It happened one evening in the year 1989. It is an experience I will never forget, and I will never be the same because of it.
It began with me standing in the door of a bar. The bar was run down and dirty, and the inhabitants blended with the atmosphere. Every person in the room appeared to be drunk. Even though I was not told, I sensed what each did for a living. There were doctors, lawyers, business executives, factory workers, cooks, maids, secretaries, actors, Vietnam Vets, housewives....
No one spoke. People just stood or sat around in a sad stupor. All were dressed in their work clothes, but they looked like they were either up all night or had just gotten out of bed. Clothes were rumpled, hair mussed up, make-up smeared, men had stubbles on their faces. No one moved.
I waited for a moment to see what, if anything, was going to take place, but nothing did. I felt very uncomfortable and wanted to leave, but when I turned to open the door, it was gone! There was no way out! I began to get frightened! What was I doing there with all those drunks? I didn’t belong there! I wanted to leave, wake up, anything, but be where I was!
Suddenly, a man at the end of the bar caught my eye. As I stared at him, he slowly turned to meet my gaze. His eyes were so sorrowful and empty. I somehow knew he was a young doctor about the age of 33, and he may have been a very attractive man at one time. His blonde hair was mussed and fell over his eyes, and he hadn’t shaved for several days. He sat slumped over the bar with a glass of liquor in his hands.
Then it began happening. Without wanting it, I began seeing into his past and to know all about him. He came from a long line of successful doctors. His father was a well-known physician who worked at all the major hospitals in the area, and he did quite a bit of traveling giving lectures to various groups. His mother was a successful obstetrician at one of the local hospitals. Both had high expectations of their son and expected him to take his place in high society.
There was one problem though. The son didn’t care about money or being a part of high society. He cared about the poor and the less fortunate; those who couldn’t afford food to feed their families, let alone medical care. He wanted to start a clinic in a poor section of town so he could give those people the quality care they so desperately needed.
Of course, his family had a fit over this crazy idea of his and would hear none of it. Every time he would try to get the clinic started, his parents would use their influence and put obstacles before him. They just kept pushing and pushing for him to be what they considered was a success and to make a lot of money. Finally, he could take it no longer and he broke. He turned to alcohol to help him forget his dreams, to ease the pain he felt for others, and maybe in a way, to get back at his parents.
Most of the others in the bar had basically the same, but different stories. Things happened to them in their lives that they were not prepared to handle. An executive lost his job because of his age and couldn’t find another job. A lawyer handled a client whom he knew was innocent, but because of powerful politicians, he couldn’t get his client’s name cleared; nor his. A housewife was constantly being beaten by her husband and her children were sexually abused. A secretary was sexually harassed by her boss and eventually raped by him. She couldn’t say anything about it, as her boss was well respected in the company and in the community, and there was no way anyone would believe her.
I began to feel really sorry for these people. Not only sorry, but angered that this was even happening to them. I didn’t know what to do about it. Before I could say or do anything, the door appeared and I was being led out of the bar. I wasn’t being led by a person that I could see, but more of a Force. On one hand, I didn’t want to leave; but then again, I didn’t want to have to see these people’s pain any longer. I hoped I was being returned to my warm, comfortable bed so I could get on with a good night’s rest. But there was more.
The next thing I knew, I was flying over a huge city of twinkling lights. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. I thought that maybe I was going to start having some nice dreams to finish off the night. Before I could complete that thought, we started descending downwards. My heart began to beat faster anticipating where my dream would lead me next. I would soon find out.
As my feet touched the ground, the Force left me there alone in a seedier part of town at night. As I looked around, everything was quiet and barren. I wasn’t sure if I was to stand still and wait for something to happen, or if I was to start wandering around. Dreading what might come next, I began walking down an alley that was before me. I remember thinking...in real life, there is no way I would walk down a dark alley at night, but since this was a dream, what’s the worst that could happen to me? When I got halfway down the alley, I heard a rustle to my right, which startled me. As I turned to look, I found two little huts made of cardboard and other scraps of material. Over the handmade entrances were shreds of blankets to act as doors. I had the feeling I was to look in the huts, so I cautiously pulled back on the blanket of one to take a peek inside.
Lying among old, rumpled up newspapers was a man fast asleep and snoring. He was dressed in ragged cloths and hadn’t shaved in quite a while. I don’t think he’d had a bath in that amount of time either. Apparently, he sensed that I was there and woke with a start. He grumpily yelled, “Hey! What are you doing here?!?! This is my home! Get out!” Frightened, I backed out quite quickly, and as I did, I stumbled over something behind me and fell. When I looked to see what I had fallen over, I found a dead body. It was the man that was in the hut I had just left. He had frozen to death in the alley. Panicking, I got up and ran to the back of the alley and out around the buildings.
