When Abby was in early middle-age she explored all kinds of ways to make sense of an increasingly senseless life. She had been married, had two children, and gotten divorced when they left the nest to search out their own destiny. She had watched her beloved mother die, resisting the curtain of death until the very end. And then she watched her equally resistive father struggle to make a life for himself when much of his reason for living no longer existed. Where was this mythical mystical Zone where it all made sense? Where was this state where everything was easier and the brain flowed smoothly to a blissful and fulfilling state of mind?
In the past several years she had done yoga, meditated and gone to church. She had traipsed to the gym and done hundreds of laps in the tepid pool at the Rec Center. Her eyes were blurred with reading fiction, non-fiction, and self-help books. She turned on the TV and then she turned it off not wanting to be told by any talking head, left-leaning or right, what to think, or to soak her brain with marginal entertainment. She got massages, took long walks, talked endlessly with friends -- and she dreamed.
It was the dreams that most intrigued her. She had her waking dreams, to be sure; dreams of a body more disciplined and sleek, a beautiful perennial garden blooming in perfect synchronicity throughout the seasons, dreams of her children being comfortable in their own skin and finding happiness. Other dreams were less defined; hovering in her subconscious, a tantalizing promise of enlightenment and fulfillment but the "aha" moment eluded her over and over again.
So she began to study the phenomenon of sleeping dreams to see what they meant. She had often joked that her dreams were full-length Technicolor Steven Spielberg epics. She loved her dreams and they were—fortunately -- rarely dark or scary. But what did they mean? If she studied and analyzed them, would they help her in her quest to move forward through her mid-life ennui?
She read about the Jungian theory of dreams and scanned the dream dictionaries on Google. She went to dream groups where she shared her dreams with knowledgeable and seeking fellow dreamers. Together they explored prophetic dreams and lucid dreams and dreamers whose brains cast them back to previous lives and ancient times through the nightly firing of synapses. But what she ultimately distilled from her studies, if she learned from her dreams at all, was that she and she alone could interpret the hidden messages. No one had her set of symbols and emotions and culture. What she did learn was to use certain tools to unlock some of the mysteries of her subconscious. Asking: “What does this image mean to you?” (For example, to one person the ocean may represent a relaxing vacation romp, to another a ship-wrecking threat.) “Why did you have this dream now?” “What are the archetypal symbols?”
Abby prepared herself for her nightly dream adventures by closing her eyes and letting pre-dream images roll like the crawl at the bottom of a TV newscast on the screen of her inner eyelids. Skulls, dragons, starbursts, snowflakes, birds, trees, Salvador Dali forms dripping with distorted images all visited this twilight moment before she started to slip into a dream-filled sleep.
Abby soon learned to discard what were clearly "junk drawer" dreams with no emotional content for her. She also discarded the dream of searching frantically for the thermostat that she had somehow misplaced when her dwelling cooled on a zero night. She knew where the dream of rushing water splashing in her sink came from when she awoke with the urgent need to pee. Abby's questing and sometimes overstimulated brain cleared this excess material with barely a memory of having dreamed at all.
Oh but the dreams that lingered, demanding and insistent, wanting to be deciphered, wanting to be understood and of value. Docile, piebald horses clopping up the lane to her house became ebony-hued thoroughbreds, muscled and strong prancing and tearing up the sod in her dooryard. A giant oak tree, a symbol of strength, was Swiss-cheesed with woodpecker holes and towered up and up until it erupted in pale green leaves. The dead awoke with smiles. Babies delivered speeches to Congress. Keys changed hands. Over and over again Abby saw change and growth and always she saw these transitions as a good and positive thing -- even if they were sometimes vaguely disturbing, like watching a birth.
By the time Abby saw and accepted the transitions, she was no longer early middle-age. She was approaching that age termed "senior." Nowadays, she knew without a doubt what she did not like; she would never again dip her toes in the tepid pool at the Rec Center. Leave yoga to the lithe and inclined, not to her. She thought she would keep the massages and continue her reading, but more selectively. She had, in fact, transitioned into knowledge of some of the vicissitudes of life and she was, if not in the Zone, at least more content.
Still Abby wondered why in the world a random childhood friend of her son's came knocking on her door one night in a dream to demand that she hand over Benny Goodman's address book? Benny Goodman -- the King of Swing -- was not even of her generation. He belonged to a bygone era, peaking with his sweet licorice-stick clarinet before she was born. Yet the dream lingered and haunted her in its intensity and demanded her attention. What in the world was this lingering dream telling her? It tickled her funny bone in all its peculiarity and she and yet she was certain there was a message buried in this dream.
Aha, she thought, maybe the message was "move on" as the childhood friend had become a respected adult in real life and Benny with his sweet licorice-stick clarinet had moved on in death – both with accomplishment and with the sweet aura of humor that surrounded the images.
That night, after that revelation, Abby snuggled in her down comforter, welcoming another of her nightly Technicolor epics with great curiosity. She sought what was there to find and marvel at as she awoke to another day.