Sometimes, a dream can change your life.
I found myself in China standing outside a rectangular red and gold painted building I knew to be a school, with a tall roof supported by many dougongs. Around me were about 50 other people my age, all pacing anxiously. I was anxious too; I was awaiting news of the academic fate of my daughter. There was a chill in the air with Autumn on the way. The leaves in the ancient forest surrounding the school weren’t yet changing, but they were showing the fatigue you see in leaves that have been feeding a tree all Spring and Summer, with the green looking almost lifeless, ready to give in. I watched as the mid-morning sunlight danced through the leaves onto the ground where I nervously kicked my feet back and forth on the path that led from the school to the garden. It was a place of pure beauty, with the grandeur of nature mirrored in the architecture. It was the time of year in my village when parents bring their six-year-old children to see if they will be accepted into school. It’s an open house of sorts, but one to which only the children are invited. Parents stand outside waiting while their children express their academic aspirations to sages of many disciplines. Professors are looking for children they believe have particular talent in the area they are skilled at teaching, and select only the students they believe will succeed. It becomes a highly competitive audition which shapes the rest of the child’s life. Through the doorway I can hear conversations about the beauty of art, the science of plant cultivation, the exactness and unlocked mysteries of mathematics, and the timelessness of literature. These are children that will become academic apprentices taught by some of the wisest people in all of China, and may grow up to shape the future of Chinese academics. I stand in awe of all the children already sure of what pieces of the world are most fascinating to them, and remember when I was six how horrible it felt to be rejected. I dreamed of greatness, but was not chosen for the coveted school on the hill. I couldn’t bear to think how Lan would feel if she did not get accepted. I muttered reassuringly to myself that I had done everything I could to foster her creativity and imagination, as she wanted to be an artist.
Suddenly, I hear her call my name. I turn toward the doorway to see her standing beside a tall elderly lady dressed in red silk. Lan had tears in her eyes, and the professor looked at me knowingly, as if her heart was broken for me. Children who were chosen did not return home for many years, as their life became committed completely to their studies. I was filled with excitement as I realized my daughter, MY daughter, had been chosen! At the same moment, I was in grief when I considered how long I would be without her. She ran to me, grabbed my leg in a tight hug, and cried. I knelt down beside her and cried along with her for a short time before doing my best to cheer her up and say my goodbyes. I wrapped my arms around her to give a final hug…
…And I woke up. I lay in bed crying, greatly moved by the dream I had experienced. As real as a nightmare feels when you’re at the moment just before death, that incomparable fear that spreads throughout your entire body, I felt that level of sadness when I was trying to say goodbye to my daughter. And just as you can’t quite shake the fear when you wake up from a horrible dream, I couldn’t shake the sadness. It just felt, somehow, surreal. I’d never known sadness quite like this. I lay there for what felt like an hour, tears pouring from my face. Then suddenly…
…I wake up. ACTUALLY wake up. I had only dreamed I woke up before. All the sobbing never happened – my pillow was dry. Now, instead of feeling sad, I was frustrated and annoyed. I didn’t understand why if I was going to have a dream-within-a-dream it couldn’t have been more fun, more exciting, maybe even a little funny. Why had my brain concocted a life completely alien to my own, on another continent, in another time, with an entirely new set of life experiences not tied to the life I know in the waking world? Did I really need to construct a China that only had pretty buildings, gardens, and silks? Way to go, cultured brain. And what’s with schools stealing children at such great emotional cost? What could it mean?
Then, just as suddenly as I had woken up before, the frustration and confusion drifted away like a dried rose petal in the wind. I was left with a calm and serenity that felt like the hug of a grandmother. I learned that through exercises of turmoil, our hearts learn also to feel joy. Through grief, we can find peace.
You see, not long before this night, Matthew’s grandmother passed away. My grandmothers both passed away in the same week when I was 17, and my grandfathers both before I was born. My grandmothers played a great role in shaping who I am today (you can read a little about them here). When I moved to Minnesota six years ago, both of Matthew’s grandmothers, and truly his entire family, welcomed me. Although it’s never easy to be 1,300 miles from my own family, I’ve been surrounded by people I love and who love me. Very early on, Matthew’s grandmothers became my grandmothers too. The loss was a great painful burden to me, much more than I first realized. But the calm I felt after this dream felt exactly the way I felt when I got a hug from Memaw, and I knew everything was going to be ok. It is no longer time to lament. Rather, it is time to live, keeping those who have gone close in the heart. Though the anguish will always be present, soothing memories will always be with me.
