Dreams

There are two varieties of dreams:  dreams that arise during the night and vaporize by morning.  Sometimes these dreams are remembered and assume an importance as portentous signs of life we only half know.

The other kind are the dreams we harbor within ourselves.  Dreams of peace.  Dreams of windfalls.  Dreams of happiness.  Dreams of love.  Sometimes these dreams come true, though more often they’re little more than disappointment and futility.

I’m reminded of DDB’s famous ad campaign for the New York State Lottery, “All You Need is a Dollar and a Dream.”  Who hasn’t dreamed of winning the lottery?  (This very successful campaign came to an abrupt end when a man on Long Island complained to the State that it encouraged poor people to waste their money on lottery tickets.  True enough since the odds of this dream coming true are infinitesimal.  I suspect Bill Gates has never bought a lottery ticket.)

I’ve had three sleeping dreams in my life that remain as vivid today as the nights I dreamed them. One occurred a long time ago when I was in my twenties.  I think I was still in college.  The other two have been more recent.  Each was frightening—though not nightmares—and each has indeed been significant to my understanding of my life within; also, lack of understanding.  Rich material for my therapist!  My last dream was terrifying when I dreamed it and hilariously comical when I recall it.  Two realities in one.

Of the latter kind of dream, I’ve had only one, and it’s been the same one since I’ve been a child.  After many, many years I thought this dream had come true.  It had, for a while, and then it was gone.  I won’t dream this dream again.  One shipwreck is enough.

Freud and Jung both wrote famously about dreams.  Freud infused dreams with sexual significance and Jung linked dreams to archetypes.  My own three dreams conform more to Jung’s interpretation than to Freud’s. At least that’s how I chose to interpret them, maybe a result of a year spent in Jungian analysis with the president of the Jung Society in New York—an extravagant indulgence that could have gone on forever without changing my life.

Is it the nature of dreams to be more lost than found?  Isn’t that what a dream is: something beyond our reach that we badly want and rarely get?  And if it’s imaginary, why is the loss so painful?

Alan Lightman in this month’s Harper’s writes about the immensity of the universe and the impossibility of comprehending it.  It’s a beautiful essay, emotionally overwhelming.  He writes, “We are living in an accidental universe.” I think our dreams are part of this search for meaning in a universe that we can’t imagine. Ultimately we don’t “mean” anything.  We are.  Yet we long to know ourselves, where we stand, where we’ve been and where we’re going. Dreams live in that projection, because they define the person we want to be.  Our dreams evolve, too.  We grow older and one unfulfilled dream folds into another, and another, and another.  I think the origin of sadness lies in this evolution.  It moves slowly, imperceptibly, and one day we wake up and discover that these dreams are in fact the dreams of sleep.  They didn’t have any reality at all.

Yet, some dreams do inspire greatness.  What drove Ulysses to endure countless challenges, drifting for years, but his dream of Ithaca?  Napoleon as a teenager still on Corsica dreaming his destiny.  Keats’ dreaming of Fannie.  Anne Frank.  Tony Manero almost—just almost– dancing his way to live his dream.

Cathy Freeman, the first Australian Aboriginal person ever to win an Olympic gold medal—when an entire country joined her dream of winning.  I defy anyone who watched her win the 400-meter race in the Sydney Olympics to confess they didn’t burst into tears.  I just watched it again on YouTube and again I couldn’t hold back tears.  Her dream came true, forever.

Yeats wrote that, “Sex and death are the only things that can interest a serious mind.”  When I read this in college I didn’t understand it’s meaning.  I didn’t believe it.  Sex, yes—but death?  But Yeats wasn’t writing about the young.  He was describing, I think, the agony of aging, when all the dreams we’ve lost take on bittersweet urgency as the years pass.  He was writing about himself.

Will we die with our dreams never fulfilled, or if they are, is it inevitable they fade away?  We’ll never know the answer to that question.

Hearts break because of lost dreams.  I wish I could close more optimistically.

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