Dreams always flashed bright and heavy to me as a youngster. I rarely told people what worlds would unfold in my head as I slept. Most of the time, I thought these narratives were too strange for anyone, even my parents, to digest in full. These were dreams that woke me up, crept along my back, and made me shiver beneath the covers even on cold nights in mid-January. So often I would find myself unable to remain in my room, these dreams were so strong; I had to stay in a place where other humans were. My parents complied. They complied way too often.
There was one dream that always frightened me. It had to do with my house catching fire when I was little. I remembered having this dream when I was three or four. I recalled it beginning on some barren plain. It was almost a Mars-like landscape. The sky had a purplish tint to it. In the distance, the only building was my house alone like a spear-like lightning rod. But it was cartoonish, unreal. But what did I know? I had only been living for a few years on this earth!
Those flames swirling back and forth through and out the windows haunted me like some specter. The rhythm of the movement was what chilled me to the bone more than anything else. How could flames do that? Did fire really go back and forth, back and forth in such a metronomic way? It reminded me of the washing machine in my basement, the vroom-vroom-vroom-vroom of the rotor as it churned the water out of the clothes in the final cycle. The flames were fake, evenly outlined, like one would see in a coloring book. But to my four-year-old self, it was real. And frightening. I knew what fire could do, knew it could destroy, obliterate. And I didn’t want that fire anywhere near my house. The house where I had lived for…ever? At least for my measly three or four years it was forever.
I wondered, years later, how I could have dreamt something so macabre, so absurd as that colonial house in Lakewood in the middle of the field, up in flames, fake-looking flames making washing machine sounds. The frightening thing was that this was not the most frightening dream I had had when I was around that age.
I woke up. It was midday. Or it could have been later in the afternoon. The clock time did not really matter in the end. The digital clock near the bed could have lied to me. I leapt out of bed, nervous. The reason why I was nervous, I did not know, but it would soon become clear. I stared out at the overcast sky. There was some tinge of odd colors up there, as if a tornado was coming. It was a warning. A warning for something, coming soon.
As I ran downstairs, out the door, and onto the deck leading to the driveway and my backyard, I knew what was going on. And I had to run far, far, far away from it. The end of the world was happening. The world was going to end, and it was going to end frighteningly soon. I did not know how I knew, and I did not know why I was so sure this was going to happen. I just knew that it was going to happen and I had to get away, far away. I had to make a run for it. If I ran hard and long enough, I would manage to escape the impending apocalypse. Somehow I would. There was no explanation as to how I would escape this greater-than-human situation, how I was so sure at such a young age that this event was actually going to happen, or how it could happen. But I knew then. And I was scared. Very scared. I could feel my tiny heart pounding as I stood on the deck pondering the truth, placing weight on each foot – back and forth in turn as if doing some sort of coordination exercise would not help me out.
So I ran. And I did run. I don’t remember seeing much of anything else. I simply saw a blur. I felt the compression of the world around me, as if being smothered. The apocalypse was like a wool blanket forced down over my mouth and nose, my whole face surrounded by Saran wrap. But I still ran. Fast. I did not think about anything but my yearning to escape, to stay far away from the end of the world. Wherever it was. Whatever it was.
Years later, I attributed these dreams to the times spent in church hearing about Jesus’ Second Coming. That was the only spot I could think of where I could hear and ingrain that idea in my brain, deep in my subconscious, released after I fell asleep into some grotesque dream about the sky compressing me, chasing me, informing me about the world’s end, that it would end fast, so run, run as fast as you can! Even though I only dreamt about this once, at least from what I remember, I always kept reliving and reimagining the spine-tingling situation as I heard again and again about the End Times in church and again in elementary school, what it would be like to live in a place where there was no end, to find out where exactly that end might be in the distance. And then not finding it. It sometimes made me dizzy. Sometimes nauseous. I shivered and tried to reinvent this notion of something stopping – but it would not, could not, will not.
I went to a private grade school, so we had religion class every year. November always haunted me; I still do not care for the month. It holds the same niggling spot in my being – as this is the end of the Church Year, at least for the Lutheran Church. This leads into the Advent season, the four weeks before Christmas. Because of this, the majority of the sermons and the homilies talked about getting ready for Christmas: Jesus’ first arrival on earth. Not only that but I was informed I had to get ready for Jesus’ Second return. The End of the World. The End. Capital E.
I remember in religion class reading Matthew 24 and looking closely at it, mainly taking heed of Jesus’ disciples asking him this question: “When will this [the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem] happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” So Jesus answered. And I made a list, putting a check next to each thing that had happened thus far in the mid ’90s, from what I know:
- War and rumors of war (Check: Persian Gulf War happened and Desert Storm was over in 1995).
- People who say “I am the Messiah!” deceiving many (Check: Koresh and Waco had just happened in the news).
- Famines and earthquakes (Check: yeah, I am a weather nut and this obsession with the weather started in the ’90s).
- You will be persecuted and sent to death (Check: we had been given examples of when Christians were (and are) persecuted and sent to death, ad nauseum).
- The gospel will be preached to the whole world.
Not checked. That last one. Not checked! My heartbeats turned less frequent. So it appeared as if this capital E would not happen just yet. The gospel had not been preached everywhere. A few of my instructors said so; this is the last thing that had yet to happen. But – they said – we must try and get the gospel to everyone, and then Jesus will come back, and then all will be well, and then we will have eternity and nothing else!
The End of the World. The bad dream from when I was four. This is what they said would happen, and how it would happen, maybe tweaked a bit for our fragile little minds. Inwardly, I refused to agree to this, that this would be the final thing to happen before the End would arrive. I did not pray for it to speed up like they said. I did not want it to happen. I did not want to be chased by this apocalyptic landscape, so imminent, a promise so hard-pressed within the Bible, a promise given over and over again by pastors, teachers, everyone. This final checkmark, this would be when it would happen, when the gospel would reach every single spot in the world. It had to happen soon. This prophecy had been proclaimed by Jesus thousands of years ago. And now there are planes and jets and trains and other fast ways to get to these isolated spots that were Gospel-less. I wanted a map to show me who hadn’t been reached. I wanted to know. But “no one knows the day or the hour” – that was the mantra. So I sat there, in the dark, waiting, right before I would fall asleep. Wondering when. It could be ten years from now. It could be 40 years from now. It could be tonight, in an hour.
Cue the nightmares once again.
 Matthew 24:3 (New International Version). But, to be fair, after learning more about this in high school and thereafter, this possibly could have been a prophecy having to do with the end of the Roman Empire. At least this is what I might have been told.
 Perhaps in Jesus’ case, he meant the ‘known’ world at the time of his speaking.
 Matthew 24:36