Last weekend, I was casually shopping around Uptown Minneapolis with a couple friends of mine when Crystina got a call from her brother. Through the one side of the conversation I was hearing, I gathered that he was in South Dakota and needed help of some kind. She got off the phone and explained a story that felt like it could have been the premise of quite the movie plot – her brother had driven two of his friends over 500 miles to Deadwood, South Dakota on a road trip bachelor party, and lost his keys. Since it was late afternoon on Saturday, the soonest he could hope to get a replacement key made was Monday morning. Of course, they had to work on Monday, and they needed to stop in North Dakota to pick up one of the guy’s kids.
It didn’t take much convincing for me to decide that Matthew and I could drive out to the rescue. I’d lived in Minnesota for 6 years, but still hadn’t seen any of Western Minnesota or the Dakotas. And – I admit – I have a low threshold for needing a reason for a road trip. With the help of Crystina, we gained entry into his house and located his spare key. I stopped at home, charged up devices, and Matthew and I set out for what was a bit of a longer journey than I had originally realized. We were headed for Deadwood, which is almost as far as going to Wyoming or Montana from here.
And in this weekend’s episode of Unplanned Roundtrip Adventures, South Dakota (and perhaps Wyoming, Montana, instagr.am/p/OfQhr3uacS/
— Jason (ツ) (@jayysenn) August 18, 2012
We finally started driving at about 7 PM. It didn’t take long before we were in that part of Minnesota where there aren’t all that many people all too often. I had never been to that part of Minnesota, actually, and thought it was awesome when I saw my very first red-and-white-highway-closing arm used for times when heavy snow forces the state to close the freeway. I’ve been here long enough to know that happened every now and then, but didn’t know there were permanently-installed mechanisms to help enforce the closures. And then, it got dark. Nothing very eventful, just a really gently setting sun. Not very long after that, we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom and some food not far from the border with South Dakota.
Sunset clouds instagr.am/p/OfZJL_OaUO/
— Jason (ツ) (@jayysenn) August 19, 2012
Since Matthew and I got the Jeep Liberty after his old car caught fire on I-494 (not kidding) we’ve consciously not eaten in it unless it was a non-messy food and we were parked. We decided before we left we would suspend that rule until we got back. Great idea. Matthew got a smoked sausage on a hot dog bun with barbecue sauce, and only ate part of the bun. He was driving, so he handed me the rest to throw out the window “for the birds” – you know – because birds just go CRAZY for barbecue sauce. Well – the bun decided it liked it better inside the Jeep, and came back in the window and wedged itself between the seat and my back, barbecue sauce and all.
Threw a hot dog bun out the window for the birds. It flew back in. Condiments ensued.
— Jason (ツ) (@jayysenn) August 19, 2012
Soon after, I noticed the font was different on the road signs, which was my clue we had crossed the border. We then drove through Soiux Falls, and knew the rest of South Dakota was likely to be a lot less fascinating, especially at night. It did not disappoint. We swapped positions, and I drove into the night with Matthew drifting in and out of sleep. It was so dark that I couldn’t tell what kind of land I was driving through. Since I’d never been to the state, I really had no idea what it was, and it was a little creepy. It could have been rolling hills, mountains, flat prairies, anything, and I was none the wiser. I could see about a foot on each side of the pavement, and there was one car at a time coming the other direction every five or ten minutes. The best comparison I could think of to this kind of driving was a treadmill. The road was definitely moving beneath me, but the rest of the world seemed to be standing still. I then opened the sunroof and was in pure awe and disbelief at the look of the night sky. There wasn’t a cloud anywhere, and I had never seen such a dense view of stars in my life. The night sky is one of the few things I don’t like about living in an urban area, but even growing up in a rural area, this was simply beyond what I had previously comprehended.
