Captain Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.
Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.
Captain Picard: When I realized the paradox.
Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.
Yesterday I wrote about epiphanies that were occurring in my personal, spiritual and professional life. As I mentioned yesterday they were brought about during a rather cathartic session with my Doctor regarding my PTSD. I think that it was a breakthrough type session because so many new horizons seemed to open at once. Last night it was hard to put it all into words or to sort things out. So after I published that article I went to bed and was subjected to the most intense night of dreams that I have ever experienced and that is saying a lot because my dreams are often frighteningly real. They are like super high definition to begin with because my brain goes into warp drive when my eyes are closed, but last night even more so.
It was like past present and multiple futures intersecting around the them of roads taken, roads not taken and the possibility of different roads home. They spanned my life and many dealt with my time in Iraq while others seemed a blend of many experiences. It was positively surreal. So much so that when the alarm rang I was absolutely exhausted having not slept the previous night because I had left all of my sleep medicines in my gym bag that I had taken to work. So I made a direct call to my Commanding Officer to let him know what was going on and that I needed to take a personal day to rest and reflect on the flood of spiritual, emotional and existential things that I had experienced in the past day. If I had to give an example of what last night was like, it was like the final episode of the Star Trek Next Generation series as Captain Picard kept switching between different realities of past, present and future while being relentlessly grilled by the being simply known as “Q”.
So this morning I rested, spent time with my dog Molly, pretty much avoided the computer and television and then went out and ran about 7.5 miles on the beach. The weather was wonderful and the tide conditions were such that the nearly deserted beach was optimal for running. As I ran the brilliant blue of the sky, the calm waves of the deep blue Atlantic lapping upon the tan sands of the beach. It was as if I was running where the sands of the Western Iraqi Desert met the Atlantic. I was at peace and the images of the previous night began to make sense.
They were about roads, paths, possibilities and the journey to home, wherever or whatever that it is. They were a juxtaposition of past, present and future and variations of each. People, places, images and actions blended together in ways that were at times comforting and other times terrifying. But they were all about possibilities new and unimaginable and as Q told Picard “charting the unknown possibilities of existence” and not being trapped in the past that we cannot change, that even if we could would make us less than we are now.
In another episode of Next Generation called Tapestry, Picard has a death experience where he is confronted by Q and regretting decisions that he made which helped cause his death Q offered him a chance to go back and make it different. When Picard found that the Picard that played it safe was not a person that he would want to be he confronted Q.
LT. j.g. Picard: You having a good laugh now, Q? Does it amuse you to think of me living out the rest of my life as a dreary man in a tedious job?
Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience: a second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?
Lt. j.g. Picard: I can’t live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion… and imagination! That is not who I am!
Q: Au contraire. He’s the person you wanted to be: one who was less arrogant and undisciplined in his youth, one who was less like me… The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did not fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted through much of his career, with no plan or agenda, going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. He never led the away team on Milika III to save the Ambassador; or take charge of the Stargazer’s bridge when its captain was killed. And no one ever offered him a command. He learned to play it safe – and he never, ever, got noticed by anyone.
It is funny that those two episodes of Star Trek TNG came up a number of times this week with different people. I think what I am discovering is that life is a limitless set of possibilities and that our past, as tangled and messy as it may be at time is part of a tapestry that is who we are but not what we can become. As Picard noted to Counselor Troy after his resuscitation: There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were… loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I pulled on one of those threads – it’d unravel the tapestry of my life.
Past, present and future. Dreams and reality, hopes and fears, things real and things imagined. A future unexplored and hopeful so long as we are willing appreciate our past without being trapped by it, to live in the present and imagine the future that we have yet to chart.
But to do this we have to be willing to take the risks, be authentic and realize the possibilities that God in his love and grace imagines for our future.