The dream had haunted him as a child, so vivid and lifelike. In it his mother was like a woman from the pictures he'd seen of the thirties, during the bad times of the depression. She was thin, her beauty dried out by the sun, her long straight hair pulled back into a simple ponytail. Their house was on a field of dry brown earth, and everything was straightforward, no-nonsense hard work. He liked that in his dream. But the part of the dream that disturbed him was when his mother asked him the question.
“Can you see it, child?” Mother asked, gently touching the hair on his head.
“See what?” the child asked in return, reaching up to take her large hand in his small one.
“That shadow out on the horizon,” she replied, her words catching in her throat just a little bit.
The child looked there with wide eyes and said slowly, “No, no, I don't see anything out there.”
His mother looked at him, shaking her head, “I don't know why I told you about it just now. I guess I was thinking about it. Everybody does from time to time. Oh, you'll see it all right, when you get older. It's there, son. It's there.”
He had never heard her talk this way before. “What is it?” he asked, wondering what was making his voice quiver.
She gave him a quick glance and answered, “Nobody knows, and that's the problem. But it is out there; I can see it much better now than when I was younger. It's like a cloud on the horizon that never lifts. It makes me nervous.”
“Mommy, it makes me afraid,” the boy said.
“Yes, it does that to me sometimes, too,” she said quickly.
“You mean, it doesn't all the time?” He asked.
“No, of course not. That would be no way to live, now would it, afraid of something you don't know.”
He would always wake up after that, troubled because he always wondered if she had told him the truth then. How could you not be afraid? From that time on, something began to burrow in him, like an earthworm, always working, always turning up new soil. The dream came back to him at the oddest times and by the time he was a teenager he had almost grown used to it. Then another dream came, and immediately he knew it was different.
In it he was a youth, grown tall, with the hard muscles of hard work. He had walked out on the porch of their house, the golden fields a striking contrast to the brown, barren ones he had seen as a child. He found himself looking intently at the horizon. His father watched him suddenly grip the rails tightly, watched him flinch, and then steady himself. Not knowing his father was there, he said aloud, “I have seen it myself.” That smudge of darkness on the horizon caused him to remember his mother's words, “You'll see it when you get older.” He stood a little straighter and looked again into the distance.
He noticed his father then, who smiled and said softly, “I once looked at the shadow that way.”
“Well, really, it's nothing much, is it?” he asked, the quivering voice of the little boy now deeper and fuller. The pained look on his father's face reminded him of something. As his father paused, the son remembered what it was. It was the day his father had walked into the kitchen to tell his mother what had happened at the swimming hole. It was the last day his little brother's bright smile had shone in their family.
“No, I am afraid it is something,” his father said finally, firmly — just like then. “It's quite large to me now, it fills the space between earth and sky with darkness.”
“Really? Then how come I can't see it?” The son questioned. “You know my eyes are better than yours.”
Was it compassion or sadness that made his father's quick glance so unbearable? Yet he regretted even more having to hear his father's response, “Be glad you don't live with it everyday like I do. You will soon enough. Just imagine what the old folks see. No wonder they are bent over their canes.
The son looked again at the horizon and turned away, sensing that same stirring inside of him he didn't like, that same gnawing. He shoved it aside, and he shoved his father's words aside, and soon he pushed the door open and walked out, and he kept on walking.
He awoke in a sweat, assuring himself it was just a dream. As he sat there he began to wonder what was the dream and what was the reality. He remembered how it used to be in his family when guests came to their house for supper. His mother was such a good cook and such a soft touch. She'd only had to look at him that certain way when there wasn't enough dessert, and he would say, just as natural as can be, “Ah, no thanks, I'm full.” It had made him so happy to be in on his mother's little secret of not having enough, and in on her little struggles at the guests his father brought home without any notice. He'd been so surprised to hear other families weren't like this.
But now his family was like most everybody else's — they knew that from watching television — which his mother had tried to keep out of the house. Now none of the children denied themselves of anything and his mother didn't really enjoy showing hospitality anymore. It was like something, or maybe someone, had died in their family. He began to wonder how long it would be until he would walk out that door, like in his dream, and keep on walking. At times like those, he didn't sleep easily. Still, life went on, going somewhere. Eventually, the dream came true, and on top of it another dream came.
