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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Of Churches and Nightmares

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Buffalo

This gorgeous photo is of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, where I volunteer on Wednesdays at a (secular) after-school program (ENERGY) for refugees. Is it not absolutely stunning? I usually go directly down to the ENERGY center, and had never before actually seen the inside of the church - I was early last week, and so was graciously guided on a tour of this magnificent building. The minute I stood inside this space I felt a long-lost awe and reverence build up inside me - It must be impossible not to feel worshipful in this place, I thought.  The enormous domed ceilings, the grand chandeliers, the long multicoloured stained glass windows all collude to produce a stunning setting that is very awe-inspiring and conducive to feelings of gratitude and prayer. I felt very, very lucky to be there that day. 

On an entirely unrelated note, I was talking to a friend the other day about my varied nightmares. My dreams are absolutely senseless but my nightmares always make terrifying, cold-blooded sense. And I can usually tell exactly which part of my psyche they come from. They are creative and always unique; I've never had a recurring nightmare, although themes and motifs often repeat themselves in a rather grotesque manner. When I think of them from a scientific distance, I always find them very compelling and rather horrifyingly fascinating, in the way that serpents are. It occurred to me that I should record them for posterity (although they are etched into my brain). I've had many of varying degrees of terror over the years, but the ones that have stuck with me the most are the ones that involved my loved ones - and one of a natural calamity. When I was in the second grade, probably around eight years old, I had the first of these memorable nightmares.

There was a beautiful but secluded and rather empty beach. I was not a part of the scene - I was outside looking in, as if looking through a crystal or a globe. There were some children playing on the beach, including two young, pretty girl twins who were my friends (why is it that twins are always scary in horror?). The ocean began to recede, very gradually, but nobody (except me) noticed. There was a building panic in me, but I was absolutely powerless. Suddenly but inevitably it came - the enormous wave - a tsunami. I don't remember much after that except that the girls died and that there was a dark, devastating sense of loss. I woke up then, trembling and frightened to close my eyes again. I walked slowly out of my room and into my parents' room, but not wanting to wake them up, or sleep, I sat down in the chair opposite their bed and stared at the comforting sight of them asleep and safe in bed until I could no longer hold my eyes open.

The only thing that could possibly explain this (I had no idea what a tsunami was yet) was that I had read a book in my friend's house called 'The Big Wave' about Japanese tsunamis and the devastation they cause. The problem is that I cannot remember whether this was before or after I'd had my nightmare. The reason this nightmare creeps me out is because of the strange, uncanny timing: I had no idea what a tsunami was then, but there would be a huge one two years later, in December, 2004.

I've had more than one nightmare about my brother. It's not hard to see where they come from - but they are always terrifying. Sometimes he is getting hurt, and sometimes he is suffering as the consequence of bad decisions. In one of the more frightening ones, my nightmare opened on a funeral: a wooden casket surrounded by black, hooded figures. One of them knelt beside the coffin, sobbing and trembling while the others watched silently, ominous and stern. The kneeling one was my brother; he was in a gang and somehow his actions - or those of the gang had resulted in this terrible death.

I've often said that my nightmares are more vivid, colourful and searingly sharp then any of my dreams. It seems to me to be symbolic of my mind - my worst fears so clearly and intricately sketched out while my dreams and visions of the future - while glorious and similarly vivid - lack the depth and precision that I've accorded my - I'm aware of the inaptitude of the word - phantoms. My nightmares are brilliant and creative, the realest visions that my storytelling brain can come up with. My dreams are airy fantasies lacking substance or the quality of indelibility. Perhaps one day I will succeed in switching them around and chasing the dream rather than avoiding the nightmare.