I dedicated my newly-published novel, Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to my grandfather, a man I met only in dreams. Below is the account of my meeting with him in a dream, an event that changed my life. I inherited my ability to see beyond this world from my mother. Both she and I have stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s new release, Messages from Heaven. To celebrate, I’m giving away a free copy of the Chicken Soup book. To win, simply leave a comment on this blog (below). On February 28, I will choose one random commenter to win a free print copy of the book. Sorry, but due to shipping costs, the contest is only open to those with U.S. addresses.
I met my grandfather in a place I wasn’t allowed to see. It was a shadowed world, and when I entered I had the impression that I was being allowed in against the rules. I saw silhouettes only: silhouettes of men moving in lines across a pier. It was calm in a way I have never experienced before. A body of water stretched below; but it, too, was shadowed. I wasn’t afraid or confused: I knew at once it was only darkened for my benefit. It was a place I wasn’t supposed to see or understand, or tell the waking world about. A single spotlight shone down upon the world, affording me a view of the only thing I was allowed to see: my grandfather. He had died twenty-five years earlier.
I was twenty-four.
All I knew of my grandfather was what I had learned from my mother. He was her paragon: a caring, dedicated teacher, a talented linguist, and a loving father. He was my mother’s guide and mentor, her inspiration as a teacher and a parent. I had seen a picture of him once, and I recognized his silhouette. He stood just far enough in the spotlight for me to recognize him.
He came at a difficult juncture in my life. I had been teaching high school for nearly two years, and I was distressed. My job didn’t make me happy. I planned lessons, I helped students, I graded papers, I sponsored extracurricular activities. Yet I was never happy. I was always tired, empty, unfulfilled. Worse, my coworkers seemed to love their jobs—or at least, they found fulfillment in teaching as a calling. My inability to share their joy left me feeling guilty on top of everything else. The stress of it all had left me sick at all hours of the night, and I wondered how long I could keep the sleep-deprived self-loathing. I had never needed help so much in my entire life.
I was thinking about this as I met my grandfather. It was the middle of the night, and I was lying on the hallway floor—close to the bathroom door—wrapped in a comforter. I had dozed into a strangely-still sleep. And then I saw him. My grandfather was in the middle of directing the darkened figures along the pier. Like me, they were in need of guidance, and my grandfather had stepped up to help them. I could tell the figures had just passed on, and they weren’t quite sure of themselves yet; but thanks to my grandfather, they were being led the right way. When my grandfather saw me, he held up his hands the way a police officer directing traffic might do. The men stopped, their figures frozen in space. My grandfather turned to me, but he still wouldn’t let me see his entire face.
“Why in the world are you so worried?” he asked me. “Why are you doing this to yourself?” His tone of voice was caring but matter-of-fact. It emanated logic and rationality. He didn’t question how I had come to him; he merely accepted the fact that if I was there, it meant that I needed help.
“I think I’ve chosen the wrong career,” I said. “I chose to be a teacher because my mother loved it so much. And she inherited that passion from you. But I don’t think I have her passion, or yours. I’m always tired after work, and I feel like something’s missing.”
He simply watched me. He knew I wasn’t finished speaking before I did.
“The problem is, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Ever since I could first hold a pencil. It’s what’s in my blood, and I feel like being a teacher, I’m betraying that dream. I feel like I’ve already given up on it.”
I could just see in the shadows that his mouth drew up in the semblance of a smile. It was the same expression a parent might have when explaining away a toddler’s irrational fear of the bogeyman. Once again, his voice was calm—and calming, matter-of-fact, and rational.
“I don’t understand what the problem is,” he said, and the way he said it immediately calmed me. “You’re teaching ability is intuitive. Lesson ideas come easily to you. The desire to help others is in your blood. You’re making such a big deal out of it, but it’s all in your mind. Go to school each day, teach your students, and then come home and write. It’s as simple as that. If you want to be a writer, then write. Spending your days at school has nothing to do with it. The only one stopping you—is you.”
It was such sound, simple advice; but I had made the problem so complicated in my mind that I hadn’t been able to see it for myself. Of course being a teacher didn’t mean giving up on writing! I just needed someone else to tell me.
I wasn’t given a chance to thank him or to say goodbye. Instead, I woke up wrapped in that comforter feeling better than I had in a long time. Serenity flowed through me as I climbed into bed and slept straight through to morning. After school the next day, I began work on the first short story I had written since college.
All of my publication credits have come since that encounter with my grandfather. Since the dream, family members noticed how I’d “calmed down” and stopped being so stressed about everything. My mother questioned the motivation behind my renewed calm and subsequent success in writing. “What happened to you?” she asked. “What changed?”
When I described the dream to her, the tears welled in her eyes. Her loving father had spent his life mentoring her, and she took comfort in the fact that even from the great beyond, he was still working his magic.