Despite being trained in science, like most other humans I am somewhat superstitious, and believe that anything out of my ordinary day-to-day experience is unusual, when not outright terrifying.
For the shaman, the supernatural world does not exist. There is only the natural world, which has a visible and an invisible dimension. Supernatural events seem odd only in our waking reality. In our dreams we are seldom surprised by the figures and beings we encounter. It’s as if our dreams are populated by a much more colorful array of creatures than our waking world. Two weeks ago, I had a dream about my long-deceased father, and he was younger than I, yet it seemed perfectly natural to be speaking with him as a young man. In our dreams the past and future figure eight meld seamlessly into each other, and ordinary clock time appears to dissolve into timelessness. My father had come to caution me about an important meeting. Then he vanished, before I could ask him for more details. The meeting happened two days later, as I was walking in a grove of trees on our farm as the sun was setting.
“In my old age I will wonder if I have dreamed this or if I actually lived it,
if in my old age I can still tell the difference between the two…”
I sensed him before I could see him. He was stalking me, stopping when I stopped, yet invisible between the trees. I could feel my heart racing and my palms beading with perspiration. The farm is miles away from the nearest town, and it was unusual to run into anyone in the woods. When I reached a clearing I stopped and sat on a boulder and waited, my pocketknife drawn and open in my hand. His pace was deliberate and steady. The first thing I saw was his walking stick, and then he appeared. He was an old man, clean-shaven, slightly bent yet you could tell he was fit and comfortable in the outdoors. He seemed wrinkled like the hills. I would have guessed he was at least 90.
“You don’t remember me,” he said. “Of course you don’t, this meeting hasn’t happened for you yet. “
And then he smiled. There was something oddly familiar about him. I exhaled, unaware that I had been holding my breath.
“You can put the knife away,” he said casually.
How did he know I had a knife in my hand?
Dad told you I would come. Remember? And then he explained that he was me, only from the future. As if to drive home the point he told me of secrets from our youth that no one but I knew.
And yet I was doubtful. During my training with the shamans in the Amazon, I learned that hungry ghosts often took on the disguise of a familiar person or loved one, only to mislead you or ‘feed’ on your life force. I wasn’t sure I could trust this eerily familiar old man. Besides, no one likes to imagine himself as an old person. I wanted to be young forever, not grow up to look like him.
And then he explained what he had come for.
“I need to bring you back with me to the future,“ he explained.
I was familiar with shamanic soul retrieval, in fact, I had written a book about it and taught it to my students. During soul retrieval the shaman journeys back to the past along their clients time-line, to discover an incident that derailed their destiny. When you loose your personal destiny, you try to recover it through a new job or a new lover or a new project. Yet invariably these attempts do not work, and serve to wound the person even further. The shaman, on the other hand, knows how to coax his client’s soul to return back to the present, so that the person can become whole, and recover their sense of purpose and destiny.
“This is what I am doing,” he explained.
I never imagined that this could happen. I pinched myself to see if I was asleep or awake. Of course, it made perfect sense. He was doing a soul-retrieval on himself, coming to my present to heal his present, my future. I was the patient, no longer in the familiar role of the shaman.
“But tell me what happened to you,” I asked, and noticed for the first time that he had a downtrodden look about him. It was obvious that his life had been challenging. This was a disturbing thought. I had always wanted to grow old happy and fulfilled. It was unsettling to think that something other than the perfect golden years had happened. Was I in some rest home playing bingo with demented seniors?
“I can tell you that the events you expected for the end of time did not start until 2016, and peaked in 2020. When 2012 was uneventful and the economy recovered, we were lulled back into a state of amnesia. We were asleep for the climate crisis. It took everyone by surprise.” He paused and fixed me with his gaze.
“At first it was challenging, “ he went on. “ Then it dawned on many of us that this was a time of unprecedented opportunity, much like the Renaissance at the start of the 1500’s. But there was also a lot of chaos.”
“And what did we do,” I asked the old man. It seemed strange to be addressing him as we.
“You did what you were trained to do, to teach and heal,” he replied. “It brought us out of retirement.” The slightest hint of a smile crossed his face.
I asked him what he needed from me. And he replied that he needed to recover his ability to laugh. That perhaps I could help him.
“But do I really have to look like you when I’m 90?”
“I’m one hundred and fifteen,” he replied. “I hike three miles every day, and I’m still happily married. It’s not uncommon now for people to live this long, and even longer. The children being born today may not even have to die. But it was a little late for us. Of course, you can imagine the population bomb. Twenty years from now most people will download themselves into the cloud, the internet. Except for some of us that refused to go digital.”
And then we sat across from one another and gazed softly into each other’s eyes. I saw the old man’s pain, his strength and his vulnerability. And then I said the words I knew he had come for, and that only I could offer him.
“It’s all right, my little one. All is forgiven. It’s ok my love. It’s time to come home.”
I noticed that a tear had formed in the corner of his eye and was glistening down his cheek, catching the last light of the day. I felt my own tears welling up, and saw his eyes sparkle like a child’s. I closed my eyelids and eventually felt the light touch of his lips on my forehead.
When I opened my eyes again he was gone. Only the branch that he had used as a walking stick remained, leaning against a dead trunk. The woods were dancing with the shadows of the great trees. When I drew close to the house I noticed the glow from the candles in our living room, and saw that Marcela was piling kindling on the fireplace. She embraced me, and asked if I had been crying.
“I’m going to be with you for a very long time,” I said. “Did you know that?”