He was driving out of the city to the home he'd left behind long ago. Oh, he and his parents had stayed in touch; he certainly wasn't the first boy to leave the farm, but things had never been the same. Again, he could never quite tell just what was going on in his parents, so great were the walls that went up between them when he walked out the door. Only polite words were tossed up and over it, and just as nicely returned, like a game of volleyball no one was serious about. It wasn't this way with only his parents by any means. Still, the looming wall on the horizon made him want to find out what they thought, made him want to touch something that was lasting, something besides that wall. It abided there, both ominous and uncaring, the most menacing combination of traits he had ever found. It seemed they had been right about that, whatever it was.
Strange how some pretended to know what it was, while others sang songs about it. Perhaps they were trying to drive away the fear. He was sure they felt it — he did. How could anyone know what was beyond it, since no one who had gone there had ever come back, he mused silently to himself. Some things you can't escape, he thought.
He never forgot the look on that girl's face when he walked away from her in the morning. Instinctively he looked from her to the horizon, wondering whether he would see it clearer, sharper, closer. Funny, though, it wasn't like that. There were times he wished it was. It just got a little clearer the older he got and he wanted to tear it down, blow it apart, do something to defy it, but there it sat patiently. It just sat there on the horizon, waiting.
He had turned and looked at the girl, but it was hard to see who she was anymore, because something had pierced through his consciousness and blinded his eyes with tears. This is what I thought about my father when I looked back to see him standing on the porch, staring after me, hurting so bad his chest was heaving and tears were running down his permanently suntanned face. It had been such a close thing then, he knew, his heart had almost broken. He had almost turned around. But it hadn't broken — it had done something else. He looked away from her much more easily than he had looked away from his parents. These kinds of things got easier and easier, but at the same time, he found less and less of himself to give.
The sadness he knew in his dreams was a living thing to him now. He was so sad that as a teenager he had walked out the door, and had kept on walking out of everyone's life he used since then. He found himself driving from one job, or relationship to the next, looking for that wall on the horizon, knowing it must be there. Only in his dreams could he go back to the kind of closeness everybody wanted, and nobody could hold on to.
He became a man and surrounded himself with the things he thought he needed to be happy. He forgot the wall for a time, but visions of it came back to him in his times of loneliness… there it was right on the horizon, hazy, but visible. His wife was lonely too, but he couldn't help her. His children's hearts eluded him. He tried to tell them about the wall, but they didn't believe him. He sought solace in other women, alcohol, career changes. He desperately tried to appease his emotions and conscience by pretending… what? That he didn't believe what loomed in the distance? Finally his dream turned up that old country road, and he ended up in the driveway.
The place was run down a bit, and the fields were untended. His mother came out the door alone, saying simply, “We knew you'd come, and you almost waited too long. He wants to see you. Come along.”
He followed her, noting without surprise how clean and neat the inside of the house was. His father's voice was steady, but quiet. “I can see the wall now even in here.” At his son's surprised look he nodded, “Yes, and you will too someday. You know, it is not as bad as your mother and I feared. There's a gate in it, and soon I'll be going through it. I am pretty sure whatever hardships are on the other side, there will be rest, too. Your mother was right, you can't live in fear of what you don't know. You just have to be true to what you do know. Somehow you never learned that, did you, son?”
There was no defense possible against a dying old man, and the son answered, “No, I didn't. When I look at the wall I see a menacing gate, and it fills me with terror. I don't have any feelings like you do about what lies on the other side. All I have around me are walls already; I am so separated from other human beings I may as well go there now. But I fear it, and I am going to hold on as long as I can.”
At last his dreaming and his waking were indistinguishable, but he knew the grief he felt when he saw the effects of the wall… the divorce, the dead child-soldiers, the heart aches and heart attacks, the mental illnesses, the infidelities, the teenagers taking their own life. None of it was a dream.
He feared what awaited him behind that impenetrable wall, and he knew he would never escape once he passed beyond it. Neither the good nor the bad ever came back — no matter what noble deeds or destructive chaos one accomplished in life. The way of escape had to be now, before those cruel hands took him there. Was there a way out? Where was it? Suddenly it mattered to him, as his life seemed like it was going nowhere faster and faster. The desperate search for the gratification of his flesh and mind lost its appeal. He longed to silence his screaming conscience.
So, what is a dream, life or death? Will people be thankful when they are dead, after all the things they have said and done? Or will they be full of remorse?
The life we live is just one chapter, the shortest one of our existence. Deep down, the knowledge lies securely in everyone's conscience, what death will be like for them. It is no secret at all. Yet, there is a way out.
There was a man who overcame the wall for us. He went to the same place everybody else goes, and endured what they deserved, not what He deserved. He overcame death. He is waiting to deliver you from ever having to go there in the first place. We want you to give what one day you won't be able to give — your life, your love, and all that you are. He is worthy. He will make you truly grateful.