Friday, December 07, 2007

Claiming baggage

Last night I dreamed that I was at the baggage claim section of the airport. I was trying to collect about a dozen suitcases and most of them had somehow split open on the flight and their contents had spilled out everywhere. So there I was, madly trying to gather up my stuff and track everything down. I was scooping shoes into suitcases and collecting stray papers and cans of food that were rolling all over the place. And all the while (and of course this made perfect sense to me at the time) I was also trying to catch a black poodle who was running wild through the airport. The most vivid part of my dream was when I saw there was a line of people still waiting for their luggage. I could tell from the frustrated looks on their faces that they were completely fed up with me and my huge mess.

Nora’s coughing woke me up. She has had a cough for over a month now and some nights she seriously sounds like she’s trying to hack up a lung. I checked on her, gave her some water to sip and went back to bed…where I pulled the covers up to my neck and proceeded to stare, wide awake, at the ceiling for over an hour. I hate that. I was clearly tired, but my stupid brain was racing: Nora, cough, $20 copay, final exam, McKay’s homework, piano recital, blog, dumb things I said at book group, no clean socks, dinner, Christmas gifts, my dad, bills, emails, Ethan’s missing gym shorts, a new idea for my book (Write it down now…No, I’m too tired to get a pencil…You’ll forget it by morning…Not if I can manage to stay awake like this for three more hours…You’re an idiot...) It went on and on.

My mind was full, cluttered, completely overloaded with imperatives and concerns. It wasn’t until the morning, after waking up groggy and slightly disoriented (what was up with that stupid poodle?) that I saw the obvious metaphorical connection. If my brain is a suitcase, clearly I have exceeded the allowable weight limit. I'm carting around too much mental baggage.

I’m a big believer in the symbolic nature of dreams. Naturally, I’m an artsy kind of gal and I see pretty much everything as symbolic, but I’ve always thought that dreams give us an uncensored, deeper view into our own psyche—as warped and messed up as that psyche may be.

In scripture, dreamers are often prophets and visionaries. Joseph of the Old Testament was always having crazy, symbolic dreams. Joseph of the New Testament had important dreams too. It was “in a dream” according to Matthew, that an angel of the Lord told him to accept Mary and take her to wife. I’m not sure why he got the dream, while other members of the Christmas story (like Mary and the shepherds) merited personal, open-eyed visitations, but when it comes to receiving guidance and clearing up confusion, I think most people will take whatever they can get.

In Georges de la Tour’s painting of Joseph’s dream, he focuses on the light as a symbol of understanding. Joseph has apparently fallen asleep while reading. Maybe he’s been brushing up on his Mosaic law and worrying about what to do with Mary. His brow is furrowed and he has nodded off with his fingers pressed to his temple like someone with a big decision to make. The angel appears and catches the light from the candle with her body and arms, reflecting a glow onto Joseph’s face. When he eventually wakes up, he will know exactly what to do.

I wish I could say that my dream has given me some kind of new clear vision of my life, granted me some kind of light-bulb moment equivalent to Joseph’s candle of truth moment. But the fact is that the whole “my dear, you are stressed and mentally overtaxed” message is old news. I can’t think of a single woman I know who doesn’t feel this way. I don’t need a dream to tell me that if I don’t lighten up, I’m likely to start splitting at the seams like a piece of old luggage. But in all honesty, I can’t simplify my life any more than I have. I’ve already relaxed my standards on housework (isn’t that a nice way to put it?). I don’t volunteer at the kids’ schools like I used to. I don’t attend parties, faculty meetings, or extra church activities of any sort unless I think they will directly benefit my family. I have let a lot of things go, including my pride since I’m even learning to ask for help and accept it whenever it’s offered.

So I'm fairly sure I'm only still lugging around the truly important things. But unfortunately, right now there are lots and lots of truly important things in my life and they also happen to be heavy and hard to handle. The only comfort I get from my dream is that maybe I can ignore the sense of judgment I feel about the other people waiting in line at the baggage claim. Because seriously, who are they to get all huffy and impatient with my mess? Did any one of them lift a finger to help me chase the poodle? No. They did not. So to them (and to the part of me they represent) I say: chill out. I might be a little overwhelmed here, but I’m doing the best I can.


