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The Old Man's Dream by Anthony Pacioni

The old man sat down in the only chair in his bedroom..At night he would slowly slip his right foot out of the brown, down-at-the-heel loafer and then the left foot came out. He felt a sense of comfort in so doing. In the morning the old man would again experience the ease of inserting his feet back into the shoes.

 As he goes to bed, he muses that at his age it was getting harder and harder to bend down and tie shoelaces; remembering names was even more difficult; mowing the lawn harder and took longer to do and at times he had to stop and rest. Often at noon he had to take a nap. Growing older forced him to face the reality that he now possessed less physical endurance and that he no longer was able to do with ease what he once did and the realization shook his sense of security.

His room was sparsely furnished. A small bed flanked the north wall. The top sheet of the bed linen was neatly turned back below the pillow. At right angle to the bed was a dresser, the surface marred with age. An old table lamp, standing at one end, glowed softly and cast a dim light on the uncovered wooden floor and revealed worn spots in the faded varnished wood. At one time a carpet covered the floor but had been removed as a precaution against falling. Fred got into bed.

That night the dream which had visited him twice before, came back. In the dream the old man was lying on a Gurney. Turning his head to the left, he could see countless other people so situated. They formed a long line extending upwards in a spiral pattern to a transparent dome in the sky through which a luminous light shone. In a flash, like the click of a camera, the Gurney were rearranged and now seen in the form of a straight row and were in a body of water flowing out in limitless space. They were slowly moving forward toward a water fall, as if in a funeral procession. Looking into the emptiness beyond Fred dimly saw the water falling over the edge. He instinctively knew that they all would fall to a certain death. The effect on his senses in viewing the end of his life was minimal. It was as one standing in a vacant room and looking out of the window in a matter-of-fact way, looking at people walking on the sidewalk and not knowing who they are, where they come from or where they are going and not caring. The revelation that he felt no fear in viewing his pending death amazed him.

Paying attention to his feelings whether awake or dreaming was characteristic of the old man. At college he often took courses in psychology to supplement his major, Business Administration. The information contained in this study led him to evaluate his own thoughts and feelings and formed a habit that he found helpful. He believed, as Socrates explained in Plato's Apology, "the unexamined life is not worth living." When he woke the next morning he felt fresh and energized. This time he was determined to interpret the dream.

Fred believed in dreams. They were a gateway leading to an understanding of one's inner life dealing with hopes and dreams as well as our desires and drives. Such knowledge, he believed, could lead to a better understanding of the self and a better relationship with people. After all that is what most people want.

Fred also believed in a power that some people call God, others relate to the idea of a Guardian Angel or whatever name they give this force. He liked to think of this nameless energy as an inner intelligence that can take over to guide a person who is facing a difficult situation. Whatever the crisis, whether it be a physical illness such as cancer or an emotional problem like drug addiction this inner life can be relied on for guidance. He had read of people who claimed to be cured of these afflictions because they turned to God and prayer and by so doing found a faith strong enough to save them.

Fred remembered the day, about five years ago, when he first met his inner intelligence. He was seated in the waiting room at Resurrection Hospital. He had just had an abdominal xray and was waiting for instructions as to when he might go home. An attendant called him over and explained, "I'm trying to get your primary physician. You must talk to him before you leave." The urgency in her voice and the look of fear in her eyes told him something was seriously wrong. He remembered an old Italian proverb his mother often quoted when things were bad or hard, "che sera', sera', What will be, will be." Fred felt his mind had shifted to an "automatic pilot," like that on an airplane when the captain of the ship switches to automatic control. Now like the ship, his life was following a predetermined course. Fred relaxed. He was curious to know how it would all end.

Finally Fred was on the phone listening to the doctor, "You have an abdominal aortic aneurysm," he said. The words seemed to tumbling over themselves in a hurry to get out the message. He listened carefully, "you must get to the hospital right away," the doctor warned. In a calm voice, Fred told the doctor, "I'm going home and I'll be back this evening." The doctor pleaded with him not to leave but his efforts were in vain. Fred walked aimlessly to his car, got in and slowly drove off.

