Hi Wystan! I had a very vivid dream last night about Owen! We were having dinner at your house and it was conveyed by Owen that he wanted everyone around the table to say something about him. As people said something like: you have really cool hair, or you are a really great guy, or I like the way you help set the table and so on…his head came up, he made eye contact with each person, smiled and then slowly and gently started having tears roll down his cheeks. Of course, we all started silently weeping too…After that was done, we all began to talk at once and eat but Owen stood there and just smiled. I don’t know what it means or if it should mean anything but it has left me very moved and I keep thinking about it since I woke up. Please share this with Ed. Hope you folks are doing well! —Jim
When I began to fall in love with Owen’s father, the chance of our having a handicapped child was the farthest thing from either of our minds. Wasting no time, like the two people who had seen too much of the dating scene, we handled the important stuff right from the first date: God and air conditioning preferences. Romaine lettuce over iceberg. We shared eccentric relative stories, family histories, memories of special lake vacation spots. But even though I had a special needs brother and Edward had a special needs brother, the idea that we might one day be blessed with a special needs son simply didn’t make the agenda. Amazingly that subject never came up.
We may not have prepared ourselves, but some other force seems to have been preparing me. Near the end of the four seasons while Edward and I fell in love and decided to marry, (I in grad school in Illinois and he in Maryland), I woke one morning in Chicago from a vivid dream. I smiled at the sunlight reflecting on the ceiling of my room in Ridgewood Court. Eyes open, I could still see the face of a baby. This baby had been laughing down at me as I held him/her suspended in the air, joyfully – big red curls – a wonderful open mouthed smile. I woke knowing that that baby’s name was Owen.
Cool dream! It left me with a happy feeling — and I didn’t think too much more about it. I may have thought “Wow! maybe Edward and I are going to have a red haired child!” That wouldn’t be too surprising; Edward comes from a family of redheads. I do remember later wishing for a curly red-haired daughter, tossing some coins into some grotto pool in Bermuda for fun during our honeymoon.
When, less than a year later, I was pregnant with our first child, we whittled the choices down to two Welsh names: Bronwyn and Owen. Why Owen? Did I remember the dream I had had? I don’t know. It had to have been in the background of my consciousness at least. When our first child turned out to be a girl with reddish curls I remember thinking that the dream I’d had must have been of her. I remember Bronwyn’s first laughs vividly; she was a quick learner, a responsive, delightful baby.
Bronwyn had reached the advanced age of 13 months when our second child was born, a boy. We named him Owen. However this baby looked nothing like the cherub in my dream, and I suspect had forgotten all about it. I was pretty tired and distracted by then. Owen was a difficult fellow, kind of frail, low muscle tone, slow to develop, and always, always crying. Months later, I am sure his first laugh was a momentous occasion – we waited a mighty long time for it – but I don’t remember it now.
Eventually little Owen rounded out, and did gurgle. By the time he was two he had juicy red curls and a cherubic face (when he wasn’t fussing). He developed a wonderful laugh, and we did love it (or any responses from him) then or now. But for a long time I forgot that dream from my graduate student year. Although the photo albums don’t show it, there were years of frustration with my unusual child, anger and un-acceptance of who he is, and what the situation was going to require of me. I didn’t want to be doing that job, and the thought of being trapped spending years of my life caring for someone’s physical needs both suffocated and terrified me.
Today, as I reflect on the dream and the reality of Owen, I have to ask, what was it all about? Why did I have it? If that dream was caused by body chemistry, love hormones, daydreams, what I ate, or other chemical factors alone, I cannot account for how that is possible. The chemical explanation does not also explain the stories of many dreams I have heard about in which future events are suggested (sometimes to people who are not important players in a drama) or visitations made.
But if, at the other end of possible perspectives, we explain such a dream as guardian angels trying help out with a preview of one’s physical future, that still doesn’t explain it to me. What possible use can it be to a human being to know a few years in advance that she will have a child with red hair and a cute grin? Why would angels bother? Seems extremely unimportant in a world of human experience and suffering. For me, any “explanation” of a dream like this must go deeper than a prediction of physical events or baby name suggestions.
But looking back on it now, from this 20 year perspective, I find I am comforted to re-see that baby face from the dream. Perhaps the dream of Owen was preparation for hard times. A reminder. A sign, to look more carefully, to consider what lies within those things eyes can see. Perhaps it was for right now, to remind me of what lies within the form of that less-than-cherubic young man I currently care for. Getting up daily at 5 or 6 am, to help him strip his bed and climb into a bath, it’s easy to lose sight of anything larger or deeper than the physical weariness of chores in a darkening fall season.
As I prepared to post this piece this week, I hunted through the albums still spread across the dining room table from my early September efforts to get family albums finished. As I poured over, back and forth through pages of Owee pictures, looking for the “right one” to post, I realized I was looking for a photograph of that dream baby face. Of course Owen never looked exactly like that dream. And he certainly doesn’t look like that now. That is, really, the point I say to myself. The dream is a reminder of something so precious, something interior, that we don’t get to see all the time..
For me the inner Owen, the hidden part of him that is not described by legs and arms or his red curly hair, something I get flashes of now and then in his eyes and smile is well-described by the dream I had three years before his birth. An angelic gin, drooling down on me and blessing my life, blessing our lives, with his bodily fluids and his presence in it. Owen’s mental age is guessed to be very young – maybe three years old. As he grows, the difference between his body and mind becomes more and more problematic in society – baby-men don’t fit in so well in this world. They are not cute. But when Owen’s body dies, I do believe his still three year old soul will travel on to the next phase of his life, and finish growing up there.
Given how unique every single human being is, given how much it takes to educate and civilize even one, I simply don’t believe that all that remarkable individuality would be wasted on a 60, 70,80 year (or less) life span. What a waste! And nature as I know it, does not waste. I believe there’s more. In Owen’s case I expect he will finish his mental growing up in his next phase. And since his life and mine have been so tied together here in the first phase, I really hope to get to see him in the next one. Maybe we can get someone to explain the purpose of all he went through here. By the time I am meeting up with a grown up Owen, maybe I will already understand.
And maybe it was a good thing that Edward and I didn’t connect the genetic dots, during those early days of our relationship. I can’t regret our lack of worry. It would have been too bad to go into the relationship anticipating future problems. What could you really say? Would I have chosen not to have him, knowing what I know now? That subject is much more difficult for our kids, who two generations into the subject of special needs have the thought of it very much at the center of their consciousness. Perhaps there is one real essential, when you are choosing a partner to share your life with: what do you believe about Life? I mean where life comes from. Whether it goes on forever. Or stops with the end of the heartbeat? To see all human life on earth as the first chapter of a continuum changes what you do, and about what you put up with, after that.
Edward and I both figure this is just Owen’s first chapter, and ours too. That thought buoys us up, and mitigates what would otherwise be unbearable sadness that this diminished life of shredding plastic and toilet accidents is all he gets to experience – and all we get to experience of him – and of life ourselves.
Is there life after life? Do people who lived and died loving and open-hearted now as angels seek to bring us comfort? Do angels work unseen to inspire us onwards out of rage, incompetence, and melancholy?
How can we absolutely know? And yet – we dream.