Monday, December 13, 2010

Talking With Joel

Dear Peregrin,

I am a teacher about to begin my third year. It was the summer after my first year that I had this particular dream. It was probably one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had. It occurred in July of 1995, and I still remember it clearly. Here is my journal entry from the next morning: As I went to bed last night, I was overcome with pain and sorrow over my parents and the idea/realization that they would die and leave me. My concept of death is irregular because of the suddenness of those I've experienced lately. I felt like I was cowering in a deep corner of my soul where no on (not even my husband) could reach me. I felt totally alone. I got up and went into the living room to cry. I prayed to God for peace. I flipped on the TV, and there was a show on about the Shroud of Turin. After watching it for a while, I felt better, so I went back to bed; it was time to go back. I had a hard time falling asleep, but holding on to Dean made me feel loved and safe. My sleeping was fitful; I kept waking up. But I eventually fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed that it was the first day of school, but I wasn't in the town I teach in. I was in a school that looked like my old high school. The classroom was packed; there were way more than 30 kids. I make a mental note to ask about the class size thing: was it necessary? I felt a little out of control, not like I was used to, and it seemed like the kids knew it, too. Things weren't going the way I had planned; there were behavior problems, interruptions, groups of four trouping up to the pencil sharpener...I new I had to get a hold of things. Also, Joel was there (our social teacher who had died unexpectantly in April). He was sitting in a desk in the far middle of the room, observing and listening. He was wearing a sea green shaker sweater and khaki pants and had his "old-lady" glasses (drug-store glasses that helped him read better) nestled in his wavy, silvery hair. I made a few mistakes ("Turn around and face the front or you'll all get detention!!"), yet when half the class turned around, many looked confused. I hadn't noticed they were facing the wrong way. Two feisty students from the year before, twins named Juan and Juan, were there. Some of them were my students, and some of them were students of the other English teacher. One of them said to another, "Yea, some of the things she does are just so she can keep a hold over you." I chose to confront this in a constructive way rather than let it wear me down. I chose not to let it bother me. Even though I intended to go over the class guidelines, we ended up going over an orange worksheet on oxymorons, an assignment they somehow had done before the first day. Also, before that, I shared with them pictures of Dean and told them all about him and his job. That seemed to draw them to me. And the oxymoron discussion was lively; they were engage4d and my old teaching ability flowed into me, filling every corner of me, right down to the tips of my fingers. I felt totally alive. It was good. During all this, Joel sat quietly and listened and watched and observed. At one point he asked to leave temporarily and said he'd be back. I said, "sure, come back whenever." and he went out the door and I went back to what I was doing. Later, his head was peaking in the window of the door (he had to stoop because he was so tall) and a kid let him in. He lumbered/loped down the aisle. As we were engaged in discussion, Joel got up and said he had to go, but he asked me when I went to school. I said I was done with college. He seemed surprised. He turned to the class and told them they were lucky to have a fine teacher like me; that I'd do well and we'd be all right. The funny thing is, I knew or sensed that he was dead, but the kids didn't. I felt tears forming in my eyes. He had to go, but I asked him if I could ask him something. He said, "sure," so I asked the class to visit quietly in their desks while I stepped outside. Joel was very attentive. I started to weep. I said, "I know this is an unusual request, but I need to know something. We walked along the hallway. I said, "Have you seen people?" he smiled and said, "Yes, at all levels." I said, "I have this brother..." we reached the end of the hallway and I got the sense that I couldn't go any farther with him and had to get back to my kids. He was about to go up the stairs to the teacher's lounge. Somehow Joel turned into one of my college professors-turned friend, Karla. I kept talking. "He committed suicide, and I want to know if he's okay." She said, "Hmmmm. Suicide. I wonder what they'll do with him," as she looked thoughtfully at the floor. I said, "Well, I wonder if he's 'halfway,' as in 'in-between'." She smiled warmly and said, as if she had gotten a message, "What does it matter, all of the trivial things?" And I said I just needed to know he was okay. I got the feeling from her that he was, but I never really heard the words. But somehow I knew. I knew class was going to be over soon, the bell would ring, and then the alarm clock went off. I woke up with a terrible migraine, but had to write it all down. I wonder...was this the peace I prayed for? Is the mentoring I receive from others a little connection to Cedric, my older brother who died when I was 15? I heard Joel's sweet, warm voice in my dream - it sounded so real. One thing that bugs me is that I can't remember the voice of my brother.


Good morning, Cguls.

I get the feeling that you have been unwilling to let go of those that you have lost, and have been trying to compensate for that loss by trying to control everything else. Yet, you cannot maintain that kind of control. You solve the problem in the dream by turning the situation positive; this could be a suggestion for how to manage during waking life as well. The people you have lost still live in your memory; in the meantime there are people in your life that need you with them. Your friend seems surprised when you tell him you are done with college. I would interpret that as a mild criticism: should we ever really be done with learning? Your old teacher calls your worries "trivial." I would see that as saying, these things are out of your control, and in the hands of a higher power. Better to deal with life and living.

Pleasant dreams,


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