At home Fred selected a pair of blue pajamas, a wool robe and his comfortable brown slippers and put them all in his overnight bag. He walked through the house and made sure it was secure. He called his sister in Waukegan and in order not to alarm her, eliminated the critical nature of his surgery. She wanted to drive down with her husband and take him to the hospital but he persuaded her that it wasn(t necessary. She would then come the next day, she said. Fred called a cab, went out the front door, locked it and waited for the cab to arrive.

At the hospital they were expecting him. He was put in a wheel chair and taken to his room. In bed he was feeling a sense of peace. He knew the seriousness of his condition because he recently read an article which explained that if an aneurysm ruptured it could be 99+% fatal.

Fred(s mind drifted back in time to that day so long ago when he was a young man in his early 30's and in full control of his life. He overheard a conversation between a young woman and two doctors. They were turned and huddled towards each other as if discussing a secret each was guarding.

The girl was speaking, "How is my mother doing?"

One of the doctors said, "She is doing as best as can be expected."

The girl persisted as if she were not satisfied with the answer. "Will she be alright?"

The other doctor said, "We're doing the best we know how. Surgery for an aneurysm is very serious."


Fred sensed the girl wanted to know if her mother would live but was afraid to pose the question in a direct manner. She had pursued the issue indirectly while hoping the doctors would give her the assurance she needed.. Yet, Fred felt that the doctors were in a dilemma. Certainly they knew the surgery could go badly and they didn(t want to give the girl false hope.

Why was he recalling this incident, just now, he wondered. Was a kind of providence telling him that while there was uncertainty about the girl's mother's outcome, for him it would be otherwise. Be that as it may, he knew he would live to talk about his surgery.

Fred had an uneventful recovery. Most of the time he felt comfortable and free of pain. He knew this was possible because of the timely injection of morphine that the nurse gave him. It was his considered belief that his freedom from fear and his survival was due to something beyond man's control.

Fred felt that in order to access one's inner intelligence, it is necessary to listen. Yet, because people are too busy to stop, they sometimes sacrifice listening. Fred felt that sometimes in the human struggle to survive, people sacrifice not just listening but many other things such as love and compassion. He thought, "are not these emotions sometimes viewed as a handicap in dealing with the challenges that life presents?"

Fred squeezed his orange juice, pondered whether he should have oatmeal or an egg. He decided on an egg and a cup of tea, eager to get back to looking into his dream.

After breakfast he went to his den, sat at his desk and took out from a draw a yellow legal pad. At the top and center of the pad he wrote, "THESE ARE THE FACTS."

1) He was lying on a Gurney; 2) There were countless others so situated; 3) They were all moving forward to certain death; 4 He was not frightened by the fact; 5) He was amazed by this revelation. Try as he might, he was not able to make sense of the information before him.

Fred owned his home. It was a two bedroom structure on ground level and standing on a corner lot. Behind the house was the garage. He had one car, a 1988 faded blue Ford Taurus. With only 40,000 miles on it, it still ran pretty good. While he often considered getting a new car, he reasoned that the old Taurus still had plenty of life. He didn(t drive much these days. He just went to the doctor's or the grocery store and occasionally he drove to visit his sister in Waukegan or a niece in Oak Park. He enjoyed visiting his niece as her husband was a chef and so the food was delicious. He'd bring a good bottle of wine and thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Fred decided to go out and mow the lawn. He saw Jerry who lived across the street with his parents. From time to time Jerry would ask to rent the vacant car space in the garage. Jerry's father was in the construction business and kept his work supplies and equipment in their garage and the family parked their cars on the street. Fred refused to rent to Jerry. He didn't need the money and besides Jerry could start using the space to store things and Fred didn't want that. Besides, Fred was a private person, and zealously guarded that privacy.

He went on with his lawn task. Being a corner house, there was lots of lawn to care for. Fred got tired from mowing. Maybe, he thought it was time for someone to do it for him. He no sooner got the idea that he rejected it. To have someone cut his lawn would be to say he was incapable of taking care of the house and of himself. A friend once suggested that he sell the house and move into a senior citizen retirement home. This too he rejected.

He knew that a day would come when he might not be able to take care of himself. He never married and had no children. His married sister and niece where his only living relatives. They could not offer him custodial care. If only he could interpret the dream. It might shed some light and understanding on his feeling of growing old and lead to a better way of coping with the problem.

