A few weeks ago, I got a Christmas card in my dreams.

It was more like a small package, all wrapped up with a lot of tape, and it had writing stamped all over it, like it had bounced all around the world before getting to me. It had come from the Great Beyond—from friends of mine, contemporaries, who have died in the past couple of years.

When I got the package open, I saw that the surviving family had actually sent it. There was a note or something, explaining—they were trying to carry out the wishes of their loved ones. Yet, with all that tape and the postal marks printed on it, clearly this package had traveled a long, long way. I was still convinced that it had come from across the Great Divide. Maybe my friends’ families had simply helped, by forwarding it to me.

Other than that, I didn’t read any message in the card. My dream did not include that information. But I had the strong feeling that something important had come my way. And I was left wondering:

What are my departed friends trying to tell me?

It may be something other than coincidence that the day before the dream I saw a movie, Carol. Set in the 1950s, it’s about a romance between two women. It is also about people getting trapped in lives and personas that will never fit them. That kind of claustrophobic and stunted existence can happen to anyone, in any era. The wrong career, relationship, identity—people stay in them for years, decades. Lifetimes.

The weekend after the dream, I went to a funeral for someone I had never met. But as his friends and family got up and talked about him, about his love of life and especially of music and laughter, there was a feeling in the air. Of loss, yes—but also of inspiration. A renewed commitment to living, fully.

In life we are always surrounded by death. As I get older, I am so much more aware of this truth. After the dream, and the movie, and a few days after the funeral, I was sitting at my desk when I saw our next-door neighbor’s daughter coming up the walk. Aware of our neighbor’s age and health in recent years I thought oh, Marj must be in the hospital. When I opened the door and the woman came inside, what she had to tell me was that Marj had passed on, early that morning.

Why is it that we always think there will be more time?

I last saw Marj just before Christmas. I brought her some cookies and we sat in her living room and chatted. There were elephant figurines and carvings everywhere, and when I admired them she said she’d been collecting them for years. She mentioned how it impressed her that, like us, elephants appear to grieve. And she told me she felt fortunate that she had seen elephants in the wild once, on a trip she took to Kenya.

Then she said that Sally and I were good neighbors, and quiet (our condos share a wall).

I said, I know that sometimes I play music kind of loud.

She said, oh that’s ok, I would probably like it, anyway.

I would probably like it anyway. It was such a kind and generous thing to say. It may have even been true, of the Handel or the Beethoven CDs, but it almost certainly was not, of Led Zeppelin or even the Beatles. Although Marj was from England, originally…

And now I return to the question: what is the universe, including my departed friends, trying to tell me?

I don’t really know, but here’s my best guess. Something about enjoying the music, wherever you find it, and having a good laugh, whenever you can. Something about being kind, and being true to yourself. And especially this:

Go and see the elephants, while you can.

There may not be another chance.