I saw the 1920s in a dream.
I was there, I’m almost sure of it—that is, at least unconsciously. Whether or not we leave our bodies during sleep, I cannot really say. But if we do, then perhaps I did visit this era, even for a short time.
I remember the store fronts and the people, the colors—pastels I’ve only seen in well-preserved magazines, brought to life in perpetual movement like a blurred, muted, beautiful palette. I remember deep silvers, chrome and blues––the shades I’ve always associated with that time. And I remember the sounds filling the world from some distant place, covering all of us—speakeasy jazz echoing between sleek buildings, cutting through the night sky with lights in random places.
And oddly, I watched this bygone age flip between evening and afternoon. As a clear midnight blanket stretched endlessly like a mirrored ocean and sparkled in radiance—looming over cigarette smoke and posh activity—the day filled itself with striped awnings, high plate glass with fancy lettering and barbershop poles. Time froze, and I heard the ambiance of old car horns and high heels along the sidewalk. Suddenly it faded and I drifted toward morning.
When I finally came out of my sleep, that world was gone, sent back nearly a hundred years to live on without me. I take some level of comfort in believing it is still there, looping infinitely, with flappers and champagne, roaring.
This dream conjured other images in my wakened mind—possibilities or ideas that something might exist beyond our way of understanding. I know, for example, that the dead sleep in fields where stones and plaques are the only evidence they once existed; where I might stand on their earthly graves, they may have once stood in another time. Death replaces life when the heart finally gives up and goes to sleep. But that cannot be our full story.
I feel that somewhere, another world exists—a world that is possibly right in front of our blemished, human eyes.
Our logic tells us that a person lives and then dies, and that their death is final.
They never return. We never see them again walking around or communicating—their light has burned out for all eternity.
It makes me think about a man who lived 200 years ago. He once arose every morning, dressed and engaged in whatever activity filled his daily life. He did this until his time here was over, and then he disappeared; something lifted him away and into another world. He may have left remnants behind of his existence—children or possessions—but his body is gone forever. This is the accepted nature of death and this is what we understand.
And maybe our understanding is correct, but our comprehension will only take us so far because we are flawed beings. Some things like the way in which we view death, no matter how elementary they may seem to us, could very well be incorrect. We have no means of comparison. None of us among the living has died; therefore, there is no way to credit one truth over another.
All we have is speculation.
In the end, that is good enough for most people. In fact, they’d rather not think beyond that. Life is simpler when you can live it in ignorance. Even if concepts like Heaven and Hell exist or do not exist, there may be a different plane of consciousness, a way of being, or a world in and of itself—which we cannot access in physical life.
I saw the 1920s in a dream. But what are dreams? Are they simply projections of the mind awakened when the consciousness is out of the way? Are they an amalgamation of fears and desires, molded together into one unexplainable movie only viewable behind closed eyes? Or…can we leave? When we sleep, have our bodies died enough for the physical aspect of our lives to submit to any and all spiritual aspirations we have? Can we travel anywhere in our dreams—between worlds, or even through time?
I vividly remember many dreams in which I was surrounded by death. I’ve walked through cemeteries, most of them older; other times, I wandered through the marble-walled hallways of intricate mausoleums. In these dreams, the reflection of sunlight against the walls is always brilliant, while the rest of my surroundings are hazy and ghost-like.
The cemetery motif in my dreams appears often – leading me to wonder if sleeping is, in fact, dying in its simplest form: the death of our conscious mind, human rationale crawling toward the feet of the unknown. And in this moment of submission, we are truly free, like spirits on a playground, where nothing is impossible.
In dreams, there is no semblance of human reality. It is only upon waking that we try to assign meaning to the few visual images that remain—and we do so with our conscious mind fully reinstated, lending credibility once more to the idea of impracticality.
Some things simply cannot exist for people while they’re building their houses on cynical ground. That which is absolute cannot be validated unless we believe in it, and we do not believe if we cannot see. Paradoxically, we cannot see because we do not believe. And we have done ourselves a great injustice. There is a world surrounding us, even if it vanishes in lucidity.
This calls to mind another area of personal interest. I have, since a young age, felt moments of physical numbness. In other words, I have sat and focused on something, anything, most times a random, insignificant object, and it is as though my body is still while my “self” leaves and dances in front of me. I feel like a portrait escaping its frame, and suddenly my nuances are no longer behind glass. During one of these episodes, I somehow disbelieve my own existence; I know I’m there, and yet, I’m unsure.
Perhaps that uncertainly is more about the self, doubting its human prison, knowing there is more in another place and feeling the melancholia of having left it behind.
Author: Gary Sweeney
Editor: Alli Sarazen