Nervous Tom Meets Silly Nelly

A Soul Adventure by Fred Leeds

One: Two Dreams

Tom is dreaming again. Though he is a lonesome, nervous man, Tom has learned to sink his mind in a river of time. In his current series of dreams, others are crying out to him for a better world.

Tonight’s dream opens on a striking scene. A grassy field appears exactly at noon, each blade of grass glowing like crystal in the sun. Many creatures hobble forward all at once, surfacing from underground. They are hominoid but shapeless, like things not yet born. Tom hears something crying out in his mind, a combination of their half-shaped voices. Below the din, he hears the music of a humanity already secure.

He makes out the words of one of the creatures: “We stand for mankind’s unrealized hopes. We searched your world for what you call kindness. We were looking for a race that truly cared for its own, for a love that does not pass into the duty of night.”

A maze of spectral machinery whirls into sight overhead, above the simple earth. He finds himself wandering there on tiptoe and about to fall, the lone living thing among technology’s gears and cogs.

“Is this what your society has done?” the creature asks. “Where is the love beneath your blanket of science?” He waves one shapeless finger in the air. The vision disappears, and another scene at once takes its place.

The creature has become a human infant, with all mankind reflected in his face. Black and white, old and young, male and female – all time and variation appear in luminous layers just beneath his face. The infant reaches out his hand – hope’s own tender fingers – and touches Tom’s mind.

Tom awakens, rushes to the bureau mirror and brushes his unruly hair. He is a skinny man, known mostly for his nervousness; he is wearing worn pajamas. He looks silly, almost inconsequential, as he stands there talking to himself in the middle of the night.

“How can I dream such things?” he asks himself. “The only one who needs saving is me.”

It is partly true. His dream was grandly symbolic but mostly about himself: lonesome, nervous Tom, talking to his mirror in the middle of the night.

Suddenly he remembers a pale young woman he passed on the street the day before. She had a confused look and seemed sort of odd. He had handed her some change and thought nothing about it.

Her eyes were pretty behind their clouds, Tom now recalls almost against his will.

“Sentimental hogwash,” he shouts at his mirror. “How can I help anybody? I am a poor man myself. Unemployed now too.”

Unemployed?” He spits out the hated word and blows his nose. Again he hears humanity’s music, escaping from his dream. He can see the woman from yesterday taking his place in the dream, tottering among all those gears and cogs.

As it happens, Nel – that is the name of the woman – is having a dream of her own right then, on the other side of town. An angel appears, spreads great wings across the sky and says, “You now feel like an Untouchable, but someday you will be inviolate. Those pretty eyes of yours are the key to hearts unclaimed.”

The angel turns into a dove with Nel’s face. Just as it begins to fly away, it looks back at her and winks.

Nel awakens and sits up on her bed. She thinks, How crazy I must be to have such a dream, considering where I have been…what I have felt forced to do.

Two: Nel and Tom Touch Dreams

There is a saying in the East that everyone has a Buddha within him. They never state an exception, so I suppose it could equally apply to Tom. As you might have guessed, though, Tom is no ordinary hero, and he probably is not going to save Nel in an ordinary way.

Behind Nel’s back, they call her Silly Nelly. She is not really silly but badly given over to dreaming – the reason her poverty. She has barely heard the proud grind of money and power and usually just gets overlooked. In this respect she is much like Tom.

Tom remembers her the next day and goes back to town. She still has that cloudy look in her eyes, and her eyes are still pretty behind the clouds. After gazing into each other’s eyes and stammering inside, the two speak.

“Hi,” Tom says.

“Hi,” says Nel.

Tom could swear he even hears a song.

“I – I remember you from yesterday…“ They both say it at once, and they laugh. A passerby suddenly whistles a love song out of tune, and they laugh again.

Tom now looks into Nel’s eyes more seriously, and his eyes grow stern.

“You shouldn’t be poor,” he says. He immediately sees the idea applies as much to himself as to her, and he blushes.

“My mind wanders, and I don’t work right,” she says, repeating the things her father always told her. Father was not cruel but literal-minded, and could see nothing but doom in her books and dreams.

Tom glimpses her whole story in an instant, in that way simpler people have. He detects the all-too-familiar, out-of-tune song: no confidence. He walks over to her and takes her hand. It is the only female hand he has touched since his wife died.

“You remind me of a song, a pure song,” he says. It is actually true. In his heart he hears, not just a song, but a modest song of the stars: the song of a nightingale fallen. Tom has some real ideas about beauty and what it means – beliefs he feels quite deeply about but can’t articulate. He has now touched on the inner Nel, though, the person she wants to be but can’t believe in: an angel altogether beautiful and true.

Nel emerges from her own confusion and sees the Tom no one else has seen before. In her brightened mind’s eye she glimpses the scholar and artist – the wise, cultured man Tom is on the inside, but in his shyness, has never become.

Like Tom, Nel has an jnner vision, a grand, symbolic dream, though hers is more about drawing others to herself than changing the world. It is a dream of perfect beauty and angelic goodness. It is an ideal shaped and cherished in ivory, a dream about empowered purity but not silly for all that. In her deeper heart, she still shrinks from touching others falsely and would not beguile them.

The meaning they share is something neither alone can see. Her ideal beauty and his dream of changing the world – these are two halves of a single vision, a blessing whispered over the human no one sees. Count them as hope’s own echoes, twin saviors at once saved. Similar visions join hands on a cold city street; two seekers behold worlds in each other, qualities first born in the heart of the beholder. Whether those qualities are real, whether there is anyone or anything finally saved, must remain in question. The sunset they walk off into may not perfectly fit the legend – he is not really a shining knight, she not exactly a princess – but between them they have drunk the elixir of humanity shared.

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