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I owe my entire existence to a prophetic dream my father had long before I was born. Let me tell you the story.
My father Ken Langness, a United States Marine lieutenant, fought in the Pacific Theatre in World War II. At one point during the war, he helped command a tank company, part of the Marine 1st Tank Battalion on the island of Guadalcanal. He and the tanks he commanded took part in the Battle of Bloody Ridge, a harrowing fight between the American Marines and the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy.
Lieutenant Langness and his tank company were situated near that ridge on September 11, 1942, on a quiet night after a few small skirmishes between the Americans and the Japanese had taken place. The ridge overlooked Henderson Field, the main airfield on Guadalcanal, a vitally important strategic site that allowed whoever held it to control the shipping lanes to and from Japan. Earlier that day, the Japanese Army soldiers had pulled back into the jungle when the American troops and tanks advanced, and none of the American commanders expected further resistance from opposing ground troops. As a result, my father told his tankers to get some rest.
Almost immediately after he drifted off to sleep himself, he told me many years later, he had a dream. In his dream, the entire ridge where his tanks sat exploded.
The violent dream abruptly woke him up out of a sound sleep. He suddenly knew, he said, beyond any doubt, that he had to move his tanks away from that ridge. He woke up his men and ordered them to move, and move now. “Why?” They asked him. “What for?” He wouldn’t say. Much sleep-deprived grumbling ensued, and several Marines didn’t want to follow his seemingly irrational order. But my father knew, impelled by his vivid dream, that he had no time to explain. Instead, he ran from one emplacement to the next, pounding on the tanks, yelling at the men under his command, and they reluctantly woke up and moved their tanks. Four minutes after the last tank drove away, Japanese Mitsubishi bombers unleashed a torrent of bombs on the ridge.
That experience haunted my father for the rest of his life. Every time he told the story, he looked out into the distance with a very strange expression on his face. It seemed like he stared into the maw of an eternal mystery, one he didn’t understand or even really know how to explain.
Technically, I guess you couldn’t really call my father’s dream déjà vu—instead, it was more of a predictive, prophetic dream that came true a few minutes later. But he said he felt an enormous sense of déjà vu as he stood on his new vantage point and saw those bombs drop. He told me that the explosions he saw were the exact same size, color and shape as the ones in his dream, and that the perspective was exactly the same, too. He believed he had seen through, just for a moment, a window that allowed him to look into the future.
My father didn’t believe in God—his war trauma had already persuaded him that no God would countenance such carnage. But when he described that one incident, you could tell that he had, just for a moment, gotten a glimpse of the Great Unknown, a powerful force beyond our puny human understanding. It amazed and terrified him.
Unlike my father, I do believe in God. Baha’is think of that powerful force, the Creator of the universe, as an unknowable essence, a supreme being without any constraints:
…that Essence of Essences, that Invisible of Invisibles, is sanctified above all human speculation, and never to be overtaken by the mind of man. Never shall that immemorial Reality lodge within the compass of a contingent being. His is another realm, and of that realm no understanding can be won. No access can be gained thereto; all entry is forbidden there. The utmost one can say is that Its existence can be proved, but the conditions of Its existence are unknown. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 53.
Could that Creator—who by definition exists outside the artificial, linear, physical boundaries of time—occasionally allow us to pierce that veil, too? Could our human souls, unbound by space and time, possibly visit the future in our dreams?
The Baha’i teachings answer yes to those profound questions:
…in the world of dreams the soul sees when the eyes are closed. The man is seemingly dead, lies there as dead; the ears do not hear, yet he hears. The body lies there, but he—that is, the soul—travels, sees, observes. All the instruments of the body are inactive, all the functions seemingly useless. Notwithstanding this, there is an immediate and vivid perception by the soul. Exhilaration is experienced. The soul journeys, perceives, senses. It often happens that a man in a state of wakefulness has not been able to accomplish the solution of a problem, and when he goes to sleep, he will reach that solution in a dream. How often it has happened that he has dreamed, even as the prophets have dreamed, of the future; and events which have thus been foreshadowed have come to pass literally. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 416.