I had a strange dream last night. I was talking with my awesome cousin, Beck, and she was very upset about something. You know how dreams are: full of fresh detail and incredibly realistic until the moment you wake up and it all falls apart like sponge cake in the rain. So I don’t remember exactly what we were discussing, but she felt really bad about something that she had done or was contemplating doing. It seemed grossly out of character, and it made her both angry and sad, even a little scared. She was comparing this with her own idealized version of who she was as a parent/woman/human being (again, I must confess that the details are lost forever), and she was shattered to discover that her reality was not holding up.
Now Beck is one of those great parents whom you see yourself emulating when your own shot at child-rearing comes, and she’s just a wonderful and inspiring person in general, so I don’t want to paint a picture of her as anything but that, not even if this is a subconscious dream-Beck we’re talking about. But in this dream she was worried, and she shared her worries with me while we stood in her kitchen and tried to ignore the whirlwind of activity that seemed to swirl around us (dreams can be distracting). She talked, I listened, and as she looked at me with concern and anxiety masking her sweet face, I suddenly had an answer for her. I told her that she was looking at two different extremes. They were two extremes that existed within herself, I admitted, but they were extremes nevertheless. Neither of them was meant to be realized. The one might hulk in the shadows as a warning, and the other might provide inspiration, but ultimately they were extremes that she could not judge herself by alone. They were focal points that she could judge herself and her life against. Satisfied that I had done a brilliant thing, my subconscious seemed to have had its fill and woke me up just as Beck began to smile.
Now I’m not sure how many of you remember your nightly wanderings, but one of the most wretched feelings is waking from a dream where you’ve done something incredible and not only realize that it was just a dream, but also find yourself confronted with the fact that what you did was not all that spectacular after all. In fact, it didn’t even make sense. So was my advice to Beck a stunning revelation? No. Like most of the fabulous insights that we speak aloud in dreams, it rang a bit cliché on waking, but it did get me thinking, and that is always a welcome occurrence.
While I was getting ready for school, I continued to reflect on this dream and what it might have meant. I asked myself why I said what I did and whether I believed it was true. Finally, as I was spreading toothpaste on my brush and preparing to fight tarter, cavities and potentially whiten my teeth all at the same time, I began to see what it was that I was trying to say to my cousin. We are all inhabited by monsters and heroes. Each of us has the potential for both inside, and that is simultaneously one of the scariest and most wonderful things about being human. The extremes are inside us, and we are blessed and tortured by both. The agony of knowing that perfection is unobtainable, even if we won’t always admit that we know it (fellow perfectionists will know what I mean), is intensified by the failures that we see within ourselves. But just as the hero inside of us has the power not only to taunt, but can also inspire us to greater things, the monster inside serves a very important purpose as well: it reminds us not to be haughty and lord our greatness over others because at the end of the day, everyone is struggling with the same bipolar issues that we are. The only thing we can expect of our fellow humans is that they do the best they can.
Devil or angel is not the decision we are faced with. These two extremes are end points on a spectrum, and our true selves lie somewhere in between. We’re human and we’re flawed. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to do things we’re proud of and things we regret. What’s important is to keep in mind that we are in control. It boils down to a responsibility that we each have to slay our dragons as best we can while not blinding ourselves by demanding we be allowed to see perfection in our every thought, desire and action. We’re not perfect, and no one ever said we were, but we’re also not evil, and forgiving ourselves for our mistakes and our inability to do everything right is an important part of being human. We’re walking dichotomies, and we know it. Accepting that is just part of moving on, and learning to struggle with both ends of that spectrum to discover who we really are is a big part of finding peace with ourselves. All of this, naturally, in my humble opinion…
My cousin of the dream had a problem: she could not reconcile the woman she wanted to be, even knew was a part of her, with the darker woman she had seen in herself and told me about. The solution was that she was both of them and neither of them. She smiled at the end, I believe, because she saw that she was responsible for herself and to herself based on the decisions that she made and the actions that she took. Perfection was out of her reach, and evil did not define her. She was free to live her life her own way even while she was responsible to herself and her fellow humans to strive to be the best that she could be. I don’t wonder why she felt some relief at this. I am also aware that this encounter had less to do with my cousin and more to do with a question I myself must have been wrestling with. It seems like I’ve come one step closer to solving it, whatever it is, and once again I am very glad that I’m a dreamer.
PS-I’m now finally going to do what I’ve been waiting to do all day, which is crank up some sweet tunes, courtesy of INXS. I do suggest you do the same.