Welcome to day 24 of 28 Days of Have Heaven, a short month of posts about heaven, paradise, perfection and desire, perfect places, art, theology, gardens, and more, using the Enya song “China Roses” as a jumping off point. Each post will look at these elements in itself, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may only peripherally be related. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
Today I’m reprinting something I wrote in Oct. 2012. I’m including it in this series because it’s about dreams (“woods of dreams” in the song) and memory (alluded to by several of the lyrics of the song and by the title of the album, The Memory of Trees), and because it speaks of nirvana, a heavenly concept.
The lyrics of “China Roses” itself cast doubt on the idea of desire as part of the concept of heaven — “I know that if I have heaven / there is nothing to desire” — whether you think of heaven as a real place in the sky or on earth, as an after-life or a now-life, as a state of ecstatic glory connected with God’s presence or as a state of being present, as a fully enlightened mode of understanding, or as any other way that one might think about heaven, paradise, nirvana, Eden, the promised land, Shangri-La, a state of blissful perfection or completion.
A few of the posts in this series have directly or indirectly questioned how desire might relate to perfection, supreme happiness, enlightenment. If we “have” heaven (interesting, her verb here), is there nothing to desire? Conversely, if we desire nothing, do we therefore have heaven? If heaven means lack of grief, loss, pain, and suffering (e.g., “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed” — Revelation 21:4), do memories of earth-life bring suffering? Can a lack of memories in itself — living purely moment to moment — bring bliss?
Here’s my post from 2012: Dreams, Memory, Dementia
I’ve been wondering lately if there is some correlation between vivid dreaming and memory loss or dementia.
My mother has Alzheimer’s, and she’s at the stage now where she imagines (?) that she is making art projects with her mother (dead since 1965), that she is in the thick of raising my sisters and me, that her father (dead for more than 20 years) is a regular part of her life. Her life these days is peopled with historical figures and constructed from historical events, as if some kind of solid wall between her past and her present has dissolved and allowed the two to co-mingle.
What is the nature of that wall, I wonder? How solid is it, really? Is “dementia” another word for “nirvana,” for living in the moment without delusion, if only we weren’t so tied to the convention of time? (Except that in the state of nirvana, desire and aversion are said to be extinguished, and that’s not so for my mother. Yet.)
Sometimes when I wake up from dreaming, I feel quite sure that the past is present, that I have been interacting with people, places, and events from 10 or 20 or 30 or more years ago. And sometimes, that feeling doesn’t disappear after a few seconds but follows me throughout the day. It feels almost real, that I was just having a conversation with my ex-husband, that I was just wandering through a house I last lived in in 2002, that I was hugging my dad or calling out in a panic for a bulldog who is lost (and who died in 2003).
It seems that there is a fine line separating me from my mom: I feel a bit disoriented and bewildered when I wake up feeling that the past is clashing with the present, because it feels real and yet external cues tell me it can’t be real; whereas my mother accepts this intersection or collision as fully real, and external cues don’t persuade her otherwise.
“The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.”
— from “Forgetfulness,” by Billy Collins
Featured image: 1995 photo of a kitchen in a house I used to dream about frequently