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Katy Sundararajan is the Th.M. Program Administrator and International Student Advisor at Western Theological Seminary, and partners with her husband as an RCA missionary with Audio Scripture Ministries. She is filling in for Tom today.
In the wakeful, early morning I had a dream last week. It was not a significant or meaningful dream in any sort of interpretive way. In fact, it seemed completely odd-ball and disconnected to the whole of my current, everyday life.
In my dream, I was on Chapel Choir tour, which took place each year during Hope College’s Spring Break. I was sitting mid-way back in the pews at Clarksville Community Church in upstate New York. In the pew behind me was Tom Goodhart. Seated in the pew in front of me were two other friends from the choir. The dream was brief. We were chatting and teasing each other to some degree, and being appropriately silly during our break. Then, the dream was over.
Clarksville Community Church is the church that I grew up in until the age of 10. Though we visited numerous churches in upstate New York for Chapel Choir tours, we never went to Clarksville Community Church. In fact, I have not returned to CCC even once since my family moved away in 1986. Still nestled under my covers last week, I was hyper aware of the fact that, in my dream, I recognized the sanctuary better than I could ever begin to conjure it in my mind today. I saw the exact color and grain of the varnished, blond pew I was sitting on. I felt at home surrounded by the softened quality of the sunlight through the stained glass windows. The nubby, red carpet was practically real before my dreaming eyes. (Yes, yes. The carpet. As a child, I spent a good deal of time hanging my head below the pews during church, counting feet and whatnot. I guess you could say I was close to the carpet.) The sanctuary space was so vivid in my dream, even after 30 years, that its clarity and familiarity seemed closer to truth than my memory.
I have a difficult time saying goodbye. This is a fact that has been cultivated in the depths of my heart throughout the moves and transitions of these same 30 years or so. I’ve done the hard work of plowing through, avoiding, and ignoring goodbyes for the greater part of my emotional life. I’ve also done my fair share of struggling to live through, survive, and be respectful of the healthy and helpful aspects of parting and goodbyes. It rarely feels any easier. I don’t usually feel fine about saying goodbye.
There was this one time, however, when I had been working at Camp Fowler for a summer. For a long time I had not often allowed my heart to be fully free or open to the vulnerability of making new friends or entering into what I felt were temporary communities. It had a lot to do with knowing that a future moment would require me to say goodbye and cut ties. But, that summer at Fowler had restored a good deal of hopefulness and vitality in me. I had come alive again, and I had allowed my heart to open up, love, and essentially attach to the place and the people.
In time, the day arrived when the first of our beloved staff members had to depart for the next chapter in his life. We stood around him in a circle, laying-on hands and praying. We cried and we hugged, and we said goodbye too. I was quite raw already with the dread of my own impending goodbye. And then Uncle Kent, our director and friend, a significant part of the family-like web of Fowler, spoke up. He didn’t berate or criticize our sorrow, but he didn’t leave us wallowing in it either. “This place, and these people will remain with you,” he said, “for days, and months, and perhaps years after you have left. All of this will stay close to you in your dreams.” In the rush of a moment, I knew this was true. It was a significant word of hope and encouragement to me that day.
That lingering of life’s reality in our dreams has been a fascinating and comforting gift to me over the years. Kent captured it well. He acknowledged the importance of the people we were saying goodbye to, but also the significance of the place that we had shared together. Since that day at Fowler, it has been my awareness of the places and people remaining in my dreams that has buoyed me and allowed me to open my heart again and again to new journeys and adventures.
I still cannot get over how real the Clarksville sanctuary was in my dream last week. I mean, that carpet! Who would imagine I was ever close enough to that carpet, for enough time, that it would lodge in my brain, saved away for a dream 30 years later? Are all of my special places and people so realistically detailed and waiting deep inside to make an appearance? Our mind’s eye, our heart’s mind, they store up treasures we never knew to keep and never imagined we’d desire again. Rather than dreams that haunt or hinder us, I know of these other dreams that stretch us toward gratitude and health. For me, dreams of people and places past have helped me to trust, and love, and fully live in each new part of my journey.
Thank you to my friend, Jeremy Bork, for the Camp Fowler photos. He got to spend last summer there, and he captured the beauty so well. I specifically asked him for some pictures overlooking the lake as that is a scene that stores in my heart’s memory as perfectly as though it was a dream come true. The Clarksville Community Church sanctuary photo is one that my Mom pulled out of her archive. Thanks, Martha Wing!