Taking it on Faith

“I don’t have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power. I feel it particularly when I’m out in nature. It’s just something that’s bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it’s enough for me.”

— Jane Goodall

“Come with me,” he said, as he swan-dove into the water. As his feet disappeared, the back of the pickup where we’d been sitting turned into a small wooden boat, rocking on a calm sea. I replied “I can’t”, but, after my usual hesitance, I eased myself from the edge and jumped feet-first into the water below. Down he swam, far below, and the further he got, the more transcendent he became.

Gracefully, he turned toward me, no longer an earth-bound man, yet undefinable in his current form and blinking, said with relief, “now I feel God.”

This dream came to me the summer my dad passed away, about one month after the awful morning when I stood beside him and watched him draw his last breath. The morning of my dream, I had woken up early (a rarity for me at the time). Bright sunlight was streaming through the windows, with the mountains green and picturesque beyond the glass. It was a Saturday, and knowing it was early, I drifted back to sleep. In between wakefulness and deep slumber, the dream came. It probably took a total of ten seconds, but I woke feeling more rested than I had in months.

I stumbled upon Jane Goodall’s autobiography, Reason for Hope: a Spiritual Journey several weeks later. I’d always admired Goodall — she seemed so gentle and kind in all of her interviews, and I loved reading about her discoveries and insight into the chimpanzee world. But beyond this superficial knowledge, I’d never really given her much thought. About halfway through the memoir Jane describes a dream she had after the death of her husband. A dream that was so similar to my own experience, I had to put the book down for a moment to catch my breath and wipe away tears.

So moved by her dream, Goodall consults an acquaintance who is a bit of a “seer”. With no judgement or surprise, the woman remarks, “of course Jane, you just had an out-of-body experience.”

Jane Goodall, a woman who has devoted her entire life to science, accepted this revelation without hesitation. Some might call that bad science. There is no evidence, no controlled experiment that can prove the existence of anything beyond the world we perceive and can test with math and physics. But Goodall, equipped with nothing more than her memories and faith, believed the woman, and continues to believe. Four hours after picking up the book, I set it down, forever changed.

So what is the point of all of this? All I know is that after my dream, I began to think differently about death. The entire time my dad was sick, I was crippled with fear of what life would be like without him. I still feel a little bruised around the heart and tight in the throat and I probably always will. But I have come to believe that though I can no longer call him up in the middle of the day — to plan the weekend, complain about work, or just shoot the breeze, he isn’t really gone.

I have no idea where or what he is, but I know beyond doubt, that somewhere, he exists. And that is enough for me.

Wrangler of words

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