Not long after my mother died, she appeared to me in a dream. First, her reflection manifested in a shiny surface, then she materialized in the room. We sat down knee to knee, I on a taupe ottoman, she on the cream-colored sofa. I was overjoyed to see her. “Mom,” I kept saying, “I miss you so much.” My sisters joined us, and their presence felt intrusive at first because the connection was so fragile I didn’t want any interruption to dilute the energy. Then I realized how selfish that was. She was our mother, not my mother, and I waved them in to sit near.
“What’s it like to be dead, Mom?” I asked, then immediately floated my own theory. “Is it, in reality, almost exactly like it is to be here?”
She nodded, looked down where our knees touched, and said, “Yes. I’m trying to decide how much to tell you.”
And with that, she was gone.
There’s this crazy thing about mystery itself I’d like to understand. I’m one of those women who didn’t want to know the gender of the baby I was carrying before its birth—three times. I loved picking out both a boy’s and a girl’s name. What a unique experience—like Schrodinger’s cat—until I knew the gender, each baby was both a boy and a girl. Revelation was the reward for the work of labor–that moment when the doctor would sing out, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” instead of confirming the less climatic, “Audra’s here!” Or “Yep, it’s Andrew!” Or five years later, “And here’s Emily!”
Also, I realize now, as I watch friends take their children or grandchildren on extensive tours of prospective universities, it was telling that I didn’t research my college better. I had applied to three schools, but after choosing which to attend, I didn’t want to shadow a student or check out the social scene or the cafeteria—in mystery, there is such hope– hope that the reality you will discover is better than any you could have imagined.
Which brings us to the mystery of life itself.
We have learned more in the last 100 years than in the previous 10,000. We have confirmed the existence of over 5,500 exoplanets, seen our brains light up in functional MRI machines, learned that we are forever quantum entangled with those we have touched. With Hubble and the James Webb Telescope, we seek the beginning of time, the Wall of Last Scattering, the genesis of creation, consciousness, of love itself.
In the evolution of life on this planet, was there a point at which one proto-organism first sacrificed for another? That’s the only demonstrable way love can manifest if love is more than a feeling. And was that a genetic replication that simply went awry, or did love begin with intent? I think about these things. Sigh. A lot.
As passionate as I am about the search for knowledge and as excited as I am to press every piece of wonder into your patient palm, I suspect I’m in love with the chase.
Maybe this is why: “Brain loves new.” Reportedly, we are the only species on the planet constantly scanning our environment for what is new. And yet, here we are, seeking to acquire the very thing that perhaps we don’t actually want—knowledge of where we came from, why, where we are going, and how it will end.
I suspect the quest to find love’s point of entry will be futile because love had no beginning, and love has no end. And the search for the beginning of time will be futile as well because there is no time. That’s what I think Mom didn’t want to tell me yet wanted me to know. That time is the illusion we came here to experience. By housing the soul in a physical body, we agree to accept the illusion of time, the illusion of endings —why?
So we can experience loss.
And be tenderized by grief.
Because without time, there is neither loss nor grief. There is only love, present and everlasting.
I don’t know what it is like on the other side of now, but I suspect the reality you will discover is better than any you could have imagined. That the space between goodbye and hello is not measured in years, as you experience it here, but in the space of a breath as you turn a page, open a door, or return the smile of the one you have longed for. “I was just about to look for you!” you’ll say with delight.
“And there you are.”
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.