Rooted in reality while everything feels unreal

Rooted in reality while everything feels unreal

Remember the scene in “The Matrix” in which Neo wakes up in his fleshy pod only to realize the world he thought he lived in was, well, the matrix? Thousands of humans thrust into a simulated reality because they were being used for an energy source. Nothing was real.

Some mornings I lie very still after my eyes flicker open, allowing any dream I was having to remain the reality for a millisecond. I run my fingers up my arms and across my face to make sure I’m real. My dreams have been vivid of late, bold, dystopian even, and often upon waking, I stumble through them at length — before the crush of the day and the work and my smallish tasks bid me rise.

I often don’t feel worthy to have this ease of existence in my little house west of Berlin, so I daily swallow small bytes of what is happening in the world. Then I narrow that focus to my own country, and even smaller into my own town. War still rages across the ocean, refugees are being created every day because of leaders who like to play Risk, and humans who choose to be smuggled across borders are dying in unrefrigerated semi-trailers because we can’t figure out how to properly let them in.

I listen patiently to important hearings with detailed testimony and turn to hear them denigrated by those who won’t hear anything, this while weapons are plentiful and long-held rights are stripped away like a scab over a nasty cut. I marinate on these news bytes like a pork chop lazing in my favorite herbiyaki marinade, a fervent prayer, a liturgy. But these days even praying on the 50-yard line would be all well and good by most until a prayer rug appears or someone kneels.

I think of hazy summer when I think of Independence Day. I don’t often think of the American Revolution, although I know its histories well. I think mostly of small, tanned bodies running through sprinklers and eating Popsicles while wrapped in a towel to dry off, the red from the frozen treat staining faces and tongues with its goodness.

My grandson will be 2 years old this month, and he recently learned to work through his fear of running through the sprinkler. I received a video the other day of him and his daddy running through the water, holding hands while the water caught them as they dipped through. His screams of delight were music to my ears, and I’d never seen him smile bigger.

My husband was there for our son when he was small because his dad hadn’t been there for him. Now our son will be there for his son and the ones to come. This is a reality I can live for when the one we’re living in doesn’t make sense, when the matrix threatens to envelop.

The heart attack my husband suffered and its aftermath have become woven into the daily fabric of our lives. He has ventured out to work for several hours a day and is working to up his stamina to where it once was. But his view on life and what it means has changed. There is a sense of urgency now to not simply float through a simulated reality of working and living.

The standard of living is so complex in America, so demanding, and he no longer wishes to conform to its intricacies. He’s ready to throw it all to the wind and do what he wants to do. I would call that freedom in its truest form.

I had an encounter yesterday that left me disoriented and upset with myself. It was a brief yet bold encounter with a person that made me feel less than myself. I’m not sure they meant it that way, but their words cut me to the quick, and I had to sit in silence afterward to make sure those words didn’t settle into a crevice of my heart I couldn’t reach. I couldn’t quite puzzle out why the words had been so sharp and abrupt, condescending even, and finally had to leave them in the air to wither away.

They weren’t the reality of who I am and what I do, and I needed to wake up to the thought they didn’t define any part of me. Being able to let go of what doesn’t matter also is a freedom we take for granted.

Maybe this weekend we will take a drive on some back roads and watch the grasses undulate in the fields, our very green beauty in this county a site to behold in mid-summer. Maybe we will catch a show and walk through a street festival to feel the warmth of the velvet night on our skin. I’ll slip my arm through his and be thankful he’s alive, then I will run my fingers up my arms and across my face to make sure it’s real.

Melissa Herrera is a columnist, published author and drinker of too many coffees based in Holmes County. You can find her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” at or buy one from her in person (because all authors have boxes of their own novel). For inquiries or to purchase, email her at

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