Three nights of extremely vivid dreaming, about walking, bicycling, rowing, swimming underwater, sculling; I saw some people and behind them was a magnificent shooting star, absolutely unbelievable, it came out right behind them. I’ve had sex dreams. I’ve had dreams about going back to Harvard. I’ve been thinking about Jesus, about the miracle of getting the paralyzed man to stand up and walk. So despite our rather dour communication of a few days ago, talking about confinement in an institution, this hospital stay has been very therapeutic, especially now that my pneumonia is under control. One of the characteristics of the therapy has been these three nights of vivid, vivid dreaming.
Did they give me any special drugs? Apparently not. Maybe being on the ventilator at night is responsible, I don’t know; or maybe it’s just a matter of further development in dealing with my condition.
In the first dream, I was a character in a Thomas Hardy novel, dreaming in color, like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, four people being exploited by having to pick corn; all the colors were muted reds and browns, and then in the same dream I was getting ready for my freshman year at Harvard, free of all my adolescent neuroses, free of all neurotic romantic attachments; but then I started to wake up and realize I was paralyzed and I didn’t know how to register for my courses; and then I awoke fully into my paralyzed state, which is always something of a downer—though I’m smiling at the moment, even laughing, as I narrate this dream. There were many other aspects to this dream, like finding paths near lakes and finding new ways of getting into the mountains on your own, and then showing them to other people. All the grass was high and green. (This is an example of what Freud called secondary revision, revision that goes on when you tell your dreams. They’re not what you saw, and they’re not what you experienced in the dream itself, which nevertheless still remains vivid in your consciousness but can’t be put into words.) In the second dream, the next night, I dreamt that I had found myself in a resort on the Chesapeake Bay (of course, I don’t know whether there are any resorts on the Chesapeake Bay, we only know scruffy half-forgotten places like Smith Island that are nevertheless wonderful) that had a terrific boathouse full of beautiful single sculls. I took one out on the bay, which was completely placid, and I rowed rhythmically and flawlessly through this placid water. Then I was on a sailboat, and had to discover where the anchor was, so I swam without any scuba equipment under the water and looked up at the sky above. I thought to myself, if I had to die, I’d be happy to die in this calm place, under the water. This is another example of secondary revision, since the dream had many more elements than that and I’ve only selectively remembered some; it included being with a woman who had the most beautiful legs I’ve ever seen, and I watched her shave them. Then the third night I had other dreams about rowing and also about bicycling. All these I was able to do by myself; I wasn’t paralyzed at all. In that dream, I saw a couple in the distance at night, standing against the dark sky, and then suddenly a shooting star burst in the sky and went sailing down until it finally disappeared. There were many other aspects to this dream as well which I can’t recall now, but were equally vivid. I kept thinking afterwards that there must be something in the atmosphere of this hospital room that was inducing these dreams. I also found myself reflecting on the miracle told in the New Testament about Jesus, who says to the paralyzed man, something to the effect of Rise up and walk. And the man rises up and walks. I also dreamt about giving a sermon based on this text at the Unitarian Church, but I don’t know where Jesus is right now. I wish he were here, although I know the dream, or rather the miracle, the story in the New Testament, needs to be interpreted as something about having faith and that the rising up is really a spiritual rising up rather than a physical one. But there must have been eyewitnesses to this; I want to believe this miracle, that I really can rise up and walk, despite the fact that I can’t feel either of my feet very much. Maybe I’ll be able to do it some day, if I have enough faith and perseverance. I’d love to be able show that it can be done. This is a mood of optimism, some kind of deep creative optimism, the mind, the psyche, the unconscious, pushing pushing pushing, trying trying trying to blossom. Open up. To awaken the body. To put it back together again. All of these thoughts I’m having right now, as I dictate this to Peggy; it’s a happy moment, a moment I’d like to hold onto for a long time. The happiest moment I’ve experienced in the last two and a half years, although Peggy says she doesn’t know about that. I would say that if people could see me now, they’d see that my eyes are bright with joy. Oddly, it’s the conjecture about the possibility of rising up, rather than any actuality, that’s bringing me joy. And all this just two days before my birthday, my 69th birthday—how could I possibly be 69? I can see my hair reflected in the window and it’s gray. Amazing, isn’t it, how the mind can be independent of the body; maybe this is an example of how you can speak yourself into joy if you let the inhibitions go, the repressions, that part of you that won’t really let joy express itself.
Is it crazy to have dreams like this, fantasies like this, thoughts about miracles, and maybe even crazier to tell them to people? Is it evidence that I haven’t “adjusted” to my paralysis? I don’t think so; I think it’s just the other way around, that the fact that I can have these dreams and can acknowledge them as part of my new emotional life is a healthy thing. I’m dreaming about events in my past life, embellished of course, just the way ordinary people dream about embellished versions of stuff that’s happened in their own lives too. William Blake has an idea that we have a “shadow” in us, in our psyche, that battles against this visionary gift, and that the shadow must be seen as just what the word implies, a shadow which only exists if you believe it exists. In these visionary moments, the shadow is defeated, it’s blown away by the wind of the visionary imagination. That’s a powerful thing; it’s what I’ve been trying to describe here.
* * *
We started our conversation this evening with my saying that there are sounds in this room, the sounds of little alarms and the whisper of the compressor for the airbed and background noise from the corridor outside my room that if you’re in the proper mood aren’t irritating at all, but can be enjoyed in the way that John Cage invites you to enjoy the random beauty of the sounds around you that make a kind of natural symphony. If you are calm enough, this place is not confining at all.
I’m being discharged to home in the morning.