I awoke with the feeling you get when someone is looking at you. I quickly sat up and saw through the foggy blur of the dark room – nothing. I dropped back into my pillow, frustrated that I’d now struggle to get back to deep REM sleep, as I glanced at the 3:34 on the clock – ugh – the alarm would go off in less than 2 hours.
But I quickly drifted off, only to be startled again. This time I heard my name, “Bill.” Not as a shout, or even a statement, but more of a whispered question – as if, “Are you here?” or “Is that you?”
This caught my attention, of course, and I sat up again. After a moment or two of silence, I dropped back down again, wishing I could remember my dreams. This was surely part of one.
A while later, I heard my name again. Three times I had been awoken by something, and was now a little freaked out. I reached for my phone, and was startled by the time. 3:34. It hadn’t even been a minute. And then I heard my name again, this time around the corner, as if someone was in the room looking for me. I whispered back, “Here I am,” and peered around the corner, with muffled illumination from my phone, which dropped to the floor when I saw his face.
“Daddy?” I gasped astonishingly.
I was always jealous of others who shared stories with me of their loved ones coming back to check in, through dreams or other ethereal experiences. But this had never happened for me. At least none that I was perceptive enough to know about. A few weeks after Cullen’s accident, we were all woken up at exactly the same time 1:24 by the smoke alarms all simultaneously sounding. This happened at exactly the same time on at least six occasions, and we all certainly knew that meant something, but what?
My father reached for my hand, and as we touched, my hand, then my arm, then my entire body was warmed, almost uncomfortably so. And I began to smile, and even laugh out loud. This was really happening! It wasn’t a dream. The hand I was holding was warm and soft and firm and very real. I spun around to wake Sharon, but Dad shook his head, and with his other hand, placed his finger to his lips, whispering, “Shhhhh.”
He opened the door and led me out, closing it behind us.
Our cat Jose quickly jumped from the couch and rubbed against my leg, with a “feed me, feed me,” squeak. Well that was certainly real. Dad smiled from ear to ear with such a familiar grin and said, “Feed the durn cat.”
After doing so, I turned and was so disappointed to find myself alone. This was an emotional roller-coaster. I walked towards the kid’s bathroom, to turn out the light, and as I passed the corner table with Cullen’s memorial, I saw him sitting there on the futon, with my old boxer Nieve’s head on his lap.
This all sounds very strange now, but at the time, it seemed pretty logical. I stood in front of him and told him how glad I was that he hadn’t left yet. His lips turned up to smile again, “I never left you.” He patted the futon next to him, asking me to sit.
“I know all that,” I said. “You’re always in my heart.” But he cut me off. “That’s not at all what I mean. I’m really here. Durn it, I wish I could help you to see, we’re really here!”
“We? Who? Where’s everyone else? Where’s Cullen? I want to see Cullen!” I was now almost shouting with excitement. “I’ve been trying to talk to him for four years! Please bring him here, please! Just an hour, just a minute. Just a hug.”
“I know, I know,” he said, “but you’re not ready yet.”
“Yes I am…” but he wouldn’t let me go on. “The time will come very quickly, and it will really only be in the blink of an eye. You’ll be with us. All of us.”
“All of us? All of us? What does that mean?”
“You’ll know very soon.” Before I could process that, and ask fearfully how soon, he continued. “Tell me how you are. Tell me what’s been going on.”
“But if you’ve been here along, don’t you already know?”
He smiled and shook his head, “You really don’t get it, do you? Always giving everyone advice, and you don’t believe it yourself.”
I’m not sure why, but I let that go, and proceeded to share everything with my father. “Nineteen years and a failed marriage…” He interrupted, “Aren’t you a better person now? It’s not a failure.”
“My darkest day 3 years ago, the hurricanes, and all the near tragedies with the children… Did you know last year Emily’s sailboat was caught in the storm and was lost for three days? When I posted it on my blog, I had over 200,000 people praying for them…
He touched my arm and I was instantly warmed again, “Billy! (a name he only called me on occasion – like me calling him ‘Daddy’), of course we heard the prayers! The prayers rose up like incense in the Santiago church, and just as emotional to us as it was to you and Sharon.”
“Fortunately we didn’t need those prayers. Emily’s boat was never really lost. They had just run out of gas, and drifted onto the coast of Haiti,” I said.
The smile on my father’s face faded and he looked so sad – like when he told me his mother had died.
“Seriously? You didn’t need the prayers? Seriously? What the Hell are you talking about?” He wasn’t angry, he just sounded disappointed.
“Pull out a map and find where their boat landed. It was very near Petite Paradise, where you took Cullen and Noah on the mission trip in Haiti.”
“You know about that? Our mission trip to Haiti?”
Now I guess that was an insult, but he ignored it, and simply said, “They didn’t ‘just run out of gas’ and ‘drift onto that beach’ in Haiti.”
Then my father asked me if that’s all I wanted to tell him about. “What about all the good things?”
“What about Sharon joining you, and how much joy she’s brought?” I corrected him, “I’m the one that found Sharon.” He laughed with the Klein belly laugh I hear from myself sometimes, and shook his head, “I don’t think so!”
“What about Camille’s marriage to Nick last month? Emily coming home and being OK? Your time on the Camino and in Morocco? The diaconate? Three wrecks with no one hurt. And… My grin began to fade as he continued to remind me of so many beautiful things that have happened with Sharon, Kayla, and Noah, and Cam and Em. And places we went and things we all did. I began to see. And the room began to brighten as the sun began to peek through the french doors. But I looked down because what I began to see was what I’ve been missing all along.
‘Oh, I can preach it brother, but had I really believed? Did I really have the faith that I wasn’t alone on “my Camino?”
Nieve was now looking up at me from my own lap. Although this startled me, as I looked up, I got the rush of my lifetime.
The man now seated next to me had a beard and a white robe and although he spoke with my father’s own voice, it was different now, much softer and more gentle:
“I never said horrible things wouldn’t happen. Of course they do, and they will continue. They happened to me.” He showed me his wrist. “And I never said you wouldn’t hurt and feel abandoned. I did too. And I never said you would know what tomorrow would bring – or three day later. That’s what faith is all about.”
I have no idea why I didn’t jump in his lap, or dance, like in the Mercy Me song, I can only Imagine, but only remember looking away in embarrassment, and focusing on the picture of Cullen on the wall. Although he no longer held my arm, I was so warm that I was drenched in sweat.
“And this Camino you keep talking about – enjoy the journey, for my kingdom doesn’t start when you pass over – it is also right now. Enjoy your journey.”
The room was now bright with the morning.
I turned to look in his eyes. But he was gone. And Nieve was still asleep in my lap, and the room was now quite dark.
Before stumbling back into bed, as I pulled back the covers, I looked at the clock.
3:44. Ten minutes. Wow.
Two hours later I awoke to Matt Maher singing “Borrowed Time,”and shook Sharon to tell her all about my dream.
I was jumping like a giddy schoolboy, but before I could say a word, she sat up and exclaimed, “What happened to you?”
“You’re shirt is drenched with sweat, and you’re covered with dog hair.”
I looked down in astonishment.
There really was dog hair all over my lap. I looked at my own hands, expecting stigmata, I guess. None were visible.
I think things like this have really happened all my life, but only recently have I actually seen them.
Our lives seem to be full of lessons, and metaphors, and messages.
Sometimes we find ourselves holding a piece of puzzle with no idea how it fits.