By Stephen Jay Schwartz

It’s not so much a dream as a vision.

It can come as a dream, at times, but mostly it’s the place my mind goes as I’m going to sleep.

Like last night – I saw a javelin fall from the sky and impale me in bed. Terrifying, but oddly comforting, as well.

All my life I’ve had visions of handling a sword. I remember the first time it really struck me – I was watching Oliver Stone’s Platoon and saw a scene where a battle-weary American soldier leans against a tree and falls asleep. Suddenly, his eyes pop open. The camera pushes in, then out, then in again, and he looks down to see that he is being bayonetted by a Vietnamese soldier. There’s nothing he can do but watch himself die.

At that moment I realized that, in a previous life, I had experienced a similar death.

My whole life I’ve felt the weight of a sword in my hand; like a phantom metal limb. When I feel anxious or encounter conflict I imagine wielding my sword and fighting off my oppressors. The sword-play feels graceful, as in a ballet.

Oddly, I’ve never explored this obsession outside my own thoughts. Only once, maybe twenty years ago, when the images of sword-fighting taunted me nightly. I went to a sword shop and explained my visions to the owner. I asked if I could handle a number of different swords. I knew I’d recognize the right sword by its weight. We tried a few and most were too heavy. Finally, he handed me one that felt like an extension of my hand. It was light and thin and had a silver, cupped hilt.

“This feels right,” I said.

“It’s a Spanish rapier,” he said. “What Zorro uses.”

That’s as far as I took it. I couldn’t afford the sword, so I didn’t buy it. And I’ve been too busy in life to take fencing lessons, or to justify taking the time away from more immediate concerns.

However, when I went to Scotland last year I visited the Edinburgh Castle and entered a room with hundreds, if not thousands, of original, period swords.

In addition to the giant Highland Claymores, I saw dozens of rapiers fitting the size and shape of the sword I held in the shop years before. I wanted to linger there forever, trying one sword after another. Only through trick photography did I achieve any satisfaction:



And the vision of being gutted continues. Every day, every night. I’m in battle, fencing like one of the Musketeers. Sometimes I prevail, other times I fail. The memory-thought of that sword sinking into my belly used to horrify me. Now, after all these years, it’s become an old friend. And why not? It was the key that opened the door to the life I would experience next.

Someday I’d like to explore this further. Get one of those past-life regressions. Take some fencing lessons. Buy a sword or two. It’s odd that, as persistent as this feeling is, I’ve never felt compelled to take real action. It’s remained my own private obsession.

I wonder what we bring from lives we’ve lived before. What events so punctuate our psyches that their ghosts follow us from one life to the next?

I think of other things that might have their genesis somewhere else. Like my passion for the color purple. Lavender, to be exact. Nothing compares to it. The color strikes my eye with such force that I imagine it as an opening to another dimension. When the Jacaranda trees bloom in Los Angeles, in the month of May, when the entire city erupts in lavender, I am born again.

I had a girlfriend in high school who used this knowledge to her advantage – she wore a pair of tight, purple Dittos to school almost every day. It worked like a charm.

I wonder if these obsessions have their origins in previous lives or if they develop early on, in our present (and perhaps only) life. How are we instilled with such absolute conviction?

At age seven I became a vegetarian. I remember the moment I discovered that meat came from animals. I was five years old, maybe younger. I was sitting on a counter-top and our house-keeper mentioned something about meat coming from cows. From killing cows, to be exact. I remember my feet swinging to a stop, and my face dropping, and my voice repeating the phrase as a question, “Meat comes from cows?”

A couple years later my sister, four years my senior, visited a meat-packing company on her sixth-grade field trip. (Really? You’re really going to take a bunch of sixth-grade kids on a field trip to a slaughter-house?) When she came home she told me what she saw. We both decided to become vegetarians on the spot. Two days later she was back to eating meat. Two weeks later my mom realized I was really serious about this thing.

It’s felt right, for forty years now.

Like the weight of that sword in my hand.

Like the flowering Jacaranda in May.

It makes you wonder where we get this stuff.

                                                               *    *    *

Do you have any life-long traits or obsessions that might come from a past life? Do you explore them or let them be? Do you use them in your writing?

10 thoughts on “CONTINUUM

  1. Karen in Ohio

    All my life I was drawn to horses, even though I had never even been close to one. Five years ago, at age 55, I started taking lessons, and knew right away that I'd found a passion I'd been searching for my whole life.

    Sewing was the same way. As a very small child I was fascinated with fabrics, weaves, and how clothing is put together, and I searched out books on the subject. My mother did not sew, and we didn't own a sewing machine, so I couldn't wait to become a sophomore in high school so I could take Home Ec. The talent, acumen, and aptitude were all there, ready to use, somehow.

    A friend who was a very fine dressmaker always said she believed she was the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette's seamstress, and she has very vivid dreams about being at the queen's side at her beheading. Creepy.

  2. Alaina

    Torture and brainwashing. It was creepy enough when I was fascinated by it in elementary school; the parts of books most kids don't want read over and over are the parts featuring people tied to chairs or tables, being lied to or asked for information. It's still creepy now, when I think about it. I know they tried experiments on it, all failed, during some wars in the past; Japanese, Chinese, all cultures I know nothing about. But I can give all sorts of details on shock treatments, and misinformation, and Stockholm Syndrome, and sensory deprivation chambers.