As I rounded the corner, the sight before me caused me to stop and stare. I had come upon a large area cluttered with homemade houses made out of scraps of material, cardboard boxes, anything anyone could get their hands on to make a shelter. People were dressed in rags and other clothes that people discarded after they had gotten their use from them. Metal barrels were set throughout the compound with fires going in them to try and bring warmth to the area. I hadn’t realized how cold it was until I saw these people all bundled up.
Before my thoughts could go further, several children came running out from behind one of the huts. They were yelling and laughing while chasing each other in a game of tag. They didn’t seem to notice how miserable their living conditions were.
The adults were different. Most were depressed and beaten. You could see it in their eyes and in their expressions. Again, as in the bar, I began to see and feel these peoples’ pasts. I had often wondered why these people just didn’t go out and get jobs. Anyone could get a job, right? Wrong. One man lost his job because of cutbacks in his company and wasn’t able to find work in his field. He wasn’t skilled in some areas or was over-qualified in others; therefore, he was unable to find work, though he tried. Because of lack of income, he was unable to pay his rent and was thrown out of his home. Without a job, he was unable to find housing elsewhere. Consequently, he ended up here.
Again, the others shared the same, but different, disheartening stories. All had reasons for being homeless. High cost of living, unable to get work, some were mentally ill and were put out on the streets by the institutions. Some were drug addicts or alcoholics. Couldn’t something be done to help them? We’re the richest country in the world and we can’t feed or house our own poor? It’s pitiful enough to see adults living like this, but what about the children who have no say in the way they live their lives?
Tears began to fall down my cheeks, but before I could think much more on these people, I was being whisked away by the strange Force that was taking me on these horrible journeys. I was still thinking about the homeless when I found myself in a hospital ward full of people; all men. Some of the men were bed-ridden and barely moving. Some were in wheelchairs. Others walked with crutches or limped on their own. Many were missing arms or legs. Some were burned beyond recognition. Again, all had eyes that were so sorrowful and void; it was as if only their bodies were in that room and their minds were off somewhere unknown.
One man in particular was lying so still in a bed I wondered if he was even alive. His right arm and leg were missing and he had a bandage wrapped around his head. I began to feel this man’s pain so much that it became almost unbearable.
As I looked at him, pictures began to flash in my mind as to how he came to be in so much despair. I saw a group of men running through a dense jungle. It was still daylight, but because of the density of the trees and foliage overhead, it was dark enough to where the men had difficulty seeing where they were going. I had the feeling that they were being chased by someone, but I couldn’t distinguish who might be after them.
There was tremendous gunfire and you could see the flashes from the guns as they went off. Men began dropping from being hit by the hot, speeding bullets. Big flashes of light began to pop like huge light bulbs as grenades or bombs exploded among them.
I was right amidst the fighting, and yet everything was happening around me keeping me untouched. As I stood horrified watching the nightmare before me, a movement caught my eye just to the right of me. When I turned to see what it was, I saw two men running. The look I saw on their faces was one I never wish to see again. It was horror, panic, and fear all in one.
Before they could get very far from me, there was a big flash of light and a deafening sound. At that point, time slowed almost to a standstill. In the flash of smoke, I noticed objects flying into the jungle, but at that moment, I couldn’t quite make out what they were. Then I heard a sickening scream, followed by a gurgling and moaning.
When the smoke finally cleared, the first thing I saw was a pair of boots on the ground sitting side by side. It was then that it occurred to me...the objects flying through the air were parts of a body. My eyes tried following the sounds of the moaning and came upon a body lying on the ground in massive pools of blood. The man had his right arm and leg blown off, and it looked like part of his head was missing. He just laid there staring at the boots. He had just seen his friend blown to pieces.
That thought and the sight before me caused great upheavals in the pit of my stomach. I knew I had to throw up, but nothing would come. When I thought I could take it no longer, I found myself being pulled upwards, high above the trees where I could see the fighting still going on below me. I kept climbing higher and higher into the clouds and into the darkness of the universe. Even though I was no longer looking at the sights I had just witnessed, I couldn’t get the pictures out of my mind. Just when I felt myself about to pass out, I found myself back in the hospital ward looking at the man I had just seen torn apart moments earlier. I wanted to go to him, tell him I understood and that I cared, but I couldn’t move. I could only stand there and stare.
