The Paper Box

One particular morning in my second year of college is etched on the walls of my mind.  I was in my first apartment.  I remember that it was morning because my first thought was go go outside to a paper box and get a newspaper.  I can see the walls of my apartment in my memory as I walk out of the door, down the hall, and out the front door of the building.  As I broke the threshold of the front door, I noticed a lot of commotion on the street.  I was only slightly puzzled at first at why there was so much activity, but I continued toward the paper box, which was just a few steps down the sidewalk from my apartment building.  As I got closer to the box, I saw a car collide with another on the street.  It was not far down the street, and across from my side of the street.  It was noisy, and there was a little screaming.  Then, suddenly, there were people running down my side of the street, away from where the accident had happened…but not seemingly involved in the accident.  I began to wonder a little more, but just then I stepped in front of the paper box.  I reached into my pocket for a quarter, placed it in the slot, opened the box and removed the top paper.

As I let the hinged door of the box slam shut, my eyes were fixed on the headline.  It was one of those big headlines as if to announce major news.  I’ll never forget it.  All around me it was noisy and chaotic as I focused on the headline.  The headline read…”GOD IS DEAD”.

I grasped the paper with both hands as if trying to keep from being swept away by some unseen force.  I started screaming.  I wasn’t screaming words, just…”Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhgh!”

My own screaming woke me up.  I was dreaming.  To this day, it is the worst nightmare I have ever had.  I was sitting up in bed as I awoke, and I was perspiring.  Drenched.  That was when I first seriously contemplated the possibility that God did not exist.  What I immediately understood about my dream was that I thought God was the source of all goodness, and once it was revealed to humanity that God did not exist, all need to be good and decent had ended.  Chaotic destruction had replaced the order that was held in place, to some extent, by a population that valued order, and believed consequences ensued from disorder.  Suddenly all bets were off.

I don’t have nightmares anymore.  I have not had one since.  I do have bad dreams, but they are more like watching a film with an annoying plot.  I don’t experience fear, and certainly not terror.  Even scenarios which seem like life threatening situations never rise above the puzzle solving energy.  Sincerely, I have not had the paper box level of terror in the 40 years since I had that dream.  In the time since that dream, I have worked as a cop in L.A., and come across numerous dead bodies, once only pieces of a dismembered body.  Not a single nightmare resulted.  I actually sleep really well.

The only time anything approaching terror ensues is while I am awake, and once I turn on the news.  Whether it is Neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville Virginia, or the elimination of Roe v. Wade, or the murder of Trayvon Martin and the eventual acquittal of the defendant…and the many, many similar incidents that seem to happen on a weekly basis, my terror seems to only be inspired while I am awake.