I’ve been having strange dreams for days. They’ve all been about when I was back in Colorado. Some were from when I was in high school, and others were from when I was in college. The thing is, they’ve all been like flashbacks. In each dream, I’ve relived a clearly remembered event. In each dream, I’ve been unaware I was dreaming, but after waking up, I remembered the events clearly.
All of the dreams have included my grandfather. It’s a bid odd since I’ve barely had any dreams with him in them since he died a few years ago. Since I was raised by my grandparents, I suppose it’s not that strange, though. I was really close to him. It’s just that he died suddenly under strange circumstances back when I was in college. He’d been really healthy, and both of his parents lived to be nearly 100. Heck, at least one of his aunts is still alive. He’d seemed fine when he first came down with a cold one day. He was feeling tired, but it didn’t seem too bad. After a couple of days it got worse, so he went to the hospital. I drove back from college to visit him, and we chatted for a while. He seemed fine, just a bit impatient to get back home. Three days later days later, he died. Nobody’s quite sure why. My mother, who is a doctor, went over his whole file and still found it confusing.
When I was young, I used to sit on the patio behind our house while he smoked. We’d sit out there, enjoying the view of the clear mountain skies and chat for hours. We talked about science fiction, history, spirituality, his life, my dreams for the future… everything. It may have to do with youth, but I’ve never, ever in my life, had so much interest in life or been in such wonder at all the possibilities before me as when talking with him.
Even now, it’s easy for me to smell a curl of smoke wafting over in the cool clean air, and see the beautifully sharp stars in the clear sky. I used to have a telescope that we set up in the back yard to look at Mars, when its orbit brought it close enough. Usually though, we just talked. We talked about progress, about hopes for a better future for humanity, about the nature of happiness, about absolutely anything I wanted to.
In every dream I’ve had this week, I’ve relived it all, seen his wrinkled brow scrunch up a bit as he sipped his coffee, and heard his quiet, rumbling voice as he talked with me. Every morning this week, I’ve woken up with sense of calm and happiness that fled as soon as I opened my eyes. Yesterday was particularly difficult to get moving and ready for work quickly enough. I’d just dreamt, or relived, the conversation I had with him in the hospital. At that time, I’d recently sold my house, quit my full-time job, and gone back to college. I had just finished mid-terms, and I was telling him all about my Japanese class. Then, he was warning me about some difficulties he thought I might run into.
Look, I know you can do well at this, and you’ll find your way. I know you’ve been talking for years about how great learning another language would be. I know you’re interested in literature and saying how much you’d like to read classics in the original language. You have to acknowledge the difficulties you’ll face, though. You’ve got more talent for math than for languages. I know you’re doing this because you want a challenge. Both my parents are professors, and mom teaches languages. It takes an awful lot of humility to learn a language. Can you accept being clumsy with words and confused half of the time and keep using a language you can’t communicate that well in? Perseverance will matter a lot more than brains will.
I felt a little hurt, but considering how much he’d seen me go through I knew he was just trying to help. He remembered the attention I’d gotten for getting into college so early, and he’d also been there for me while I was going through the pain of not living up to everybody’s expectations. He’d seen me make the transition from a child prodigy who felt special, to a drop-out with no direction. He knew I was only sporadically motivated and acutely sensitive to failure, both of which are bigger character flaws for a language learner than for a programmer.
I told him I’d swallow my pride and give my Japanese classes my all, and that after that, I’d learn Chinese (which I had taken failed the first time I was in school), too. I said, “Who knows what my job will be in the long run, but I’m going to confront my past failures and get really fluent at a second language before I worry too much about it”. He replied that his job hadn’t been invented yet when he was my age and that maybe mine hadn’t been either. Not knowing what else to say, I told him I had to get back to the dorms and get some sleep. I gave him a hug and headed back to Boulder. That was our last conversation.
Today, after work, I just realized that yesterday was the day my grandfather died four years ago. I’ve had a dream about him each day, starting from the date he got sick until the date he passed away. The subconscious is an amazing thing.