I don’t always remember my dreams, but when I do, they often leave me unsettled. I don’t dream of butterflies and roses, of happy frolicking across a meadow. Others may, I suppose, but not me. The dreams that linger after I wake are hardly pastoral. They’re about being chased or about being left behind. Their urgency often startles me.
One of my recurring dreams, for example, is of a yellow bus chugging away as I run uphill to catch it, my breath ragged, my hair wild, my book bag thumping my back. The dream always ends the same, no matter how fast I run. Other times I’m locked in a room, about to take a test for which I’m not prepared. So strange, these dreams. I’ve been out of school for decades.
When the children were young, nightmares reigned. I lost my kids in stores. I smothered them with blankets. I forgot them at school. Sometimes I’d jump out of bed and run across the hall to check up on them. They were always blissfully asleep, oblivious to my anxiety.
Over the years, but less so lately, I’ve dreamed about the people I’ve loved and lost: my first husband, my mother, my middle sister, my godparents who doted on me, and, once, a nephew. In those dreams my loved ones are healthy and happy, and for days afterward I feel reassured by the hope of an afterlife, by the sense that we find peace eventually.
At times I talk in my dreams, which is definitely an improvement over my youthful sleepwalking. “What do I say?” I’ll ask The Hubby, hoping for a plot line to a blockbuster novel. Or, at the very least, the winning numbers to the Florida Lotto.
He shrugs. “I have no idea. You’re carrying on in Spanish.” Apparently the language of my dreams is the language of my childhood, though the number of people I practice it with in my waking life is growing slimmer.
Dreams have been interpreted by society for millennia, and we look to them for guidance, as a means to sort out the complications of existence. Dreams are the subject of great art. They have served as inspiration and warning. But the only thing I can distill from analyzing mine is that I’m one Nervous Nellie. That worries me.
I recently read about a man who began collecting dreams from people around the world. Roc Marin, a journalist, launched the World Dream Atlas project, a Facebook page with dreams from hundreds of people in more than a dozen countries. It’s fascinating to read, particularly when people struggle to figure out the strange images of their subconscious. That is the most human of actions, after all, our attempt to wrestle meaning from the inexplicable.
“I was lost – trudging through snow-covered mountains,” writes someone from Japan. “Suddenly, a bear began to pursue me. I was saved by little pixies. They were small, no higher than my knees.” The writer believes the bear represents her controlling mother.
But I wonder if, in our attraction for mystery and mysticism, we hope to make dreams more than they are. In the end maybe they represent nothing but our brain rebooting.
My dog dreams. Does it mean anything? Old and unsteady on her feet. muzzle increasingly gray, she runs in her sleep and yelps for joy at this lost pleasure. I watch her carefully and never wake her, hoping this means that, as we grow older, we dream of youth, of being unencumbered by physical constraints.
I’d like that. I’m due a happy dream.