August 30, 2005

Dreaming of Uncle A.

A couple of days ago I posted about a premonitory dream that turned out not to be valid. And yesterday my post was a total down. I’ll try to make it up to you today by telling about a premonitory dream that seems valid to me.

The following is a nonfictional story and all details are true to my memory.

It happened on a night in December, 1990. Saturday December 8 into Sunday December 9, I think. My uncle A., my father’s older brother, had been ill with cancer for some months, and my father had died of cancer two years earlier. My last dream of the night was about Uncle A. I dreamed that he visited me and assured me that he was fine, he was healthy. In the dream, my father showed up alongside him, and I was assured that my father was healthy and happy as well. The emotional tone of the dream was one of gladness combined with surprise at seeing Uncle A., especially alongside my dead father.

The dream was startling enough to me that I woke up, and it was just after sunrise. I immediately felt that there was something special about the dream, and I sat in bed thinking about it for a minute or so. I said to myself, “If it turns out that Uncle A. died this morning, I’ll know that the dream was a premonition.”

I got up and went about the day’s business. The dream slipped out of my mind. That afternoon, I got a phone call from one of my brothers telling me that Uncle A. had died overnight. Then I remembered the dream again.

It was the only time in my life, up to that point, that I had ever dreamed about Uncle A., as far as I can recall. He and I didn’t know each other that well. We met at infrequent family gatherings and we didn’t talk much at them. We had a peculiar relationship that I’d call frustrated intimacy. I think we were curious about each other but didn’t know how to communicate. There were too many differences of background and history between us. There were barriers around him and different kinds of barriers around me. Yet we felt – or at least I felt – an unspoken affinity that was never realized in life. I think that was one reason I dreamed of him: it was a chance to create a bond, acknowledge an intimacy, that we never allowed ourselves to establish.

On the night of the dream, I knew Uncle A. was ill but I didn’t know whether it was terminal or not and I had no reason to expect that he was on the brink of death.

This is the only clearly premonitory dream I have ever had.

I think I was especially sensitive to mortal matters that night because it was the tenth anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, the event in my lifetime that has caused me the keenest grief. I wept over John Lennon’s death (as well as the two Kennedys’ and King’s) in a way I have not wept over either of my parents’.

It would be easy to dismiss my dream of Uncle A. as a coincidence. Simply multiply the probability that a man dreams of his uncle by the probability that the uncle will die on that night. The result is some small number which, if landed upon by the roulette wheel of life, will produce a feeling of uncanniness in the dreamer.

But I reject such mechanistic explaining-away as reductionistic. They ignore the fact that this dream had profound subjective meaning for me even before I learned that the death had occurred. It wasn’t a dream about just anyone, it was a dream about a person with whom I had a specific relationship that the dream addressed. It was a unique occurrence in my life, not just one in a series of spins of the wheel. The conjunction didn’t occur on just any night, it occurred on a night of special significance that was both public and private. I recognized the dream as special the moment it happened, not merely afterward. Factor in all this and the chance of coincidence becomes so infinitesimal as to be scarcely worth considering. To cling to an explanation of coincidence, in this circumstance, would seem to me to be a kind of reverse mysticism, a clinging to the power of numbers however tiny, from fear of facing the obvious. It could have been a coincidence, but it wasn’t.