A Soul Trapped in Time: Two Dreams
I am not one who often dreams vividly, or typically remembers his dreams. However, since childhood, I have occasionally had extremely clear, easily memorable dreams, some of them recurring ones, of the sort that seem to highlight my spiritual condition at a certain time. Strangely, I have experienced two dreams of this type recently, which I will relate to you now, as accurately as possible.
By way of a preface, though not wishing to force any particular interpretation upon the dreams, or upon your reading of them, I will merely note what is obvious about my nature and my judgment: I am a philosophic type, a teacher, and — to locate myself temporally — one convinced that our civilization, understanding that word in its widest connotations, is in its final moments of decline.
Last night, I had a dream that I had been asked to take over as a parish priest, beginning with this evening’s mass. I was rushing to the church, a semi-familiar building where I vaguely expected to know some of the parishioners, though no one in particular. I was aware of being late for the start time of the mass, but tried to remain unruffled enough to think on my feet about where I might go to find the vestments, and also to remember the order of the parts of the Catholic mass, and to reassure myself (apprehensively) that once I started talking at the altar, I would be able to overcome my practical unpreparedness by latching onto a word in tonight’s readings or in the Gospel that would inspire a thought process to engage the audience during my homily — at least enough to make them forget my shaky and unprepared celebration of the more banal parts of the mass. I thought for a moment that the altar boys — I had not seen any, but assumed there would have to be some — would be able to guide me through the details somewhat. I also calmed myself as we sometimes do in moments of extreme stress (hence Nietzsche’s paradoxical observation that the thought of suicide has gotten men through many dark nights), by remembering that even if I failed miserably, I could always just quit the job after tonight and walk away without too much shame, since after all, I had not asked to be a priest, and was accepting the responsibility on very short notice, seemingly under duress. No one could criticize me very much for failing under the circumstances, then, if that should turn out to be my fate.
“Anyway, who really cares?” I scoffed to myself dishonestly, continuing my attempt to ease my nerves. I didn’t want to be a priest. This situation was stupid in the first place! Why should I have to go through with it at all? Why should I perform this mass?
Yet here I was, pleading with my wife (yes, my wife) to help me find a particular blue necktie — the priest’s collar never entered my imagination during this dream, interestingly — and then rushing through the dim, basement-like halls of the church, among what seemed like throngs of musicians or other backstage personages, trying to seem calm and to stay focused on finding my way to the area from which I would enter the nave, and hoping that the parishioners would be tolerant of how late I was, and understanding of the fact that this was my first mass and that I had been given this duty on very short notice. In any case, I knew that even if my excuses were legitimate, I did not want to fail.
A few nights ago, I experienced one instantiation of a dream that is not all that rare, and that has recurred to my sleeping mind in many variations over the years, probably since I was a teenager or very young adult. In this dream it is always late in the evening, or occasionally the middle of the night. I am at home (although the place often has a slightly unfamiliar layout, or is not quite the home I actually live in at the time of dreaming). I need to see something, or for some reason feel apprehensive and wish to turn on a light, but the light switch does not work. In fact, as I soon discover, none of the light switches work. I become increasingly agitated, and in some of these dreams nervous and paranoid, about the fact that none of the lights will come on.
I frequently have a moment, within such a dream, when it occurs to me that this must be one of those dreams in which the lights don’t work, so I should try to stay relaxed, as I will surely wake up soon. Often, in the dream, when the first switch fails, I directly tell myself, “This is like those dreams I have in which the lights don’t work”; and yet I somehow always fall into assuming that unlike “those dreams,” the next switch will work in this case. The latter thought, of course, is the dream world reasserting itself by “reminding” me that I am not dreaming, but awake and in the real world, where sometimes, of course, a light doesn’t work — but never all the lights. Hence, I continue to be surprised, and increasingly uptight, as each light I try refuses to respond to my flick of the switch. My anxiety gradually builds, as I become frustrated at, or alternately resigned to, the thought that I am going to remain trapped indefinitely in this darkness, when I so need the reassurance of light, or at least some reason to hope that a working light bulb is still possible.