling of willows; the whines of frightened cubs. Of course, I could have heard all those things even when I lived. Now, however, I could hear much, much more - pine needles stretching, greening, falling, drying; sunlight drenching rocks, laughing as it jumped of water to dancing nimbly on aspen leaves. I could even hear lichens growing (If ever you die, be sure to listen for it).

All told, a caucophany of input, yet with no hint of sensory overload. But even this seemed surprisingly unsurprising. I remember thinking (how does one think without a brain, anyway?) that it was not so much as if my senses had been infused with some new capacity, but rather as if some sort of blinders had been removed. It was not so much as if my physical eyes had allowed me to see, rather, they had actually prevented me from truly seeing all along. And now that they were gone, I could finally see as one was really meant to see.

That word 'meant' is important, for here was the part that was truly surprising. I suddenly discovered that not only could I see the details as never before, but now I could see the meaning of things as well. I'm not sure of the 'how' or the 'why' (more of those questions that don't bother you once you're dead) - I just knew: I knew what things meant, and I knew that I knew. Meaning was everywhere - not just in death, but in every inch of my life as well. I was surrounded by meaning, and had been all along - I had just been utterly blind to it.

Actually, blind is not quite the right word here - even as I thought it, I realized the term to be ultimately inappropriate. No, the problem was not my eyes, as if they were somehow defective. On the contrary, the problem was me. My eyes were simply following orders, showing me what I wanted to see, suppressing what I didn't. I had not been blind in my living - it was much worse than that; I had been willfully self-deceptive, and now in retrospect it was clear that I had known it all along, even in spite of my best attempts to convince myself that I was neither. That was the part of death which I found so surprising. And terrifying, because of what it meant.

With that realization, I awoke to find myself lying in that same mountain meadow, stunningly beautiful, yet strangely faded in comparison to what I had just experienced.

It is not often that one dreams of seeing.

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