It’s the end of the academic semester. Many people are starting to realize that the paper they should have written weeks ago that is due in 48 hours needs to be done, else they may not graduate. Or they will say goodbye to that GPA they’ve worked so hard to not screw up. But for the time being, let’s step away from the four-letter words that may be on the lips of many people, and venture into the realm of five-letter words. Or, six-letter words:
Now, I don’t actually mean (for once in my life) something intangible and metaphor-riddled, such as “What do you dream for your life?” Instead, I mean the actual DREAM dreams that we all have at night when we’re asleep. Let’s not get into the argument of “I don’t have dreams at night because I don’t remember them” and just take it on faith (parenthetically, another five-letter word we may address) that you do have dreams when asleep. This way we can all begin from the same basic starting point.
I used to keep a dream journal. Matter of fact, I actually used to keep a mini-cassette recorder next to the side of my bed and dictate especially lucid dreams into it to transcribe later into my journal (much to the chagrin of my roommate, Kenny). I am also a product of an angst-ridden, self-reflective generation that wore torn jeans, grungy flannel, listened to what some might questionably call music, and liked our rebellions before they were pre-packaged and sold at stores (“Goth Clothes, 30-40% off this week at Hot Topic”). This might help to explain some of my more eccentric-artsy tendencies. It also might show how and where some of the deeper, search-for-meaning-beneath-the-surface moments come to play in my life.
I remember the sensation of flying in my dreams; the almost euphoric, tear-producing joy that I experienced when I felt as if all I had to do was push myself off the sidewalk, off the ground, and I would instantaneously know what it felt like to fly. That pounding sensation of excitement in your chest cavity, matched by the peace in your heart and mind. It was oftentimes so real that for a day or so after I had these dreams (because, yes, they were recurring), I would catch myself walking to work thinking, “If I pushed off just a little bit…if I ran just a little bit and then jumped….I could take flight.” It was almost as if I was playing a game in my mind and only I knew the joke – that at any moment, I could just lift off and experience joy…but I was keeping myself grounded. Just because I could.
I remember the dreams of where I felt the horror and utter terror of just walking along, talking to someone, and either one by one or in a huge gush of release, all my teeth would fall out. I remember the mad scramble I felt myself going through trying to catch them as they fell, trying to get them to fit back in, trying to do anything I could to keep from losing my teeth. Anyone who is familiar with my orthodontist-heavy dental history knows FULL well how much sheer fright that could produce in me. Late nights of sweat, anxiety, and giving up on going back to bed and just sitting on the couch to watch infomercials always came after these dreams.
I also used to suffer from extensive moments of déjà vu. It was almost as there were multiple moments where I found myself in a situation where I was reliving or replaying a role I had seen before…in a dream…now in the real world. Sometimes they were so eerily similar to what I had dreamt that I wondered if I wasn’t somehow just making it up. That – much as with my dreams of flight – there was no way that this could be real.
Jump back in time with about seven months ago (as of this writing). My dreams – the dreams I would remember, the dreams that sustained me at night, the dreams that helped me to know that I had fully gotten rest – ended. I stopped remembering them. For months on end.
Sometime between when my dog and my dad died, so did my dreams.
I would either wake up feeling exhausted (noticing, for the first time, wrinkles and bags forming under my eyes) or frustrated. That feeling you feel of when you don’t feel like you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep? I walked through that haze for months. I didn’t feel settled. I didn’t feel rested. And the worst part? The recurrence of what can only be described as night terrors. Dreams that were apparently so bad that I don’t recall what they were – only that I would wake up at night, sitting bolt upright in bed, with my heart and/or head pounding, covered in sweat but freezing cold. I genuinely felt afraid to go back to sleep, for fear of what I might encounter. I never remembered any of it, but it scared me enough that I knew that I didn’t want to go back to sleep.