    Yeah, can't really try those out in real life (except sensory deprivation tanks, apparently some spas have them. An hour might be good for you. A day could drive you mad) and in writing… for some reason, all I write is YA medieval fantasy. Hard to use a lot of that there.

  3. Richard Maguire

    Stephen–where exactly is that wonderful place with all the blossoms? And do you truly believe in past lives? Beyond these strong feelings you've always had about swords, where is the evidence – apart from the anecdotal – that would tend to suggest there is reincarnation?

    A while back I read THE SOUL'S CODE by James Hillman in which he asks the fundamental question: "What is it in my heart that I must do, be, and have? And why?" It's a fascinating book. He looks at the lives of famous people, both good and, as in the cases of Jeffrey Dahmer and Hitler, evil. He urges the reader to "reexamine their childhood impulses, fantasies, thoughts, and even accidents", all of which reflect the blueprints that give direction to the course of their lives.

    When I first read your post something occurred to me upon which I couldn't possibly comment. It was one of those "Ah-ha" moments. I wondered what if this post had been written by Detective Haydn Glass, would we… (Sorry, Stephen. Forget it.)

  4. Lisa Alber

    I have recurring dreams about labyrinthian houses (mansions, really). Crazy places that I can never seem leave even though, in my dreams, I need to get to the airport, or I need to make it to my last University exam. They're always full of people from my past. They lounge around and sometimes, I can't help myself, I stop to talk–especially if they were people I didn't actually like. The structures feature everything you'd expect in a crazed house.

    I know these are anxiety dreams, but I don't quite understand why I'm drawn to labyrinthian houses. My favorite ride as a kid was the haunted house. One of my all-time favorite novels is REBECCA because of Manderley. In Ireland, I was drawn to the castle relics. Odd structures often appear in my novels. I loved "The Tudors" in large part because of interior shots of the grand palaces (not to mention The Tower.)

    I find this little obsession of mine fascinating, but I haven't thought of it in terms of a past life…hmm…

  5. Schwartz, Stephen Jay

    Hey guys – I'm on airplanes all day today and am not able to make comments. I'll read everyone's comments when I get back to L.A. tonight. I wanted to reply to Karen, Alaina, Richard and Lisa's comments, but it looks like I have to start boarding now.
    Take care!

  6. Sarah W

    In all seriousness, I do hope there’s reincarnation — I think I’d like another go.

    And if so, I’d like to think we would keep things from previous times — the foreknowledge that the pain of adolescence ends and embarrassment isn’t actually terminal is clearly too much to ask, but friendships would be good (that instant recognition we have for people we've never met before), or smithy skills (you fence with rapiers, I make 'em), or combat skills (clearly not my current schtick) . . . or enough of us remembering the lessons of war so we wouldn’t have to repeat them every other flippin’ decade (sigh . . .).

    I read something somewhere about a universal subconscious, and how we all have different points of access and retrieve different memories from it — it’s supposed to be where déjà vu comes from, I think. This is interesting — it means no experience is ever wasted or forgotten.

    On the whole, though, I prefer the idea of reincarnation. I don’t mind being someone else’s accessed memory, but I want to keep making my own.

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    You always have reminded me a big of Inigo Montoya!

    My fetish for Shakespeare may well have past-life proportions. Maybe it's just that I like men's legs in tights.

    But I have never felt such a rush of ecstasy and exhilaration as the first time I arrived in London, and every time since. There's something about that city that feels not just like home, but like my blood.

    Mostly, though, it's people who make me think I've had past lives. The ones I meet for the first time and there's such a sense of comfort and knowing – on both sides. Reincarnation would explain it.

    Unlike Sarah W., I HOPE I don't have to do all this again!

  8. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen.

    Erm, I'm with Richard – the first thought that occurred to me when I read this was one on which I could not possibly comment 🙂

    I used to have a recurring dream of being left behind. Make of it what you will. Now I've reached a crossroads and am standing there looking at the choices and wishing I had a map. Nobody can offer directions, because they may not want to go to the same place.

    Buddhists believe in karmic consequences that keep coming back to haunt you in every reincarnation until you achieve enlightenment. Only then can you escape the cycle and take the path to Nirvana.

    (Go take those fencing lessons, by the way. I did years ago – great fun and amazing exercise.)

  9. KDJames

    Huh, for once my mind was not in the gutter. What I thought when I read this was maybe that's why you seem to be such a gentle soul, objecting even to killing animals for food, if you dealt in death and violence in a past life.

    I'm not sure I believe in reincarnation so much as I believe in recycling. The energy that is our "life force" has to go somewhere, right? I'm just not convinced it stays intact and goes on to one person. Mostly because there are more and more people born every year and where does all that extra life force come from? Makes me sad to think it's being diluted by overpopulation, giving us fewer great minds. It's also why I oppose the death penalty. Why would we be eager to recycle all that negative evil energy?

    And those trees are gorgeous. I thought maybe you'd found a type of wisteria that came in tree form. I've heard of Jacaranda but didn't know what they looked like.

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