Years ago, shortly before my mother passed away, she described a vivid dream she experienced one night that prepared us both for what was to come.
In the Tennessee mountain town where she and I were born, the vacant old Imperial Hotel stands frozen in time as if passing years dare to touch it. The brick three-story building next to the train depot was built in 1909. Weary rail passengers would spend the night, enjoy a good meal, and feel the cool air as it whirled around the mountain. The Imperial boasted 30 rooms and indoor plumbing, which in 1909 was quite extraordinary in the hills of Tennessee.
When I was a small child, the old hotel was a magical place where I could imagine myself as a traveler on the Tennessee railway or attending a gala in the main ballroom. However, in the late 50s, the passenger trains discontinued their service to stop at the depot just below the hotel. As a result, the Imperial closed its doors to guests, and silence filled the halls.
The once-thriving resort town and tourist destination withered. All other inns and hotels succumbed to the ravages of time. But the Imperial still stands today determined not to be forgotten. It is as if she is still waiting to greet her visitors when they walk through her doors once again.
“Lynn, I dreamed I was at the Imperial last night. I stood in the foyer hall alone, and the doors to the ballroom were locked. A band was playing and people were laughing as if they were attending a fine party. I wanted to join them, so I knocked and then banged on the old wooden doors. The noise inside grew louder, and my attempts to be heard were useless. I begin to weep with frustration because I desperately desired to see everyone, but I could not. I woke up this morning with the dream still fresh and to find my pillowcase was damp with tears. So strange.” Mom declared after detailing her dream.
When Mother passed away a few months later, we took her home to the little mountain town to rest beside Dad. A day after the service, I drove toward the Imperial and wondered if I could somehow get inside. After parking my car, I found, to my surprise, the front door was unlocked, and I discovered I was alone in the foyer.
Wooden doors were open to reveal a large room perfect for hosting a huge celebration complete with a band. But, unfortunately, the hotel was void of sound. Yet, I could feel the beat of the music as I envisioned my parents dancing as they always loved to do.
The unwritten messages
While standing among the spirits still alive in the Imperial, I understood how Mom’s dream prepared us for her departure from this world. In the end, Mother was ready to join the others who await her just beyond the doors to eternity. Her frustration was over.
We receive images and messages of eternal life all the time. Either we decide to pay attention to them or ignore them completely. Usually, when we don’t trust what we hear or see, we deem ourselves more intelligent than the Divine, causing us to not be very intelligent.
People call such events everything from God-Winks to bizarre coincidences to hogwash, but I call them gifts. Precious connections to unite us with God and those we have lost from this life. They remind me of a small present tied with a satin ribbon. Once you untie the bow, the box reveals glimpses of forever.
Listen with your soul
Today, the depot near the hotel is now a museum run by its cultural administrator, a young man new to the area. Mr. Cleary fell in love with the town’s history and the under 3000 people who call Monterey, Tennessee, home. I met him for the first time when I visited a few weeks ago.
He had just purchased his first house. “Where is your new home?” I asked. After a brief conversation, I knew exactly where it was. It was the house where I was born.
I looked up to the hill just beyond the depot to the old brick Imperial and smiled. There is no music flowing from the rooms, nor sounds of laughter, nor trains that stop to deboard weary travelers seeking rest. Yet somehow, the magic that makes life whirl like the wind in the mountains reminds me that we all remain connected to the past, to those we love, and not even death can stop the dance.
Sometimes, when we are caught up in the noise of life, it is vitally important to become quiet and listen to the music just beyond the doors.