May 16, 2020

Symbols

Last night I dreamt that I could not read. Every book was filled with gibberish. The words shape-shifted and flickered between shades of red, white, and blue. My mom appeared and handed me a small paper bag of medicine and told me it would help. We were the same age. “You look so old,” she said. “But I have to get back to my new family now.” I woke up.

A loss of understanding. The colors of the American flag. The need for a cure. This dream feels stupidly obvious in this pandemic season, but I cannot puzzle out its personal meaning. I’m left only with a handful of symbols: garbled books, a bag of medicine, and my mother.

In dreams, the murk of emotions, traumas, and truths too raw for language become distilled into symbols, and these images hold more power than the mechanics of plot. We might remember crouching on the sidewalk, frantically trying to gather the teeth falling from our mouths—not the circumstances that led us there. A broken mirror or the sensation of falling from a terrible height. Our dead coming and going.

It’s remarkable how quickly we recover from our dreams, that we don’t spend our days staring into space with haunted expressions. A line from Schopenhauer: “What is to be expected from heads of which even the wisest is every night the playground of the strangest and most senseless dreams, and has to take up its meditations again on emerging from these dreams?”


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