The Covid-19 pandemic has seized the world, prompting us to act contrary to customs observed during our Thanksgiving observance. This year, we wear masks, practice social distancing around large crowds, limit travel, and encourage each other to remain in our homes.
This is so unlike any Thanksgiving we have ever known, nor does it help that many of us already are stir crazy from isolation: How much we take for granted the deeply spiritual blessings of greeting loved ones, sharing a special traditional meal together, catching up on happenings in the lives of old friends and family, debating politics, watching and snoozing during the irrelevant NFL game. John Donne in his 1624 Devotions says what we are now coming to feel in surprisingly deep ways:
No man [woman] is an island, entire of itself; every man [woman] is a
piece of the Continent, a part of the main.
Yes, we feel our connectedness. We feel this bond not only toward our family and friends, but also toward our nation and its democratic institutions. Maybe more this year than ever, we think of how very precious is our heritage, the ideals of life, liberty, and justice for which so many have suffered and died. And we realize how very vulnerable our democracy is, how it can be destroyed by the demagoguery of one mad person and the passivity of fearful followers.
But it is such great suffering at the hands of the pandemic that seems like we are in a state of war. Consider these numbers as of this date:
- Recorded cases of Covid-19
+ U.S.: 12,605,047
- Recorded deaths
+ U.S.: 260,065
Consider also the traumatic stress experienced by health-care providers, emergency teams, and at-home caregivers. Then, there is the additional matter of closure of small businesses, amounting to an estimate of 13 million jobs lost, and a rate of food insecurity that doubled between 2018 and mid-2020 in families with children.
These numbers are severe, but for those families and the children, the experiences are shocking. Granted, trillions of dollars from the Federal Reserve and Congress shored up our economy; also, the large corporations do not feel the immediacy of loss of operating income as do small businesses and blue-collar employees. At any moment, however, a political crisis or even a long-term swing in the political climate that threatens democratic process with authoritarian control, could destabilize our economy indefinitely.
But what, you may ask, does this have to do with our dreams, or to ask the question another way, what do our dreams have to do with the current situation involving the markets, the pandemic, and the tragic escalating number of illnesses, deaths, lost income, bankrupt businesses, and a wavering political climate?
Here it is important to remember these premises in our work with our dreams:
1. We see only what we think we see.
2. What we think we see is conditioned by what we think we have seen before and/or
what we are told that we are seeing.
3. What is not seen may be important and even more important than what we think we
4. Our dreams see things we do not.
How could that be? It is because our dreaming mind has been "seeing" for untold centuries. It has viewed our little petty dramas from the vantage points of a distant past and a fathomless depth we call the collective unconscious. As a result, our dreams reflect not only meanings important for our survival, but anticipations of what these times may mean for the future. Our dreaming mind has witnessed the birth of worlds and the end of worlds.
Let me give you an example. Here is a dream from a teacher, a male, past mid-life, with a sensitive nature, and a sensitivity to current events. This is a recent dream.
My wife and I look around the ruins of what seems to have been a building
of some importance at a time gone by. The condition of the ruins makes it
impossible to identify the building and its purpose. What stories did this
now almost-destroyed structure contain? Had it served as a cathedral, a
hospital, a school, or a large auditorium for public, civic, or governmental
gatherings? Presently it seemed to be a gathering place for a small
dwindling group, led by a young man strutting like a cheerleader hyping
a sales pitch for some ill-defined purpose. But he has had enough. Nothing
connects, and he concludes by announcing that he is leaving, and he abandons
My wife and I take all of this in with uncertainty of what to make of it. We
are just before leaving when a dozen-or-so people wander in and take seats
as if they are hopeful that something meaningful might happen. Some are
obvious couples, some single, along with a few small children who cling to
what must be their parents. What is going on here, I wondered. Who are
these people who come to this devastated place carrying hopes that they
might or might not be able to name.
My wife and I hold hands as we started to leave in a fog of conflicting
thoughts and feelings, including despair and compassion. Compassion won.
I turned, looked at my wife, and said," What if we stay here and join these
people to make something of what remains in the ruins?"
The dream in many ways reflects our present situation and extends it into the future. Note that the building has suffered some damage to the extent that its purpose has been compromised. The purpose itself may have been shattered and remains only in ruins. Furthermore, the young man's use of the ruins as a "stage" for his performance rings as hollow as the remaining fractured walls of the old building. He gives up. The place and its reason-to-be seem to be lost. But just as the observing man is about to leave, he is surprised by the small group of people and their children, coming in with expectations perhaps that something of their past and future may be re-membered. And the dreamer throws his lot with the people, their memories, and their hopes for the future.
We must not make of this dream some parable or allegory. However, even to the untrained eye, the themes of the dream may resonate with our current situation. A "world" has come to its end, and new life appears with a promise of new beginnings in which might exist love, hope, and courage for a new world's dawning.
For the dreamer, this was enough at the moment to assuage the depressive and anxious tone of his life when the world in which he grew up was ending. Maybe for now there is meaning to be found in the ruins.