Last night a dream about my father awakened me. He died last February at the age of 96. In the dream my older brother and I were talking to him about the Holocaust. As a young man my dad had escaped the rise of the Nazis in Germany by leaving the country. He rarely talked about these events. Most of what I know comes from a memoir he wrote some years ago.
My brother and I were trying to discuss the Holocaust with him in the dream and we had a book cover we were showing him — from a book by a Jewish writer. Suddenly he grabbed the book cover out of my hands and tried to rip it or crumble it. His emotions were entirely surprising. I questioned him, “Dad, what are you so angry about? What is it?”
At this, he stopped trying to destroy the book cover. Visibly upset, he looked at us. “I guess I still have very strong feelings about these things,” he said. Then he reached out to me, put his head on my shoulder and began to sob. I held him in utter sympathy and astonishment.
Then I woke up. I cannot tell you how far this dream of my father is from my actual experiences of him. In the dream it was as if he was showing me an entirely different side of himself, one he had never dared show my brother and me previously. I knew him as very private, practical and cordial — and always in emotional control when it came to his largely unspoken past.
Maybe in spirit form he is sending me a message.
If so, I would say it is a mysterious one about a secret self never revealed to his sons.
And maybe it is also a fact we all have such secret selves, sides of who we are that are unresolved but well covered by reason and conclusion, by little speeches that seem to say we’ve plumbed the depths and know what they mean. Except we don’t and maybe never will. Maybe there is shame in these things and that is why we want to keep them hidden, maybe regret, maybe hurt or fear, so they become boarded off, a locked room that no longer requires our inner attention.
And maybe the way is that whatever happens in the evolution of the human spirit, in the quest to become ourselves, we have to go back and unlock all such rooms, bringing light to these spaces and sharing them with those we love. Maybe we must do it even after death, so strong is the need.