I haven’t had the nightmare for years, but it used to terrorize the darkest of my nights.
It always started out in a familiar place, with people all around. I would try to speak to others, but they wouldn’t respond. It seemed as though they couldn’t even hear me. When I couldn’t get their attention, I would start frantically trying to get someone to notice.
I would try to touch the people around me, but my hands would go right through their bodies and then the image of the person would disappear. One after another, everyone around me would disappear — until I was left all alone.
And then the place where I was — home, school, office, whatever — would start getting hazy and dark. The physical world around me would slowly disappear. I could still see my body if I looked down at myself — as though something was illuminating me — but there was no physical substance of any kind for as far as I could see.
I was in a dark void. I was all alone. Worst of all, I would always feel as though there was no other presence that I would ever experience again. I knew I would be alone forever.
And then I would always wake up in panic, eager to make sure the world was still solid around me, but mostly eager to make sure there was someone in my life who would talk to me, would touch me, would listen to me.
I needed to reassure myself that I was not alone forever.
The late Rev. Billy Graham described hell as eternal separation from God. I have no interest in getting bogged down in the theology of hell, but Graham’s metaphor resonates more for me now than it did when I was young.
When I first heard that hell might be described as eternal separation from God, I thought that didn’t seem like that big a deal. After all, I lived here on Earth without God, so what would be the difference if things stayed that way?
I understand it quite a bit differently now, because I understand that the thing that makes us need one another so much is that Divine Spark of God which causes us to recognize one another and be drawn to one another. If it were not for the Divine in each one of us, I’m not sure we would need one another so much.
To lose contact with the Spirit inside other people is to lose touch with our Creator. To be alone and without love is the closest thing we will experience on this Earth to that hell-like separation from God which Graham postulated.
There are people all around me tonight, but I might as well be alone. In fact, I would feel less alone without these people in my sight. I feel no spark of Spirit from them. They feel like lifeless automatons moving through the world following pre-programmed scripts.
I feel as though I could put my hand right through them and there would be no substance there. I feel as though I could close my eyes and the physical substance around me would disappear — as an illusion might — and I would be alone in that void from my nightmares.
I want to reach out and touch Someone who is real. I want to find that Divine Spark in a person — and hold onto that person the way a frightened child might hold onto a candle in the dark.
I am in a world where almost everybody is sleepwalking. A few reach desperately for metaphors and explanations and hope. A few understand that the world we have been given is an illusion with little meaning. A few somehow gain the intuitive understanding that love and connection are all that ultimately matter — while all the rest chase things which will turn to dust as the illusion fades before their eyes.
I am alone tonight. I feel no love around me. I feel no presence.
I sense only the void. My spirit reaches out for love and connection, but there is no one there. I cannot awaken from this nightmare, because it is my reality for the moment.
I can’t step back into their world. I can’t live the way they do. And so my spirit lives alone in this void — desperate for connection, desperate for love, desperate for mutual understanding, desperate for that spark that ties spirits together in a way that no physical tie ever could.
This void — this disconnection from love and meaning — is what I know is real right now. And awareness of being alone in this void is the only hell that I will ever know.