Growing up, my favorite set of books was, undoubtedly, The Chronicles of Narnia. My big sister gave me the box set for Christmas one year, and I devoured the entire thing in nearly a week, pausing only for the occasional rare activity such as eating or sleeping.
Most people begin their journey through Narnia with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, clueless to the fact that there exists a prequel to this story, in which the entire world of Narnia is born. It is there, in that first book, that C.S. Lewis describes the (in my humble opinion) most intriguing place I’ve ever read about.
“The Wood Between the Worlds”, he calls it.
There, in the mysteriously quiet, magical wood, there exists a series of shallow pools – each one leading to a different world. It’s a pit-stop, of sorts. An in-between place. A doorway leading to other doorways.
And although it’s obviously imaginary, a part of me has always believed that it exists, in some otherworldly place. A place that we’re only granted access to a finite amount of times in our lives.
I know this deep in my heart. And – believe me or not – I’ve seen it for myself.
During my time there, it wasn’t a forest.
It doesn’t always have to be, you see.
Because it’s not really a PLACE in the physical sense of the word. It’s an energy. And it doesn’t matter what it looks like because it presents itself all kinds of different ways, for reasons beyond my ability to contemplate.
But once you’ve been there, you’ll get it. You’ll understand what I’m saying. You’ll recognize it for what it is.
A gateway. A meeting place. A beginning. An ending.
A place, of captivating beauty… and of absolute peace.
My story, goes like this:
It was November of 2018, and I was fast asleep for the first time in several nights, inside my tiny apartment nextdoor to the hospital in Kotzebue, Alaska. I wasn’t on call that night, which means my quality of sleep was phenomenal, as any person who takes call can attest to.
Hours prior, I’d cried myself to sleep. A result of work-related stress (mostly self-imposed) and a slew of other lifestyle factors that I won’t get into until a later post.
I was honestly at the end of my rope, and had carried that sentiment along into the dreamworld, like a bloated, overstuffed, suitcase.
I don’t recall what I’d been dreaming about, but I vividly remember that the dream I’d been having was abruptly, and forcefully swiped aside, like a millennial swiping left on a lackluster Tinder profile.
Suddenly I was standing in a dimly-lit, cozy, sitting room, devoid of people but loaded, wall-to-wall with all sorts of comfy seating accommodations to choose from.
There were large, puffy armchairs with circular, velvet buttons, lone pillows strewn expertly across the carpeted floor, and a myriad of plush couches in varying sizes and colors.
A fireplace was crackling near the center of the room, and a small coffee table sat in front of it, bathed in the soft light of the ambient flames. I made my way over to it, admiring the stately decor of the room, which was minimal, but gave off both an air of importance, and at the same time, one of significant welcome.
The walls were paneled with a deep cherry-colored wood in some places, and painted a beautiful royal blue in others.
This room, looks like it belongs in the White House, I thought to myself as I eyed the magnificent detail of the sconces jutting out from the walls, holding their half-melted white candles as the wax dripped slowly down their opulent shafts.
I’d just chosen a soft, cream-colored, loveseat and sat carefully upon it’s rectangular cushions when I heard a door squeak open on the opposite side of the room.
Although I’d failed to notice the door when I’d first arrived, as it blended perfectly with the wood paneling of the wall surrounding it, I wasn’t surprised at all to see the outline of a person as she made her way through it.
I’d somehow known ever since I’d arrived that I was waiting for someone. But I still wasn’t sure who it was I was waiting for. A woman, with short gray hair, had her back to me, as she turned to quietly ensure that the door was sealed behind her.
There was something familiar about her silhouette, but the light was so dim that I couldn’t make out her features. She quietly, purposefully, crossed the room, and headed for the couch directly opposite mine.
As she reached the area of the fireplace, the light struck her face, and I let out a tiny gasp. My grandmother.
As she softly descended on her chosen cushion, she smiled at me warmly. I was happy to see her, but also extremely confused. I hate to admit this, but my grandmother and I had never been that close. I’d visited a few times as a child, but had a million other cousins to compete with for her attention, and we’d lived thousands of miles away from my grandparents for nearly my entire life.
I adored her despite all this, but had trouble understanding why she would go through all the trouble to arrange this meeting, when we’d barely spoken to each other while she was still alive.
