There are certain places bored into my mind, so vivid and real, that when a familiar smell invades, or a sunlit slash of water reflects the sky just right, I’m immediately transported back to it. Sometimes that’s comforting, sometimes it’s not. Some places I’ll never be able to visit again, some I can visit whenever I want. Some places I have to recreate over and over again in my head, while sitting hundreds of miles away. I have to remember the comfort and soothing relief that would flood me if I did venture back, and play pretend. Sometimes I have help.
Over this past weekend, I had plenty of help, as I was blessed to be able to spend time with my best friend and some of the extended family with whom he is living. I had never met his family, had never been to their city. But, they graciously made room for me in their home, let me stay in a room vacated for the weekend. A room complete with a music stand sitting idly in the corner, a stand not unlike one I used to have in my room, where I’d practice my clarinet. But, that wasn’t what made me feel nostalgic.
No, what made me feel at peace, at home with these people I had just met, was that when I awoke in the morning, the open window to my right was letting in the mist and culling patter of the spring rain that had begun some time during the night. I lay there in the strange bed, thinking of a morning long ago when I had been awakened in a similar manner, with peaceful, prying rain begging me to sit up in bed and share my dreams with the overcast sky.
I was at camp, the same church camp I had attended every year since the fourth grade, sitting on a flattened mattress atop a steel-framed bunk bed. The cabin to which my friends and I had been assigned was nothing short of primitive, yet I still remember it as one of the greatest places I’ve ever been. No, it wasn’t the grand structure at the top of the hill close to the mess hall, complete with a fireplace and air conditioning. No, it wasn’t one of the cabins close to the shower house or the tabernacle. Hell, there wasn’t even a straight path to this cabin. But, I didn’t care. The cabin—this cabin, where I spent my very last week at camp—was nestled into a bramble of brush and overgrown trees, just about as far as it could be from running water. Its giant windows overlooked the lake and it was so quiet I couldn’t help but be at peace when I woke and sat up in bed every day that week, the summer before I became a senior in high school, and saw the June sun skidding across the ripples in the water.
Of course it wasn’t truly quiet. It was that false, lulling kind of quiet punctuated by the mating calls of birds and toads, leaf-rustling winds and seductive rain. It all melted together to form a calming soundtrack composed specifically for making anxious teenagers fall asleep and have vivid dreams which gave birth to epiphanies a person could only have on the outskirts of nowhere, drunk on nature.
I had a few such dreams while I was there that week. Dreams I still remember, dreams I jokingly call “signs.” I only joke about them being signs because people would call me insane if they knew I truly believed in them.
Some dreams made you believe in signs, messages from the beyond, because they were so real and three dimensional that when you woke, you couldn’t help but think you had just experienced the delusion in your head. For me, that first delusional dream involved me, trying to find my way through a maze hedged with high, ivy-covered stone walls. Someone was ahead of me, leading me out. Gently prodding me to chase him. It took me until the end of the dream to see who it was—a friend of mine. A friend with dark hair, bright eyes, smiling as I chased him through the winding landscape. A friend I’d always thought of as just that—a good friend, until I woke with a start from that cryptic dream, listening to the rain pelting the roof of the cabin, pushing through the unobstructed window screens. No sun was reflecting off the choppy water that day. The birds and insects were asleep or in hiding, and it was just me. Awake before the others, sitting in my bunk, wishing I could stay there longer in this sudden moment of clarity. Tucked away from society, pondering funny dreams no one would believe if I told them. Dreams about the man I’d eventually marry, leading me through moss-covered, stone-walled labyrinths.
But, maybe I don’t give people enough credit. Maybe they’d understand, when someone ends up in exactly the place they are supposed to be, there are always signs. Maybe the signs aren’t for you, maybe they’re for someone else. Maybe, you wake up in a strange place, listening to a familiar storm beat against your brain, to assure you your best friend is exactly where he is supposed to be, even if it’s nowhere near you. Maybe, he’s in the perfect place to find the person who will lead him through his own winding maze.