A friend visited me in a dream on Saturday night.
I was breaking bread -- literally, sharing a loaf of bread -- with a wonderful man I knew named Nicola, a friend and mentor of mine who died from cancer just over five years ago.
We were sitting at an outside patio, but it wasn't an actual place I remember being with him; it was more like a composite venue made up of all the various places we had shared conversations and meals together.
And very oddly, we were discussing job options, and he was helping me decide which of three jobs on offer would be best for me. This was odd because, in reality, we never had such a conversation; there was never a situation where I was being offered my choice of numerous positions and needed his help to decide which one to accept. But the spirit of the conversation, the idea that there was a decision to make and that he was there to offer his thoughts, felt familiar and welcome. I knew it was a dream, of course, but it felt so real.
I woke up smiling, with tears in my eyes.
Nicola was my very favourite type of person: exceptionally smart, with a fantastic (and often hilariously inappropriate) sense of humour. I first met him when he became the President of Coca-Cola in Canada, but titles and hierarchy meant very little to him; despite the fact that I was a few levels his junior, he'd come by my desk several times each week, usually early in the morning when few others were in the office, just to chat. And I knew his office door was always open if I wanted to stop by and do the same. He was kind and caring, but also very direct: he didn't tell you what you wanted to hear, he told you what you needed to hear.
My favourite type of person.
I've read that your dreams are a way for your mind to subconsciously sort, file, and process information while you sleep so you can better make sense of things when you wake, like a "defrag" function for your brain. Shortly after I woke, I searched my emails and my calendar to see if Saturday's date had any connection with Nicola that my subconscious might have known about, but I came up empty. So I don't know why Nicola showed up in my dream, the first time this has ever happened.
But I have a hypothesis.
My wife jokes that this self-quarantine hasn't changed anything for me, and that sitting at home by myself is what I'd usually choose to do even if social distancing measures weren't in place.
There's some truth to that; I'm not naturally a very social person. And I didn't think I really missed connecting with people, because I stay in touch with those I care about via Zoom, WhatsApp, Messenger, and social media a few times every week.
I thought that was enough.
But maybe not.
When I left Coca-Cola in February 2015, I sent out a farewell note to my friends and colleagues to thank them for everything I had learned from them during my five years with the company, and to provide my personal contact information so we might stay in touch.
Nicola was on that distribution list, but he had stopped working a few months earlier when he had been suddenly diagnosed with his cancer and flew back to his home in Atlanta for medical treatment. He still had access to his emails, but I didn't expect a response.
I was wrong; he was the tenth person to send a reply, which arrived just 16 minutes after I hit send on my goodbye note.
This is what he wrote to me:
Good luck. I am sorry I could not have been there for the last few months, but when I get back (and I will!) I will look you up and would love to spend some time if you (if you agree, of course).
But he never came back. He died just six weeks later.
I'm agnostic. And while I don't discount the possibility of the supernatural, I don't believe Nicola was actually visiting me in my dream.
But in a way, Nicola made good on his word: we got to spend some time together.
It wasn't real, I know. But it felt real.
I think perhaps my subconscious was using Nicola's image to remind me of me something I needed to hear, because it knew it's something that he would have likely said to me if we had actually been together on Saturday, sharing a load of bread: personal connections matter.
We're still supposed to be socially-isolating, so in-person visits still need to be kept to a minimum.
But I plan to take some time this week to check-in on a few people I haven't heard from in a while, just to see how they're doing.
I think my friend Nicola would approve.
Nicola Kettlitz, who clearly loved working at Coke. I miss you, my friend. Thanks for the visit.