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How an Otherworldly Experience Drew Their Paths Together

A strange dream proves two strangers are mysteriously connected…

Illustration By Thomas Ehretsmann

I couldn’t focus. I was packing for a camping trip later that day with my friend Ceil. But my mind was elsewhere. I’d had a bizarre dream the night before that felt so urgent, so powerful, that I just couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t make sense of it either. I went over it again and again in my mind…

In the dream, I’d been fast asleep when I felt a presence.

I opened my eyes. Shimmering lines undulated above me until they materialized into a woman. She was about 70 years old, with white hair, smile lines and kind blue eyes. I should’ve been terrified, but I felt completely calm. Trusting. Curious.

Silently the woman reached her hand toward me. I took it and rose from my bed, weightless. She guided me up and up.

The next thing I knew, we were standing in front of a large gray building. The walls were solid, yet I could still hear people inside shouting and machinery operating. The noise grew louder. Peering through a window, I spotted a young man hunched over a table, his features blurred by distance. I could sense his sadness, his loneliness, summoning me like a beacon.

I rushed to the doors of the building, desperate to reach him, but couldn’t get inside. I struggled with all my might. It was hopeless. I called out to the man, but he couldn’t hear me over the noise. I looked back at the woman. She was as powerless as I was.

She walked toward me and conveyed a message. “He needs to move on. My son needs to let me go.”

Before I could ask what she meant, I was back in bed, confused and wide awake. For real this time. What was that? And what on earth did it mean? It took a while for me to calm down, but I eventually fell back to sleep. Now I was left wondering why I’d dreamed so vividly of a strange woman I’d never met before. If it was a message of some sort, I had no idea what it meant.

When Ceil picked me up that afternoon, I was finally able to put the dream out of my mind. We hit the road, radio blasting. About 20 minutes into our journey, Ceil remembered that she needed to make a phone call. (This was before the days of cell phones.) Passing through a small town, we stopped at a restaurant that had a pay phone.

It was midafternoon, and the place was deserted—except for one man hunched over the bar. I sat down at a table to wait for Ceil. I couldn’t help but glance over at the young man. He looked so defeated.

I guess he noticed me staring because he got up and approached me. “Mind if I join you?” he asked. Before I could answer, he sat down across from me. Though I’d never seen this stranger before, he was, oddly, so familiar.

“Is this your first time here?” he asked.

I nodded, still studying his face. “I’m just waiting for my friend to make a call. You?”

“Haven’t been here before either.”

Suddenly something clicked. His blue eyes, tinged with sadness, the faintest hint of smile lines, the shape of his face… He looked like the woman from my dream! It wasn’t immediately obvious, but the family resemblance was there. This was the man I’d tried to reach. And now he was sitting right in front of me. Before I knew it, questions were tumbling out of me.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” I said. “But did your mother pass away recently?”

“Yes, a few months ago,” he said.

“Do you work in a noisy building?”

The man looked baffled. “Yeah, we’re required to wear ear protection when we’re on-site. But…how did you know that?”

I reached out, placing my hand over his. “Your mother visited me last night,” I said. “She told me she wants you to move on with your life. To stop being so sad. Because she’s at peace. She’s happy.”

The man gripped my hand. His shoulders sagged. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Thank you,” he said. I didn’t know what to say. I felt overwhelmed by the inexplicable nature of our meeting and unprepared to deal with his emotions.

When Ceil reappeared, I jumped to my feet and pulled my hand from the man’s grasp, nearly knocking over my chair.

“Get me out of here!” I whispered to Ceil and bolted for the exit.

“Wait!” the man called after me. “What’s your name?”

I was already out the door. The man ran after me. “Wait! Come back!” he shouted.

I slid into the passenger seat and slammed the car door behind me. Ceil jammed the key into the ignition, and we sped off.

“What was that all about?” my friend asked.

I tried to explain. Ceil, looking skeptical, laughed it off.

“Don’t worry. I totally believe you!” she said, grinning.

I couldn’t really blame her. I didn’t know if I believed me.

Eleven years passed. Occasionally I’d remember the dream and the poor, bereaved man I’d made cry in an empty restaurant. I didn’t speak about it often. I found that people didn’t know what to make of it.

It certainly wasn’t my go-to conversation starter when I was approached by a handsome stranger one evening when I was out with a friend watching live music. He caught my eye, and we made small talk between songs. He was funny, charming.

By the end of the night, he’d asked for my number. His name was Joe. We went on a date. Then another. We discovered we had a lot in common. A few dates in, Joe came over to my place for coffee. I don’t know how we got on the subject, but we started talking about the weirdest dreams we’d ever had.

“I have a good one,” I said. “But you have to promise not to make fun of me, Joe.”

He promised. So I told him about the woman who had come to me in my dreams, her message for her son and the young man sitting alone at the bar. True to his word, Joe didn’t laugh. He didn’t say anything. He simply listened intently, absorbing every word.

When I finished, he looked down, quiet for a moment, before saying, “Cindy, the man in the bar that day was me.”

“Stop it!” I said, thinking he was teasing me.

“No, I swear!” said Joe. “That was me! After my mother passed away, I was a wreck. When you gave me that message, it was a miracle. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It was the only thing that finally helped me move on. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you!”

I hadn’t recognized him either. It had been years, though, since our first meeting. I tried to remember the young man’s face and realized I couldn’t picture it clearly. It could have been Joe. But I told him I needed more proof.

“Fine,” said Joe. “I’ll take us back to that same restaurant. I still remember where it is. Would that be proof enough?”

We drove for about 20 minutes before we pulled up in front of a restaurant in a small town. It looked vaguely familiar. Walking in, however, I was hit with an overpowering sense of déjà vu. This was the place!

Joe led me to the table where we had once sat all those years ago. We ordered something and retold the story, filling in the little details the other had forgotten.

Later, after Joe dropped me off at home, I thought about the message the dream had led me to deliver to a grieving son. I wondered if it was also a message to me, a sign that events are orchestrated by an unseen power for good.

No, Joe and I didn’t wind up working out as a couple, but we’re close friends to this day, forever connected by the otherworldly experience that drew our paths together not once but twice.

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