One night, a decade ago, I went to bed angry with my lover. Towards morning, I had this dream:
I’m in prison. On death row. I have killed two people. Today I’m to be executed.
Many days, as I sat in my cell, I wondered how it could be that I took two lives. Although I know it was true, I also know I’m not that kind of person. This contradiction keeps me tossing and turning on my thin mattress at night, the sheets tangling around me.
Now, it happens that, on death row, two women are assigned to you on your last day, calm, loving women whose role is to be with you. They talk to me in quiet tones, touch me lightly on the arm. I leave the prison in their care for a church service for me in my childhood parish, Sacred Heart.
I get to sit in the front row because I am the condemned one. My father sits next to me, his long legs stretched out. He’s still young, vigorous. I can feel the vitality flowing through his veins. My mother comes in, then leaves.
A long line of people who know me pass in front of me. Many won’t look at me; they refuse to see me. A long-ago lover is there, crying. She’s someone who once awoke a childlike joy and silliness in me. She hugs me; I feel love. I say to myself: I guess I know who my friends are.
I begin giving things away. I give my sister three things – the books in my cell, my notebooks, and my copy of my favorite book. I want her to read them, learn from them, be happy. I would like to have her with me when I die, holding my hand as I lie on the gurney. I picture the tubes I’ll be hooked up to, the drugs that will drip through them into me: a powerful overdose of sedative, the second will stop my heart.
I’ll die alone.
Except for the witnesses. I don’t know what to say to my victims’ families. “I’m sorry” seems so inadequate.
Another friend, young and vigorous like my dad, stops and says, “You’re going to a better place,” she says. “I’ll see you there.” I remember how Sandi said that, too, before she died: “I’ll see you on the other side.”
A buzzer rings. It’s time to go. My two companions give me paper to finish writing down to whom my things will go.
I wake up, go downstairs and write the dream down.
This dream seems clear. The loneliness of death, the abandonment by some friends and family, the few who still loved me. Yet, I was in the care of those two women, strangers I could rely on, to whom I gave myself over. They were saints – selfless, working for a higher good.
Midway through my career, I had to work daily with a woman named Marie. She made my life hell – roadblocks, rudeness, poor treatment. I never felt like a real person to her.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Stage IV, she moved to Florida for experimental treatment. Periodically, I’d I hear about how she was doing via the grapevine.
One morning, I was at my desk and suddenly felt her presence. I could see her face clearly. She was smiling. Spirit to spirit, she said: “Ann, I’m sorry that I treated you so poorly. I just didn’t know. Now I can see it all. Nothing connected to the petty things we feel while we’re in our bodies really matters. I’m sorry – I just didn’t know.” A feeling of peace settled around me. It was 10:30 a.m.
Later that same day, I heard Marie had died that morning.
This is what I mean by saint: someone who’s beyond our poor human condition of being mired in who’s right, who’s wrong.
Marie knew something that I didn’t because she’d gone before me. What she told me, I remembered that morning after the dream: that the anger and bitterness that I was feeling about my lover, all the painful experiences tied to the details of our contentiousness – none of it was important, not really.
I said that to myself: “This argument, it’s not important, not really.”
That morning at work when Marie came to me, it was real. It wasn’t a mere anecdote, an entertaining story to tell. No. It was a lesson, a blessing. Paz, paix, peace.