The men in that ward all held so much pain; not only physical pain, but the emotional pain from all they had seen and been through. Pain that would be with them for a very long time to come. I wanted so much to be able to do something, anything, to help take that pain away. But there wasn’t anything I could do.
I was briefly able to see and feel what some of the other men had experienced. Some had seen their buddies killed or maimed by children planted with grenades or bombs, and some had to kill children in order to keep from being killed themselves. Some had seen things so horrifying that merely putting them into words just wasn’t enough. Many lost their wives and children through divorce because they couldn’t take the separation and loneliness of war.
They didn’t know why they were fighting other than the fact that they were doing their duty for their country. They didn’t know who they were fighting, as many times it was hard to tell who were the good guys and who were the “enemies” until it was too late.
People were always saying that the Vietnam Vets were causing their own problems or using Vietnam as an excuse for those problems. They looked down on the Vets because it was an unpopular war, and even though they were doing what was lawfully expected of them, they were being treated as if they were criminals. Some are being treated that way to this day. Many are still living the war even though it’s been over for years.
Just as I was beginning to get all riled up over the injustices of the Vets, I felt myself being lifted out of the room. I didn’t know how much more pain, suffering, depression, and despair I could endure. I hoped my dream would end so that I could just forget it and go on. But I had a feeling this was one dream I would not be forgetting for a very long time.
Instead of landing in another situation, the Force and I seemed to be flying around the world. I could look down and see cities and towns. It was breathtakingly beautiful. But suddenly, pictures again started flashing before my eyes. Instead of any individual situation, I was seeing many. It was like seeing a slide show, only the images were appearing over each other as they were changing so fast. Even though I couldn’t make out the pictures clearly, I was able to see and feel the pain behind each one.
I saw the drug addicts and the reasons they turned to drugs. I saw the husband who beat the wife and kids, and the pain of his own childhood. There were the overly obese people who ate to try to forget their pain, or those who didn’t eat to try and change their pain. I saw those who withdrew into themselves and ended up in asylums or committed suicide because they couldn’t handle their pain any longer. I also saw the people with AIDS, both children and adults, and the pain it caused them and their loved ones.
Then it dawned on me. I was seeing all those that we humans judged just because they were different from us, or whose problems we didn’t understand. We de-humanize them, humiliate them, and pretend they don’t exist in order to justify our own feelings toward them. We say they’re bad people and that they don’t deserve our love, compassion, understanding, or assistance. They got themselves into their situations, let them get themselves out.
We sit in judgment because it gives us an excuse not to love them; so we don’t have to have compassion or understanding for what they’re going through. We can sit in our own safe, comfort zones and not bother with them.
It was then that I happened to notice tears were silently falling down my cheeks. They were tears of sadness. It occurred to me that the tears weren’t so much for all those in my dream, but more so for myself. Had I really been so judgmental to all my fellow human beings? Had I really held so much disdain for those that were different from me, or for those I didn’t understand?
Only a moment had passed, but to me, it seemed like hours. Was I dreaming? Or had everything I just experienced actually happened? Maybe both were one and the same. Either way, I learned a big lesson that night.
Soon, I found myself waking up. I guess I wasn’t surprised to find tears still falling down my cheeks onto my pillow. I don’t know how long I lay there, but sleep would not come upon me again. It wasn’t long before I saw a glimpse of sunshine coming through my bedroom windows. The birds were singing their morning melodies and it was the most beautiful sound I had heard in a long time. In fact, everything that morning seemed to be more beautiful than I ever remembered! Life was more beautiful!
As I lay there thinking about everything that happened that night, I realized that there is an awful lot of ugliness in the this world; crime, starvation, disease, war.... But there is also a lot that is beautiful. We can either focus on the ugliness and make ourselves and others miserable, or we can focus on the beautiful and enjoy the life that we have. I think that what it comes down to is attitude. Your attitude can make or break you. It can also make or break the world we live in.
There’s so much that I can do nothing about, but I can start with myself. I can learn to love people more and to have more compassion and understanding for what they’re going through. I can learn not to judge people no matter how different they are from me, or how different their beliefs are. People are the way they are for whatever reasons.
Love, compassion, and understanding. That’s all it takes. We are all one with each other, with the earth, and with all living things. When we hurt someone or something else, we are only hurting ourselves.
Yes, this is a true story. And it has changed my life forever.