He went back to the den and reviewed the facts again. Try as he might no clues revealed themselves that could make sense of it.

He let it go and went out to the grocery store for some milk for his cereal and coffee. He selected some bananas and a sack of oranges and made his way home. On the way he stopped at McDonald's for a hamburger and a cup of coffee. That was nice, he thought.

It was only a month since his retirement from a job with a Chicago hospital where he had served as an Administrative Assistant in the Personnel Department. He was thinking about how he no longer had to get up at six o'clock in the morning and drive twelve miles to work; no longer did he have to deal with employee and union problems. Now his time was his own and he could do whatever he wished during the day. Suddenly it occurred to him that in analyzing the dream, he assumed he was dealing with the death of people. Perhaps that was too literal! Could death here be a metaphor speaking to one idea but referring to something else?

It was as if a light bulb lit up his mind to illuminate something which was there all the time. In a flash he went from being stumped to knowing the answer and he knew how to interpret the dream. The act of dying did not refer to people. It referred to the end of his work life. He no longer held a job to which her reported five days a week. That phase of his life had died, so to speak. Fred leaned back in his chair. This explanation felt right. But what about the other people? Could they represent the countless number of others who were also retiring? The only other question for him was, "what was the meaning of his lack of fear when viewing his own demise?"

After some thought it occurred to Fred that his lack of fear was due to an inner intelligence that knew the meaning of the dream and thus prevented him from becoming alarmed.

Could the dream also have another message? Since he no longer was working did society no longer have a need for him? Was he to be discarded like a broken toy in the hands of a child who no longer wanted it? The word Gurney now reached out to Fred. That vehicle was used to rush helpless people to surgery or to an emergency room. Could the fact that he was on a Gurney mean that he was helpless in coping with his life? He knew that the dream was created by his unconscious mind which might hide that negative view. Was his inner intelligence now stepping in to advise him against that helpless attitude. There was always a purpose and drive to Fred's life. As a child it was to grow up and be independent of adult control. In school it was to acquire a marketable work skill and later to find a job he would enjoy. Now he is retired, what could his purpose be? He couldn't quite put words to it. But then life is a mystery. We're born, we live and then we die. All to what end? Greater minds than his had pondered the question without finding an answer.

Fred saw "man" as one big family. All was one. All were in the same boat; and traveling in the same direction. During the journey "man" was protected and guided by a "Universal Power" who knew the destination. During the journey it was man's responsibility to live life the best he could. Old age was just as important any other period.

A warm feeling of peace came over the old man. He was pleased at his ability to interpret the dream and more so by the feeling of empowerment he now felt. He might be getting old and he might be tiring sooner now when he mowed the lawn. He might need help with chores like washing the windows or keeping the grounds around his house free of the cans discarded by people as they drive by. In winter there was snow to be remove. He knew he would continue to have problems but he would be able to find solutions to these problems.

His purpose in life now, he thought, could well be to learn acceptance. Instead of bemoaning his limitations he could learn to live with them as a natural process. Instead of dwelling on what he could no longer do, he could now look at a more positive fact: he had more free time to do what he really enjoys, rather than be driven by the responsibility to succeed. Career success was no longer important. That was a task in his youth. When he was young he wanted to be a writer but gave up the idea because he feared he would not be successful. He studied business believing this would best give him the skills to earn a livelihood. While he never regretted that, he now could practice and study writing.

There was a senior citizen club that opened in his neighborhood that he could join and perhaps make new friends and participate in group activities. He always wanted to learn how to operate a computer for the fun of it. Now certainly was the time to learn. He could use the computer for his writing. He could surf the Internet and travel the world.

Perhaps this was the purpose of old age. To accept changes, to enjoy and live in the moment with the new freedom found when old habits are dropped and new challenges accepted.

Fred finished his hamburger and drank the last of his coffee. He was feeling satisfied with life. There was a spring in his step as he went out the door of the restaurant to the parking lot where his blue Taurus, which served him so well waited. He got in and went home.


The Old Man's Dream by Anthony Pacioni
Originally Posted  On Tuesday, July 02, 2002 - 04:07 PM (377 Reads)

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