Alice and the Meaning of Life

By Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

The following is the final condensed excerpt from Don Laird’s upcoming book, whose working title is “Tilting Windmills: A Journey Beyond the Therapist’s Couch.” Reprinted with permission.

Alice shifted on the couch, uncrossed her legs, and leaned forward. “So what do you think?” She held up her hands. “And please don’t say, ‘It’s not what I think, Alice…’ ”

The dream was impressive, massive in scope and detail; a series of metaphors and a poetic narrative that is sometimes referred to as a Homeric dream. A true Jungian delight filled with archetypes and prophetic imagery, but I’m not a Jungian and I was about to say something that she did not want to hear.

“Alice, it really is your dream, not mine.” She quickly made the Alice face of disgust. “But let’s take a moment to talk about the way things ended with your mother walking out of the mist.” Of course I had my own thoughts about the meaning of this dream, but good dream work dictates that the individual take the lead on the path toward meaning. “I’m particularly interested in how you felt when you saw her.”

“She was beautiful – like I remember her.” Alice relaxed and leaned back into the softness of the couch. “She was in her early thirties, I would have been about five then.”

“But you are the same age in the dream as you are now?” I said. This is important in discussing the context of the dream with the dreamer. Should the dreamer be a child in the dream then there may be some unfinished business from that time or it could be that the dreamer may feel vulnerable or powerless as a child. Again, it always comes back to the dreamer’s meaning.

“The same age I am now. I knew she had something to tell me, but I couldn’t hear her.” Alice paused. “She was too far away.” Alice’s eyes glazed over and for a moment, and I thought I might see her defenses slowly melting, but in typical Alice fashion she quickly regained her composure.

“So, my thought was that I wish I had a chance to say goodbye.”

Alice and I stared at each other for what seemed an eternity. She needed to do the talking.

“Goodbye is such a permanent thing, Don. Don’t you agree?”

I wasn’t biting. I responded with a patent nod and a “Go on.”

“Look, here’s my point. I told you that I felt my end was near and then there’s this dream. I’ve always been the strong one; the one who looked forward to the journey. Always the first one on the train.”

Teenage_Girl_Waiting_for_Train,_Chicago,_Illinois,_1960I had no difficulty in imagining Alice as a pacesetter.  A young woman, filled with hopes, dreams and desires, waiting impatiently for her next adventure to begin, the next chapter to unfold.  She followed her own light and it was easy to think of all those in her life whom she inspired to follow and then take their own lead. She shifted on the couch and took another hard swallow of tea.

“Maybe I was so busy being concerned about everyone else that I left myself at the station. Maybe all the things in life I thought were mine really weren’t.” Her blue eyes delicately gazed at the floor. “Was the trip worth it? When I’m gone will anyone even remember my name?”

I waited for a moment as I watched Alice lower her guard. “Alice, those are big questions, but let me take a moment to not throw them back at you. What you are asking is was your life worth it?” She raised her head and nodded. That delicate look in her eye had returned. “Think of all the lives you have touched over the years. Those people certainly remember the things you did.” And then I said what needed to be said, validation of our relationship. “Alice, you came to me because you thought you had something to share, and you did. You have shown me in a brief amount of time that there is grace and dignity in aging and reaffirmed that all my learning and collection of text books don’t mean a damn thing unless you have a life worth living.”

Alice smiled. “I think we are out of time.”

She was right, but again that was Alice. We scheduled a follow-up appointment for two weeks. Alice shook my hand and thanked me as she exited the office. That night I had a strange dream in which I was alone, waiting at a desolate train station. I awoke to the sound of a train whistle off in the distance. The words of Nietzsche again filled my head, “Die at the right time.”

Alice cancelled our next appointment. She had left a brief voicemail, but gave no excuse for the cancellation except to say that she was involved in a new fundraiser that was occupying most of her time. I never heard the name Alice again until 11 months later when I received a call from a young social worker at Mercy Hospital. She reported that Alice had died quietly in her sleep following a severe case of pneumonia. I was shocked, but my sadness was more bittersweet. Alice had given specific instructions that I was to be contacted should she die in the hospital.

The social worker had a note from Alice, written just before her death. The young woman read the note aloud, but I could only hear Alice’s voice.

“Don, I am going on a great journey. Not afraid.”

The persons and situations contained herein are based on true events, but the details of the characters and their circumstances have been modified. Any perceived resemblance of the characters to real persons living or dead is merely coincidental.

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  1. Pingback: Alice and the Swans of Avalon | Pittsburgh Psychotherapy Associates

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