The past is behind us but it is also, always, within us. Which means the past can feel dead and gone one moment and then, in the next, it can be very much living and breathing and here. My past came back to life in the form of a nightmare I hadn’t dreamed in over thirty years.
When I was a child, the nightmare always began the same way, with me standing at a river’s edge, watching it rush by, brownly opaque with mud, swollen with storm debris, and foamy with turmoil. It was the kind of cataclysmic river in which a kid could disappear without warning, carried downstream to rot in some unpredictable destination. An old wooden bridge spanned the river. Though it had probably been a feat of humankind at its creation, its glory days were clearly behind it. The railings were gone. Most of the walkway had been torn away by storms long forgotten. The remaining planks were rotted and loose and spaced out, some resting where they were originally placed, some resting at angles. Large gaps in the walkway revealed the roiling waters just a few yards below it.
Beyond the bridge, the other side of the river was always cloaked in fog. I had no idea what the fog hid, and yet—with the kind of certainty that can only be called faith, the kind of anticipation that can only be called hope, and the kind of longing that can only be called love—I wanted to find out. So I’d look down, preparing to take my first step, and I’d see on my feet a pair of worn-out blue sneakers with yellow trim. They were so dirty the yellow looked almost brown and the blue looked almost black. The shoe on my right foot had a hole at the front of it, and my big toe protruded, covered by a dusty sock.
Every night, the dream seemed to contain all its previous renditions, so I knew exactly how it was going to end. I knew I would step out onto the bridge and the water would rise and it would be impossible to escape it and, as it reached me, I would silently scream myself awake. However, I also knew I’d step out onto the bridge anyway, yearning so much for the opposite shore that I was willing to endure the familiar terror at least one more time.
Sometime around middle school, the dream seemed to die. I went to sleep one night, and it didn’t go with me. Weeks passed. No nightmare. Then months passed, then years, and somewhere along the way I forgot about that old nightmare altogether. It turns out, though, it hadn’t died. It had simply gone dormant. Or maybe it had died, and almost three decades later, on the cusp of my fortieth birthday, it was resurrected.
I don’t think the future is ever predetermined but I do think our futures are eventually determined by what we do with these moments of resurrection, especially when such moments cluster together, forming a sort of bridge in the middle of our life, one we may cross to new ground, or one we may turn back from, retreading the ground from which we came. My bridge was made of that old nightmare. It was also made of a secret I kept from everyone so long I eventually began to keep it from myself, and a secret that was kept from me for so long I never knew it existed. My bridge was made of a bunch of lost loved ones who came to life again within the magic of memory and the mystery of imagination. It was made of a God I once loved who went silent, and then one day started speaking to me again through those beloved ghosts of mine.
In the Bible, Jesus dies on a Friday, and there’s a lot of talk about that. Then he’s resurrected on a Sunday, and there’s even more talk about that. No one talks much about Saturday, though. Death and resurrection. No one talks much about the and that bridges the two. Sometimes, though, all of life can begin to feel like an and. Every day can start to feel like the Saturday between what happened to you and what you will—or will not—do with it. And once you recognize your bridge for what it is, you have to decide whether you’ll cross it, with no guarantees of surviving the passage, just the merest of hopes that it will deliver you to more graceful ground. It took me a long time to recognize my and—my Saturday, my bridge—for what it was. Too long. It began with a leg in my lap, more than a decade before the nightmare resumed.
My name is Elijah Campbell, and this is the story of my unhiding.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.