So, I began to accept restless nights as my reality. I began to slowly force myself to adapt to a pattern of sleep-wake-sleep-wake-sleep-alarm goes off-get up-deal with no rest. And this continued for some time.
Last Tuesday, I came close to a slight panic attack while getting ready to go to work. Something happened that morning which triggered a memory in me – a memory of the dream I had the night before. The dream I had. The details of the dream were so pedestrian that I almost blew them off: I was at my home in Tupelo, arguing with my dad over what kind of wood we needed to get to repair the steps leading up to the outside deck on their house since the existing wood had rotted away.
I had a dream. About my dad. A good dream.
I had a dream. Like everything was normal. A dream about my dad. Like everything was normal with him.
And this freaked me out.
I was shaken because (a) it was a DREAM, (b) it was about my dad, (c) in the dream, apparently everything was normal, (d) I had a dream abut my dad and I didn’t wake up an emotional basketcase, feeling guilty, and (e) I felt guilty over the fact that I had a dream abut my dad and I didn’t wake up an emotional basketcase, feeling guilty. Was this a sign that – God forbid – I was starting to get better in feeling the loss of my dad? That I was healing?
Two nights later, I had anther dream about my dad. In this one, I dreamt that Ashley, Kai, my mom, my dad and I were in some living room somewhere, and my dad was picking up Kai. We were all laughing about the weight he had gained since he had ended chemo and his cancer had gone into remission – that he was probably the fattest he had ever been in his life. His hair was full and grey, his face was full and colorful, and his pants were tight and inappropriately high – just like a grandfather should look.
This dream made me sit up in bed. Actually, it made me get out of bed and go stare at a wall for a while. I was acting in the same manner I would after a particularly bad dream had hit me – get up, get out, and go stare. I was acting in the same manner towards a dream that I would as a nightmare – mainly because it had been so long since I had had a DREAM that I remembered, and especially a GOOD one, that I quite honestly had forgotten what it was like to dream. And rest. And to be able to take comfort in the night.
In the Bible, in the book of Joel chapter 2 verse 28, it states: “I [the Lord] will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophecy. Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” Now, if you want to take some time to get into a really cool story that illustrates that whole “redemptive love” thing of God’s – take some time and read these three chapters. And if you move past the metaphor of locusts, armies, and the like and transpose it to looking inward and making all the destruction/rebirth ideas personal and not just reflective of a city/culture…you might be surprised, touched and moved. But I digress.
I used to get really angry at this verse – not because of what it promised, but because I never saw visions. I only dreamed dreams. And to me, that felt like God was telling me, “Dude – you’re old.” And at age 20, no one wants to hear that. It’s only years after the fact that I can see that this meta-narrative was also a META narrative (I know that someone’s head just exploded upon reading that. If you get it, great; if not, don’t – ironically – lose sleep over it).
I wish that I could say that right now, I know with assurance that tonight, when I go to bed, I will dream. That I will rest. That I will have the same look of peace on my face that Kai has on his. But I don’t.
I wish that I could say that I know that I am going to be able to react well with the next dream I have – be it about my dad, Cricket, chocolate mousse,..whatever…but I can’t.
I wish that I could say that I can again walk down the sidewalk and feel the urge to just push off the ground and go flying. But I can’t.
What I can say is that I know that slowly, I am being restored. Slowly, I am being rebuilt. Again, pulling from the book of Joel, in chapter 2 verse 25, God says “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” Anyone who has ever read Jeff Smith’s book BONE understands the symbolism between the locusts and dreaming – and can understand how I can’t help but draw comfort from this geek-rich symbolism. Sometimes I have to just wonder if when God – like, an eternity ago – was planning out what would be future history, He didn’t just smirk to Himself on occasion and think, “When Sonny connects these dots, he’s going to know it will all be okay.”
I might not have years of sleep to catch up on, but I do know that the sleep that is coming will be rich. That the dreams to come will be promises and moments of joy.
And that the sidewalks better watch out when those dreams come back.