Dreams and the Dark Times

About five months ago, I had a dream so clear and precise that even now I can close my eyes and see the scene unfold before me in intricate detail.

It opened with me alone, clutching tightly a blue and white pottery shard I had found in my trip to Greece last year. It may be rather ancient. All of the sudden, my friend Lori appears next to me. We went to graduate school together, studying international relations at The Fletcher School.  Lori went on to become a health economist, working globally as a consultant.

In my dream, she was with a few other public policy types: I didn’t recognize any others. Then the scene shifted suddenly, and they arrested someone who looked Middle Eastern or Asian. And they thanked me for helping them with the pottery shard, that went five levels deep. They had never been able to go so deep before.

I woke up feeling disturbed, confused. I sure didn’t want to be involved in helping catch some so-called terrorist, or so I thought at the time as I puzzled out what this dream could possibly mean.

Many years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting a well known Brazilian oral historian named Jose Carlos. This academic had done some of the first writing about people in the favelas, or shanty towns in Brazil. When I met him, he was working on a different project.

“I am interviewing Brazilian immigrants about their dreams,” he told me.

“What can you learn from their dreams?” I asked.

“Everything,” was his response. “Because you cannot hide anything in your dreams. Dreams always tell the truth, especially about things people normally try to hide.”

And he gave me some interesting examples of what his dream research had uncovered, that he would not have had access to otherwise.

So, what possibly could my dream be trying to tell me?  I puzzled this for quite some time. They say that dreams, especially deep dreams, typically take several months or more to reveal themselves.

And then the coronavirus began to propagate with fury, first in China, then East Asia, then moving to encompass Europe and now nearly all the world. If you are reading this article, you must in some way have had your life impacted by this virus.

Many people have equated what we are now experiencing to the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, that killed more people than World War 1. My father was a tiny baby at the time, and nearly died of it. A friend posted how both her great-grandmothers met their demise in this way. We must all have ancestors who lived through earlier epidemics – some surviving, others not. It is in our genetic memory: all of ours whatever our lineage and family lines.

But I did not know until now, as I was checking information while writing this article, that one of the most infamous plagues of written history struck the city of Athens, when it was under siege by Sparta during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Over the course of three years, most of the population was infected, and perhaps as many as 75,000 to 100,000 people, 25% of the city’s population, died. They are not sure if this plague or epidemic was typhus or smallpox or something else.

So, let me get back to my dream. I wonder now if perhaps it is a dream of hope and optimism, even in this scary time we are living through. In that dream, that ancient pottery shard was Greek. Perhaps now, in this pandemic, the public health folks will find a way to catch (and stop) something dangerous that goes back many layers, many generations – to the ancient Greeks.  Maybe that final dream scene was not a terrorist being caught, or even a person. Maybe it was the coronavirus itself.

None of us know what is going to unfold. We are stepping out into unknown terrain. And while there is much to be concerned about, and even fear – there may also be some room for hope and optimism as well.

Right now, millions (and billions) of people around the world are taking action to try to stop the spread of a disease that is especially hard-hitting to the most vulnerable and elderly segments of our human population.  For those of a spiritual bent, ceremonies and rituals, prayers and offerings are being created in so many beautiful and unique ways. And for all of us, and for the Earth herself, it has become a time to slow down, simplify, connect with loved ones, and remind ourselves what we should always know but often forget: that life is full of surprises, the unexpected happens, life can be fragile, and ultimately all we can do is our best.

I see so many people trying to do their best at this moment of health crisis. And I hope that my dream may come true, and we can find a way to slow down and catch this tiny virus. May you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.

Published in the Monadnock Shopper News, April 7, 2020

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