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.