Not for the first time, I caught myself staring off into space. Looking at nothing but staring far, far away, somewhere I didn’t recognise I’d gone until I pulled myself back.
Not for the first time I wondered at myself, marvelled at the ease of getting lost in a distant place. I have no words to describe this place, no feeling or physical sensations. Instead I have a sense of surprise when I realise that I’ve gone away and come back again.
It’s not that the real world is difficult to hold onto. It’s not that I’m discontented with what’s right in front of me. Instead, I think that my mind likes to seek out quiet. We’re surrounded by so much noise and distraction and I actively engage in pursuits that require me to be right where I am. I run, I ride my bike, I practice yoga, I dance, I go rock climbing. If you lose yourself there, you’re lost. The mind must be quiet. It must focus.
I think moments drifting away are like this, too. They’ve very different in form but similar in purpose. They’re a means of shutting out and opening up. The difference is in focus – with the activities described above, there’s intentionality. When I finally notice I’ve left this world for another, I didn’t mean for it to happen.
But clearly I needed it. Clearly my mind needed a rest just then. Just now. There was nothing in my hands and I left for a moment. The book next to me remains closed.
Much of the time I like this world, the real world, very much. But the rest of the time I’m aching for a different one.
I caught myself just looking out at the ocean multiple times per day when I spent a week at the beach this summer. That’s how I saw the dolphins and the open-water swimmers practicing with floaties. That’s how I saw the sun move and the tide advance and recede.
I saw the world around me because I was able to let go of distraction and be exactly where I was. I got lost, and I found what I didn’t know I’d been missing.
I’m not sure when it started, this dreaming of purple mountains. But when I look for you behind closed eyes, I know that’s where I’ll find you.
The mountains have always been purple. Deep purple, dark purple, thick lines, visible brushstrokes. Hints of lavender and a touch of violet or indigo, depending on the light. A painting.
The mountains are gently rolling in some parts and in others, steep and jagged. Sometimes there are clouds, too, tinged with dusky blues and greys. Often a few lingering white puffs across the sky. But sometimes there’s just a vast bright blue. The sun is shining. The grass is soft, the bright green that begs you to take off your shoes and play.
I’ll see you in the purple mountains, I think before I fall asleep.
Behind my eyelids, we’re skipping up the hill and we’re laughing.
Neither of us are strangers to this place, to this watercolor illustration out of a children’s story.
But where did it come from? The first time I said it out loud, I knew it was right.
Where did it come from and, more to the point, how did I know you’d see what I saw? Where do you come from? What lives have you lived?
Who are you? And who am I?
I live in a world where we say goodbye on the last day of school in June. Not just, “Goodbye, have a good summer, see you in August.” There’s some of that, certainly, but there’s also, “Goodbye, friend, as you journey to another part of the world. Maybe we’ll meet again one day.”
Maybe we will.
It’s hard to send off the colleagues who have become friends and friends who have become family. I hope they all find their own purple mountains, the realization of dreams both articulated and hidden, wishes both acknowledged and buried.
Yesterday I told a friend, “I hope it’s everything you hope it will be.”
He replied, “I don’t. I hope it’s everything we need it to be right now, but I’m not done yet.”
I smiled. “Then let me say it again. I hope it’s everything you need it to be right now, and that you voyage on.”
This makes sense to me. It makes sense to keep looking for the purple mountains in whatever form they take. It makes sense to dream of them and find that I’m not the only one up there dreaming. I’m not the only one up there looking and imagining and creating.
I know too many people who stopped looking. Maybe that’s the right decision for them and I certainly respect it. But it’s not the right decision for me. I tried to put the dreams aside, to look for purple mountains somewhere else, but I couldn’t find them. In fact, I lost them. For a time, there were no mountains and where they had been was full of holes and erasure dust. I tried to wipe it off but it was hard to see through the smudges.
The mountains were gone and I drifted in the space where they had been.
The most frightening feeling I’ve ever had was not being able to imagine tomorrow. I remember the first time the mountains were hidden in black.
It’s hard to explain this to people who stopped looking or who found their mountains without much getting in the way. Compared to many people I know, I think I’ve lived a lot. My purple mountains with springy green grass were trampled on once but I am filled with gold bubbles when I dream of them now.
Yes, this is hard to explain. I don’t mind when people don’t understand, and I take responsibility for not explaining very well, but I do mind when others do not respect that the right thing for me to do is keep looking.
Sometimes I think I’ve found you. And having worked so hard to get back there, how could I let you go?
When I close my eyes, maybe I’ll see you and learn of the lives you’ve lived. You’re right there beside me, dancing up the purple mountains into the white cloud blue sky, barefoot in the grass. You believe in a world that might exist in a children’s story.
How did I know you’d see what I saw?
Neither of us are strangers to the purple mountains. Maybe they won’t always be everything I hope they’ll be, but maybe they’re everything I need them to be right now.
For the last several nights, I’ve woken in the early hours of the morning, shortly before dawn, from the same dream. I replay the details in my mind while I lie in bed, waiting for my breathing to slow down and the tightness in my chest to subside. The afterimages are vivid for a very brief time and I’m left with my hands clenched tightly and an ache in my heart, but I fall back asleep for a few fitful minutes, trying desperately to get away from that dream. And then when I wake again, I have no memory of the details.
This morning, I remember bits and pieces. I remember looking for something I just couldn’t find and I am not one to lose things. In my dream, I cry out in frustration to a friend but there’s no one there. No one and nothing. It’s gone, whatever it was. But this was the second part of the dream. This was the part that woke me in the morning after I’d woken before dawn from something I can’t remember. It left me with a sense of loneliness; loneliness and loss. Both faded when I opened my eyes and saw the room filled with daylight.
As I scribble this on a notepad that I keep in my night table drawer, the details come back slowly. There were three people in the first dream, the same three people I’ve dreamt about for several nights in a row. Loss makes more sense now. They’re there, I know they are, but they’re out of my reach. Lost. Why those three? That I don’t know. Why them, over and over?
I’d like to go back to a time when it wasn’t so common for me to feel fear subside when I open my eyes in the morning, but I don’t even know when that would have been. Two years ago? Three? Longer? I miss you, I guess, is the moral of the story. Several “I miss yous,” to be precise. You’re there, but not for me, not like you were some time ago but I don’t even know when. Things changed. I can’t quite reach you anymore. (Why those three?)
Navigating this life when I’m alone frightens me but that mostly comes up at night, in the dark, when my walls are down, distractions put away, and it’s plainly obvious that alone is exactly what I am. But I’ve had these dreams the last several nights in a row, dreams that have left me with those feelings. Maybe the alone-ness, which isn’t quite the same as being lonely, is bothering me more than I thought.
But it’s morning now and the room is bright. The stiffness in my hands, nails digging into my palms when I wake, has subsided; I can see it in my handwriting on this notepad. My breathing is calm and eyes are wide open, gazing around the room in recognition instead of squeezed shut, unwilling to admit that whatever it was is lost, hoping to sink back into the dream and find it.
Until tomorrow, then.
Maybe I’ll find it this time. Whatever I’m looking for.
Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place