How to Escape from Purgatory

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Not long ago, I awoke from a strange and terrifying dream, the implications of which had my mind reeling. I'm lucky enough to have a friend who happens to be a psychologist, and who's well-versed in dream analysis. I told her of my dream, and asked her to be ready for a session of sorts. The result would be a fascinating journey into the depths of my fears.

The dream started in an apartment complex which closely resembled, in structure and in mood, a prison. It was a large square structure, with an open courtyard in the center, and no way out. Inside, its inhabitants formed a close-knit group, and included my daughter and her brother, her mother, her stepfather, and me.

The apartments felt more like rooms, as we all congregated outside of our own places on a regular basis, and the entire place began to take on a sort of community center feel, with everyone adopting an open-door policy even when we did gather inside of our apartments.

During one such gathering, my daughter's mother revealed to me a gut-wrenching truth: someone had violated my daughter. She pulled from her back pocket a folded magazine page, then held it up for me to see. On the page was a man of about my age, whom I had never seen before, and who, she explained, was the man responsible for the atrocities. I had to do something, she told me.

The mind-boggling begins when I pay virtually no attention to this revelation. Perhaps I don't believe her- the reason for my inaction never crystallizes in my mind. The scene, and its implications, slide to the recesses of my psyche.

Later (I've no idea of the amount of time that has passed), a few of us, including my daughter's mother and stepfather, congregate in the home of a new neighbor for a drink or two, welcoming him into our midst. The event passes without fanfare.

Still later, we're all huddled in my place when that same neighbor comes waltzing through my open door. I immediately recognize him as the man from the magazine page- the same man who had taken liberties with my daughter. Somehow, this time, I don't shrug it off. Why I had not made the connection when I was sitting in front of him, I'll never know. I recognize him now, though, and I instantly fly into a blind rage.  He has to die for what he has done, and he has to die now. I turn to grab a circular saw three paces behind me, and when I turn back to the intruder, he has transformed into the very magazine page that revealed his true identity to me. This, to me, makes no difference. In fact, I don't even register the transformation. To me, he's still the man that committed the unthinkable, and I proceed to cut him, a piece of paper, into small pieces. When he's sufficiently shredded, I feel a mixture of relief at having served justice and guilt for having killed a man.

To say the least, this is an odd sort of dream, but one that I was sure had some sort of implications which I must pay attention to. There is no greater wrong than that committed against my daughter, and if I am to serve only one role in this life, it's that of her protector. By those definitions, the implications of the dream could not be greater. The fact that the dream had occurred the very night that I had taken the kids back home after having spent the greater part of a month with them only added to the urgency. Perhaps I was failing in some way as a father. I needed to know why.

The analysis began on Thursday night. By its completion, my head would be spinning from the chasm between its true meaning and my initial concerns.

The prison (the apartment complex) was a construct of my mind- the tension between two opposing forces that had come to dominate my life. Since leaving the sales industry to pursue a career in writing, I had been living in purgatory, with both heaven and hell pulling me from either side. In this case, heaven was a life of writing and creating beautiful things for the web. Hell was returning to a stable yet meaningless job in which I spent the next twenty-five years in a miserable race for a gold watch and a meager pension. Hell had a firm grip. Why not simply do what everyone else does? Get a stable job, live my life like the rest of the world, get regular check-ups with the doctor and a regular paycheck, and slide into predictable living. Stop making people who love me worry about where all this might lead.

On the other hand, heaven was so damn alluring. I could spend my days doing what I love, be completely location-independent, contribute something to the world, and answer the call to man's greatest ambition: to be a creator in the truest sense of the word.

To get to my heaven, though, I had to embrace it fully. I had to free from the shackles of hell and devote the entirety of my energy and devotion to my heaven, the pursuit of which, it seems, cannot be half-assed.

My imprisonment in the dream was of my own construct, of my lack of ability to completely invest myself in the pursuit of my heaven. The man who needed to be killed was, in fact, this tension that had completely enveloped me. Indeed, not only did he need to be killed, but only I could kill him.

The circular saw was the tool at my disposal, whose only purpose was to destroy things. If it could speak, it would say that its greatest fear, then, is to have no connection to power. Without being plugged in, it cannot perform its sole duty.

In much the same way, if I am not plugged into the world at large via the web, I have no way to pursue my dream- that of writing and design. The web provided my opportunity, and for that to be taken away from me was unthinkable.

The guilt I felt at having killed the "man" was fleeting, as would be the guilt I would feel were I to pursue my goals. The relief at having destroyed this demon would wash over and cleanse me.

The usual state of man is one of imprisonment. Almost always, though, the shackles are attached by us, the shackled. To understand the cause of our imprisonment is a gift waiting to be unwrapped. Some will answer the call, some will shrug it off. Most will never be given the gift in the first place. We all- every one- have within us the ability to achieve great things, and to place our own definition on greatness itself. It is what is done with this gift that separates creators from consumers, great men from average. It would seem that the only way to escape purgatory is to realize you're there in the first place.