On May 2, Valerie Olive visited me. Nothing would have been unusual about an unexpected visit from such a dear friend, except that she had died several months prior.
It happened while I was having a dream about dolphins and freedom of movement. I had been making clicking noises, whistling, and remarking to myself how cool it would be to make a D&D Druid with an affinity for the aquatic creatures. But once she appeared, she commanded all of my attention. She seemed so undreamlike, like the sharp edge of the real world cutting into the imagination. Suddenly, I felt very lucid. She smiled, and I followed her.
I don’t remember the exact words of our conversation, just as I don’t remember the exact words of a conversation I had with my mother the other day. But our walk and our talk is very clear in my mind. We found ourselves on a walkway, canopied by stone arches, by a river in a garden of lush evergreens and ferns. We were the only souls around as far as I could tell.
Valerie looked much like she did in life, but she had lost some weight, and like I said, she was walking. She had this perfect, grandmotherly beauty to her. She laughed her deep throaty laugh quite often. We exchanged jokes. Very, very corny jokes. I asked her about visiting more often, and she said she would if she could.
Our conversation began about dolphins and freedom of movement. I told her how dolphins have always been my favorite animal. I love how they fly underwater, and if I could, I should not only like to walk, but to fly like them. Valerie laughed and commented about how much freer she could move now. She teased about switching bodies with the dolphins, or with me, once I could fly beneath the waves. I smiled sadly and said, “If only you were real, and this wasn’t just a dream.”
I’d been having doubts about the survival of the soul after death and the Catholic faith in general. Valerie already knew that, and told me God had permitted her to visit me. She said not to give up, that a place of freedom really does await us on the other side. I told her while that may be so, a mere dream wouldn’t be enough to alleviate my doubts. I believed her, of course, but at the same time, I didn’t—if that makes any sense.
Then she got this mischievous twinkle in her eye and said, “How about a book recommendation? You like those, right?” Darn tootin’ I like those! She dug around in her purse and pulled out a book I’d never seen before. Hall’s Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church. It had a red and yellow cover. She also told me to read about Benedict and thorns. This last request puzzled me, and I woke up after she grinned and waved me bon voyage.
Immediately upon getting up, I went to the computer. The WiFi was down, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed by just running a diagnostic scan. I Googled “Hall Doctrine and Practice,” and sure enough, the book I had seen came up right before my eyes. Interestingly, a reviewer commented about liking how Hall gives special treatment to Syrian Christianity (you know, like the Maronites). Go figure.
And as for Benedict and thorns, I soon came across something quite fascinating on an art history blog. According to legend, Saint Benedict cast himself into a thorn bush while naked to escape the wily temptation of a woman. I believe this was a kind of friendly warning for me. If Saint Benedict, the founder of my Order, was ready to go to such great lengths to keep the faith, I should get back on track with my prayers and Christian joy. I need to resist the temptation to despair. Like Gotye said in Somebody that I used to Know, “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness. Like resignation to the end, always the end.”
But there is no end. So rejoice! Christ is risen! And Valerie lives!