Photo by Samuel Schneider / Unsplash

Spirits Time-Reversed

Editorials Jun 3, 2023

by Vic Neptune

Since my parents died I’ve noticed a curious thing in some of my dreams. At first, my father, who died of cancer in 2004, appeared in my dreams as he had been in the last year of his life: weak from chemotherapy, “decrepit,” to use his own description. Seventy-six, old before his time, he’d long been a mentally and physically vigorous man, toughened as a boy from living in the Great Plains region during the Great Depression. Barely missing getting drafted, since the War ended in 1945, he moved to Washington State to pick fruit, and then attended the University of Washington where he earned a Ph.D. in English, writing his dissertation on William Faulkner, a writer I have difficulty understanding, except for his novel Light in August. I mention this background of his because of the variability of my father’s mind, his endless curiosity expressed even as he was dying, laid up in bed, reading the ancient Greek historian Thucydides and the Scottish poet Robert Burns.

For a few years after his death, when he would appear in my dreams, my father would look and seem very old, bed or chair bound. In later dreams he would move about, looking younger, more energetic. The same thing has been happening in my dreams featuring my mother. She died in 2019, aged ninety-four. Even in her last years she could recall the lyrics and melodies of every popular song of the1930s and 1940s, though she didn’t like her singing voice’s scratchy sound—not what it was when she was singing Carmina Burana with the choir in the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in the 1950s.

I recently had a dream with my mother walking in her kitchen, doing something. I spoke, she listened, I don’t remember what it was about. To see her walking, looking not “decrepit,” but healthy enough to move without a cane, sure enough of her actions to not worry about falling, made me feel happy within the dream and afterwards. Maybe it’s just my experience, but the dead appear to grow younger in dreams, even as the dreamer ages.

The idea of time running backwards, subjectively at least in the above cases,
suggests that thinking of a past event in one’s life causes the autobiographical clock
to rewind to that time and place. Albert Einstein, suggesting that past, present,
and future exist all at once, explained that time is like a map. The past, over there
somewhere, with us here in the present, while the future occupies another “over
there.” All three temporal conditions, past, present, future, he said, occupy the
same “territory.” The future (if I understand him correctly) has happened already,
and the past will happen again; thus, we’ll see our lost relatives, in dreams, or in
another life (or viewpoint) beyond this one.

Though I majored in world religions in college I don’t follow a particular religious
faith. My parents decided to not indoctrinate their children in any one religion,
but to let their kids decide for themselves. I simply offer my experience of what
I know and what I’ve felt regarding these matters. My parents are dead. That’s
inescapable. I have that book of Robert Burns’s poems, that book of Thucydides,
and many others, including my paternal grandmother’s Bible. If I watch a movie
from when my mother was a teenager I might hear one of those songs I heard her
sing when she was old. We’re feeling, constantly, different time periods resonating
in our minds, whether we’re aware of it or not.

Future memories are right now. Something to consider in present actions.