After quite a bit of driving, I saw a sign for an exit to a scenic overlook. My hip was hurting, so I thought a stretch could do some good. I pulled in, turned off the car, woke Matthew, and stepped out into the night. Being in such a dark place was even more amazing than just seeing it through the sunroof. It was so dark it almost felt tangible. While Matthew setup his DSLR to try taking a few photos of the stars, I used the LED on my phone to walk around until I found a path leading to a fence. Even shining the light over the fence, I couldn’t see a single thing – the darkness was just too heavy. I know only that I was in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. I made my way back to where Matthew was, and then another amazing first experience happened – wolves. I heard wolves howling from far away in every direction. It was the kind of beautiful thing that comes completely unexpectedly and goose bumps just cover your body.
We finally got to Deadwood just after 5:00 in the morning, and the party trio were still awake, waiting on us. The lady working at the hotel (who seemed to be a receptionist, janitor, and hotelier all in one) called over “the Monkeys” and we were met with some giant appreciative hugs (Monkeys, you ask? They got in trouble the night before for jumping on the beds). We spent a while talking and laughing a little further into the morning, then all caught a nap for a couple hours. After that, our ways parted again. Matthew drove through the day, as we caught side trips into Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, and the Badlands National Park. Later on, driving through the prairie, I noticed a lot of different ways that farmers stack their hay, as it’s that time of year. Yes, that was about the most exciting thing after we left the Badlands.
OH: “You can learn a lot about someone based on how they lay their hay.”
— KATrGEEK (@KATrGEEK) August 20, 2012
I picked up driving at dark again, and got us most of the way home before Matthew finished the trip. We got home at 5:00 in the morning, and successfully made it to work that day, and the whole week after. There’s of course a lot more to the trip than I can describe here (or that you’d have the attention span for) but I really cherish the time spent with Matthew, the awesome things we experienced, and being able to help a friend in need. I can’t wait to join up with the party trio soon to fill each other in on the details of the second half of our trips!
You can find more photos on my Twitter or Instagram.
Bonus: Video of Bison encounter by the party trio on their way toward Deadwood. Enjoy!
If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
It’s a question I love to ask people – discussing it can give you a glimpse of insight into how people think about life. It’s interesting to see how people would push the envelope of human abilities if given the chance.
My own answer to this question is flight. People often consider turning things to gold with just a touch, becoming invisible, or teleporting. For me, an innate ability to fly would be incredibly fulfilling. I must admit that I’m influenced in this perception by my dreams.
I’ve had very many dreams in which I was able to fly. While I am dreaming, it does not occur to me that this ability is not natural, but just seems a normal extension of my abilities. Looking back on the dreams when I’m awake, I look quite silly to myself. No, I don’t flap my arms like wings, but rather run with my knees kicking really high, as if I’m riding an imaginary bike (come to think of it, it looks a bit like ET flying across the moon). The faster I spin my knees and feet around, the higher I rise. It always feels incredible and exhilarating, and when I’m (quite literally) on top of the world, everything seems absolutely perfect.
So, why do I think this would be the best superpower to have? For me, it’s about the experience more than about the ability. Sure, it would be nice to be able to teleport wherever I wished, but once I got used to it, it wouldn’t feel any different than walking through a door. It would just become a matter of fact. Invisibility seems like it would get lonely after a while. Flying, however, would always be an experience that would never be quite the same. You can fly over new landscapes, through ever-changing weather, and you can share it with other people (assuming you found some friends who could fly). Think of it as a road trip not bound by roads. That’s what I would enjoy most.
So – what would your superpower be?
Hey! You! Yeah, you! Sorry for calling you “Hey You;” I know how much you despise that.
Since I have your attention, I wanted to let you know you can connect with me on Spotify. It’s hard to find people that you’re not already friends with on Facebook, so here’s how:
I’m always looking for interesting people to connect with on Spotify so that I can discover new music, so if you’d like to share, please do! Cheers!
A breeze is in my hair
And moonlight on my face
I’ve never found myself to be
In such a perfect place
I hear the gentle song
Of crickets in the grass
Another gorgeous Summer night
Will come and go too fast
With fireflies in the field
And bullfrogs in the lake
I wish that life would be this calm
Tomorrow when I wake
Still time will move along
As we fly ’round the Sun
And when we’re old and grey we’ll see
That time has just begun