Jenna said...

Ooooh! I get to be first! I loved this post. I am a big believer in the symbolic nature of dreams too. I have them all the time and my husband loves to do the interpreting (usually to his benefit). It's the burden of women to "overflow", I think. We all understand that sentiment.

TARA said...

Another awesome post! I had to laugh right out loud at the poodle...and then I think my heart lurched a bit when you described being so overwhelmed. I really loved the ending; I think you're in the right track in deciding to lighten up!

compulsive writer said...

Beautiful post and excellent message. Thank you!

My Ice Cream Diary said...

If Joseph really supposed to be that old? I always imgained him younger.

As for your dream... My mind works much the same way on sleepless nights. I have learned a trick, though, that has eased the strains on my worn out valise. Now I keep some 3x5s and a pen by my bed. Before I go to sleep I make a To Remember List. I list all of those floating worries in order of most urgent/important to the silly. I find that by writing it all down my brain doesn't feel the need to cycle it. It just waits by my bed till morning. I've also learned that when my brain tells me to get up and do something in the middle of the night, to get up and do it quickly, otherwise my brain just won't shut down.

I hope you sleep peacefully tonight.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I think this post captures the stress of motherhood perfectly ... I often feel like a crammed-too-full suitcase that is about to split and/or explode at the seams. Thanks for the advice and the encouragement to only choose the "best" things and to not care what other people think.

As far as Nora's cough, your sanity might be worth $20. Cory has had a cough for 6 weeks now and I finally took him to the doctor this week. Diagnosis? Sinus infection. The antibiotics are already helping him sleep better at night ... which in turn means I am sleeping better, too.

Geo said...

If it made sense to give a blog post a standing ovation, I would, right here, right now.

Jen said...

I have also had such powerfully symbolic dreams that I was unable to ignore.

I think the Spirit communicates that way to some people, which if Joseph had an already established pattern of receiving answers that way, a dream may have been as powerful to him as a visitation. I take that part of the story as an indication that Joseph was a man who was used to discerning messages from God in his dreams. The pattern continues when Joseph is warned and takes his family to Egypt.

liz said...

Amazing post -- Amazing blog. I just found it and it's wonderful, all of it.

Elizabeth-W said...

I'm with the Ice Cream Lady. I do sort of the same thing. I have a pen and big yellow pad by the bed. It's on my left side, and I'm left handed. I simply grab the pen, and write on the pad. No getting up, no turning on of lights.
If the coughing is predominantly at night it may be a symptom of asthma (sometimes it is the only symptom).

My dreams are so literal--it's very dull. I wish I had more metaphors to analyze.

Candace E. Salima said...

We must be having the same dream, sans the black poodle. He's never showed up in mine. I really don't know the answer to all the stresses and load that women carry these days. Sounds to me like you've done all you can. Maybe it's time to turn the Lord, you know "Come unto me all ye who are heavy laden . . ." it goes to say He'll lighten our burdens. He won't take them away, but they'll be easier to carry. Sheesh, pot-kettle, yes, I'll be doing the same thing.

By the way -- the six finalists for the Best Husband in the World contest are posted on my blogspot. Please pop on over, read through them (they really are wonderful men), vote and then spread the word far and wide. Merry Christmas!

Klutzmom said...

It's a blast from the past.
Do you remember on the 1985 Spain trip that your red suitcase split open and came down the luggage chute half empty followed by its contents? Fortunately that was when you were single and still a perfectionist who only had to pack for herself and not for 4 children, so most of the items came down neatly contained in zip-loc bags. I still have a mental picture of that but it doesn't haunt my dreams. What ever current projects I have does!

Luisa Perkins said...

Yes, ignore them. In someone else's dream, they were standing, wearing fancy clothes, in a very big building, pointing and laughing.