I actually consider myself to be a painfully left brained person. I write, I draw, I paint, but I do it very realistically. I have not been able to break free of drawing from a photo or real life, and most of the writing I have done in my life has been logical, persuasive writing. I have written legal briefs and motions, business letters, reports and analysis, or memoir. I have never been able to spin a new reality into a novel. So it would certainly never occur to me that I have “visions.” But the fact is that I do seem to do just that.
I have always seen things on the back of my eyelids, random pictures. I can close my eyes and see flowers blooming, see faces transforming. I’ve never thought of it as having any meaning; it’s just mildly entertaining. But during the course of my cancer treatment, I started having a series of visions that took on a life of their own. They started because my pastor had given me a verse to keep me through this cancer journey, that of Jesus calling Peter out of the boat, to walk in trust on the water with him. I liked this. I’ve always loved Peter, so human, so wanting to believe, swearing never to leave Jesus even if everyone else did, then denying him three times within that same night. That would be me.
It was when I started finding myself in scary places during my cancer journey that I started calling on that scripture. The most terrifying places initially were scans. MRI, PET, CT. I have really severe claustrophobia. I have broken into panic attacks in crowded underground parking garages, and in movie scenes where the actors have to shimmy through air conditioning ducts, or where they go into caves, I have to cover my eyes. Even a large room with a very small entrance will freak me out. So I remember looking at the tunnel into which I would have to go for a PET scan, and telling the tech that I just was not even possibly going to be able to do it. She said, well, you can come back another day and you can take some Ativan or Xanax ahead of time, but for a PET scan they actually have to make you radioactive, and they had already done that, so she suggested I stay, and offered to cover my eyes. So we did that. She put a small towel across my eyes, and in I went. Even unable to see, I knew what was happening, though. I could see the light change to dark as I entered the tunnel, and I wanted to panic. Instead, I decided to travel.
I went in my mind to the place of promise that my pastor had given me. Right to the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus took my hand and helped me step out of the boat and walk on the water. I’ve had safe places to go in my mind before. There had been a canyon on a workout video that I’d used during dental procedures, for example, but it had just been a place that helped me relax. Nothing was going on there. The Sea of Galilee was different. It came alive. It held character and plot. I was not alone. Jesus reached out to me, and I stepped out of the boat and walked on the water. I looked around, and saw the most brilliant sunlight sparkling and flashing on the sea. After awhile, I was no longer walking on the water, but dancing on it, dancing in circles, and Jesus was laughing with me.
I went there throughout radiation therapy as well. Radiation wasn’t really scary, but it was uncomfortable, being held still in a mold that didn’t seem to have been made well and ended up causing significant pain, and it was an extended time of solitude. So I would go to my place on the Sea, and as time went by, the scene morphed and transformed, different weather, just different from time to time. Then the day came that I just sat in the boat. It was foggy and overcast, and the water wasn’t sparkling. I told Jesus that I just didn’t have the energy to get up, or the faith to get out of the boat. And, I told him, I have good reasons for this, as you know. Jesus was sitting on the water, hanging onto the side of the boat, which was gently rocking, and he was right next to me, close. “I know,” he said. No judgment, just “I know,” and his presence. I might have liked some advice or encouragement, but the Jesus in my visions has always been more of a comforting presence, allowing me to walk my path and experience what I experience without telling me what to do.
It’s been two years now since I finished cancer treatments, and I haven’t been back to that place. But this past week, I was called on again to endure scary parts of the journey. I had an MRI to examine a strange growth on my collarbone. The MRI tunnel was very, very small, and very, very long, and they were expecting me to spend 40 minutes in there! So I put on my eye cover, went in, and went to the scene I had not visited in so long. This time was very different. I found myself standing alone, in the middle of the water. There was no boat. I was by myself, walking on the water, and it was very, very dark. On the shore I could see a campfire burning, and I could see a man standing by the fire, who I realized was Jesus. I called to him, “Jesus, come and walk with me on the water.” But he refused. Without exact words, he told me that I had learned to walk in the darkness, that I could do it on my own.
I really wasn’t sure what to make of that. My faith comes and goes. Lately it’s been more gone. I have seen it, I have actually chased after it, but it just eludes me. Maybe it was gone. Maybe I’d killed it, cut the connection. Maybe I was lost in the darkness. It didn’t feel that way in the vision. It felt like freedom and courage, and maybe even a little joy, even in the darkness. But it made me uneasy nevertheless.
The MRI report was not very good, so I had to go back again for a CT guided biopsy. The scanner itself was a donut, not terribly scary, but the taking of ten tissue samples was no picnic. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to go back to the Sea of Galilee again after that last experience. But I did.
This time I was close to the shore, near a small sandy beach. It was morning, and overcast. There was no boat anywhere. The remains of the fire I’d seen in the dark were there, and so was Jesus. He smiled and walked to me, and we sloshed in the shallow water. Then we started dancing, that old fashioned, formal slow dancing, where you remain an arm’s length apart, one hand on the shoulder, the other clasped in the air. He was just so kind and reassuring. He smoothed my hair back. I was so tense during the procedure, and in such an uncomfortable position, Jesus put his hand on my shoulder when it started hurting, as we sat on the sand. And he told me everything would be okay.
Of course, he didn’t say what that meant. Sometimes God’s idea of okay and our idea of okay are not the same. Although I plan on surviving whatever comes along, these times naturally make you think about the possibility of dying. This morning, I was thinking about it, and I found myself actually back on that beach. The first thing I saw was my little dog, Spike, who passed away late last year. He was a tiny thing, seven pounds. I bent down and picked him up, and I could literally feel him, the way he would relax into me, become almost like a part of me as I carried him around. Then I saw Michaela, and my mother, and I gave them hugs. But I told them all, I can’t stay with you. I am needed in the world. I have a family who needs me. I reminded Spike of Zelda, Sophie and Zero, my other dogs, that they needed me to take care of them as I had taken care of him for 16 years. I didn’t actually see Jesus in this one, but it was the same beach.
I’m not sure what to make of all these visions. I am not claiming that I am actually having visions of Jesus. The visions themselves are like dreaming while awake. I would not call them daydreams, because daydreams are usually consciously directed. We might daydream about getting something we want, what would it be like, but we are running the show in a daydream. These visions are spontaneous and outside my conscious control, like the dreams we have at night. And like the dreams we have at night, they are just as likely to have nothing to do with reality, and instead filled with a symbolic representation of … well, of what? My psyche? I don’t really think so. Except for the one where I was unable to get out of the boat, none of them have lined up remotely with how I felt, or what was actually going on in my life. My friend Rivkah is a psychologist, and her comment, “symbols are so powerful,” really stuck with me. These visions could be only symbols from my own unconscious mind, or a higher power, or they could be Jesus communicating with me. I don’t know. And I don’t know what they mean. But I guess what they do for me is make me feel as though I am not alone, and that there is something more to life and my experiences than what lies at the surface, that ultimately there is a plan, and love, and ultimately, everything will be okay, regardless of how it seems to me.
Everything will be okay. In the end, we will see that even the most difficult things we have had to endure had a purpose in the universe. Maybe not in our lives, but in someone’s. Somehow we will have touched the world, even a tiny bit of it, and changed it as a result of our experiences. And in the eternal, that is all that will matter. It will be worthwhile. It will be okay.