Certainly she had more important things to attend to, a busy schedule to keep up with in the afterlife?
I sat uncomfortably and pondered all this. She smiled at me knowingly. Can she hear my thoughts? I wondered. A jovial glint in her eye gave me the answer. She was amused by my reaction, I could tell.
After what seemed like ages, I finally couldn’t take it anymore and came right out and asked, ‘Ummm… what am I doing here?’
She didn’t speak. She simply held her hands out in such a way that I got the hint.
I was to do the talking. Not her.
And so I opened my mouth, and began to explain.
I told her about my last few weeks at work. How difficult they’d been. How the pressure was choking the life out of me. How I felt as though I was a failure. That I was letting everyone down. That I couldn’t take much more of it, and that I was so very tired of everything.
If time existed in this place, I’d have said that I talked for hours. But there’s no way of knowing how long it lasted at all, because time is an Earthly measurement. And wherever I was, I knew one thing for sure – it was not the world I was accustomed to. It didn’t feel Earthly at all.
Despite my incessant rambling, my grandmother listened attentively. She hung on every word, nodding her head understandingly.
She never spoke. She didn’t have to. And as corny as this sounds, all I felt from her as I sat pouring my heart out in that comforting firelight, was absolute, pure, unequivocal love.
It was pouring out of her. From her. Within her. Around her.
She was absolutely drenched in it. and she somehow had the power to transfer some of it to me.
As I wrapped up my final thoughts on the subjects I’d just covered, she stood up and walked around the mahogany coffee table that separated us. Her warm, loving arms circled me in the most complete and total hug I’ve ever received.
With her arms still around me, I felt her warm breath on my neck, as she whispered quietly, finally speaking for the first and only time.
It’s going to be okay.
And then, leaving me with that sentiment… she crossed the room, and exited through the secret side door, and I knew without being told – I was not allowed to follow.
Once again, I was alone in the room. But with remnants of her hug still clinging to my clothes.
As I turned back towards my side of the room, I glanced upward and my jaw dropped in awe. Above the mantelpiece, was an enormous, hand-painted oil portrait of my grandfather, who is still alive. I admired it for a moment. The detail was incredible.
Then I walked out a door of my very own.
And woke up, remembering everything.
September 8, 2019
Tiny stars are dancing on the periphery of my vision. The blood is pooling in my face and I can feel the tiny capillaries in my eyes beginning to burst, like over-filled water balloons.
My hands are beginning to clench involuntarily, the rope around my neck pinching off their necessary blood supply. I can feel my brain demanding oxygen. The world is starting to go black.
I picture the room from my dream 8 months ago, that dignified sitting room.
The room between the worlds.
And I know, undoubtedly, that if I want to, I can go there now. That the side-door will be open. Unlocked, for the first time.
That I can cross beyond it if I so choose.
But if I make that choice, there’s no going back.
There’s no peeking. I know that without being told.
I can enter the doorway, but it will shut behind me. And my family will be stuck on the other side of it.
I picture my mother. Screaming and banging her ineffectual fists on the solid doorway.
Picture myself, jiggling the knob, trying to open it. Hearing her cries, wanting to hug her, to comfort her.
And not being able to.
Trapped in another place. While she attempts to follow me to the in-between. And gets lost there. Hopelessly lost.
And with that searing image burned into my oxygen-deprived brain, that powerful, gut-wrenching image, a jolt rushes through me, and my wobbly knees forcefully straighten once again.
I turn reluctantly from the open door, unlocked, with the light pouring out of it, and walk the other way, back through my own.
As I do, I let out a sob. I don’t want this. I don’t want to go back to the pain and the hurt.
But I’d rather feel my own pain a hundred times over, than watch helplessly from afar while my mother shoulders hers. I can’t be the source of her pain. I won’t.
I reach up, thanking God that I used a slipknot, which can be loosened if the height is right.
And as I struggle to pull it upwards and feel the knot go slack, I hear the distant screech of a door as it swivels on it’s hinges.
The resounding click as the lock pops back into place.
I fall to the floor in a sobbing heap, and feel my grandmother’s breath lightly pass over my neck.
It’s going to be okay.
To be continued…