It's so familiar and yet so damning, that moment you gain consciousness in a dream. I can never remember how my dreams start. I'm just in the middle, putting together the fragments to know what I'm supposed to be doing next. I've dreamed of a great many things over the years, most of which I'd never share to a single soul on earth. But this one? This one stayed with me. Haunting me, moving me, rearranging the contents of the recesses of my mind.
And there I was, sitting on a plane. It's familiar because over the past two years I've spent a great deal of time on planes. But I needed clues. I looked down to see where I was sitting. It wasn't my jump seat. It was far too comfortable to be a jump seat. I was sitting in first class next to the window on the right side of the aircraft. I looked to my left. No one was sitting immediately beside me. In the window seat across the aisle was Karim. We had been working together all month, so all was as it should be. But we were passengers. Were we deadheading? I turned around. Every other seat was empty. It had to be a ferry flight, repositioning a plane to another airport because of a schedule change.
Just like that, in a matter of seconds, I had my basic story. I was at work, flying with Karim, and we'd probably had a flight canceled because of weather or maintenance, so we were headed for another airport with some free time to relax without dealing with the commonplace freak-outs of passengers.
I turned to my right, and, looking out the window, I could see we were on the runway. The engines revved. The wheels started turning, and we were rolling down the runway. Then something strange happened. I guess when you do it so many times a day, you get used to every little detail like the resonance of the engines or the angle of the take off. The moment the wheels left the ground, I was thrown back into my seat by the g-force.
Sometimes when we have an empty plane, because we’re lighter, and because we don’t have passengers who will be alarmed by the sharp rate of climbing, pilots may take a more aggressive line, but even then, this was beyond anything I’d felt before. Just as abruptly as we had taken to the sky, we leveled off. Karim and I exchanged questioning glances, and seconds later, we were thrown back into out seats a second time. I could feel the blood rushing from my head as I gripped the armrests with both hands.
My heart was racing, as were my thoughts. “Something’s not right,” I said, turning to Karim. I tried frantically to recall who else was on our crew. Who was flying us so recklessly? But in our dreams we don’t always have the luxury of omniscience. My next thought was to attempt to contact the flight deck. We leveled off again and then began descending. Looking out of the window, I could see buildings, but not the tops of buildings. I was looking into them at eye level.
In a split second I saw someone standing in an office, palms against the glass of the window pane, eyes wide open, mouth open, aghast, letting loose a blood-curdling scream that was lost to my ears. It was in that second I knew…I was about to die. All I could hear was the rising echo of blood pumping through my veins. All I could feel was pure adrenaline coursing through me, awakening every cell and ever fiber of my existence to prepare a futile response. One breath in. One breath out.
All through my mind, a tidal wave of thoughts. Is this really how it ends? After all I’ve been through in this life, is it really ending today? Is there anything I regret? Is there anything I wished to do over? To say? To feel? All that was left was a peace. A surrender of my life to the infinite. No regrets. No mulligans. If this was the moment of my death. I was ready. And yet all this potential energy was primed within my system, and nowhere to go. I was ready to fight for my life, to fight for the right to continue existing even though I was prepared to cease to exist.
And then came the omniscience. We were headed for a building. We were seconds away from impact. I took a determined step towards the flight deck door. I heard the engines throttle forward. Felt the lurch. And everything went black.
But I didn’t wake up.
It was as if I was frozen. Is space. In time. I felt my consciousness separate from my corporeal form. Soul, fractured and ripped away from the body. I could still feel. But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. Pressed in on all sides. I knew I had been dreaming. I knew I had died in the dream. I knew I wasn’t awake. And I didn’t know how to wake up.
The blackness swallowed me, stealing away all warmth, all sense of direction. I closed my eyes to the darkness and begged my body to move. I felt the synapses firing from the brain to the body. And no response. Trapped. In limbo. Existence without life.
It was the most terrifying thing I have ever felt in my life. I tried desperately to heave out the screams trapped inside of me, just to make a sound. I knew my body was motionless in bed. I knew the love of my life was in the next room getting ready for work. I had to get back to her. I had to return to that body in the bed to get out a signal. A sound. A movement. I had to get her back to me, to pull me from the darkness.
I opened my eyes again. Everything was still black. Paralyzed. Suffocating. I just wanted to get a breath in. Just one breath to feed my brain and body enough oxygen to function for another moment so I could find my way home. But there was none. Something. Anything. Please. If I could just move a finger. If I could just part my lips. Something. Please. Just anything. Keep trying. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. It’s your only chance. This is all you have. This is your moment to prove you deserve to live anything day. Find a way. Just find a way.
Tears tried to force their way from my eyes, but even they couldn’t move. This was the end. But I refused to accept it. It felt like hours. It felt like days. Time lost all meaning as I tried to claw my way back. Until, somehow, I forced out a sound. I knew it came out in the real world. And in the silence of my darkness I begged the universe, “Please let her hear it. That’s all I have. Please let her hear.”
Still no body. Still no breath. Still trapped. Still alone.
And then she came to me. I felt her touch the hand of my body. I opened my eyes, and I could see. And I could breathe. I was here. Alive. I gasped in the sweet smell of the life I had almost left behind.
I remember a time, years ago when all I could think about was dying. It was all I ever wanted. It was all thought could bring me peace. But times have changed. I woke up that morning in love with the life I live. That dream has haunted me from that day until now. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in the kind of way that makes you do everything that is in your heart and mind to do.
We always take it for granted that we will wake up in the morning and that we can do anything tomorrow that we didn’t do today. But if today was really your last day, how would you live it? What would change? And why wait?
Say what needs to be said. Today. Do what needs to be done. Today. Live. Today. Love today.