The first dream I remember had something to do with the Disney dark sci-fi epic ‘The Black Hole’ and the seven dwarves from their earlier fantasy arriving in my bedroom to amuse a lonely four year old; five years after that, I watched an episode of ‘TJ Hooker’ in which a serial killer claimed his victims with a hammer – that night granted me a terrifying nightmare involving Leonard Nimoy, my beloved grandmother’s house, and a set of kitchen knives. (Yes, I know Leonard Nimoy wasn’t in ‘TJ Hooker’, the show that William Shatner presumably hoped would put some distance between him and Captain Kirk, but I suppose the fact that my subconscious was able to link Nimoy and Shatner even at the age of nine telegraphs the reasons why the cinematic image means so much to me even now.)
After the Leonard Nimoy-tries-to-kill-me-at-my-grandmother’s-house-and-shes-worried-that-I’ll-get-blood-on-the-carpet nightmare, my dreams went quiet for a few years. Now I know they (and when I say ‘they’, I guess I mean Freud and friends) say you dream every night; and this may well be the case. But for the longest time, I couldn’t remember my dreams; so I don’t know if they were happening or not. I do recall that, at eighteen and twenty, on the deaths of a friend and my grandmother respectively, I had dreams in which they appeared and said goodbye to me, and I was comforted. Plenty of people have told me of similar experiences when loved ones cross the threshold; I’m guessing that there’s some kind of integration that occurs in the deep levels of the psyche, enfolding the shock of death into something more manageable.
I’ve had more vivid dreams lately; two in particular have been about my own death. One of these is still too complex and strange for me to share just yet; but the other seems necessary. I’ll write it down here, without comment for now; maybe someone reading can tell me if it provokes any thoughts; and I’ll try to write something more interpretive about it later in the week. Please note that this does not come naturally to me; this really is a kind of transcript of something that happened to me when I was asleep, so it may be entirely indulgent and a waste of time; but I’m risking sharing it because I think it might mean something to some of you reading. I make no comment about the content of the dream. Not yet. But your comments are welcome today.
The setting was the typical Judgement Day scenario, beloved of conservative evangelical and Catholic Christians alike (there may be a similar notion in other faiths too, I’m not sure). The entire human race was lined up, Nuremberg rally-style, and naked, awaiting their fifteen minutes of shame. God was on his throne, white-bearded and cliched, but visible to all, and not as frightening as he had appeared in the fears of my younger days (in this dream, God was definitely male). The person at the head of the line would gingerly step forward, and stand gently shaking before a small TV dinner table on which sat an old top-loading VCR – of the kind that you probably watched ‘BMX Bandits’ on in 1983. One of God’s assistants would bring a cassette with the name of the person at the front of the line on it, hand it to God, and God would put it in the top-loading VCR. He’d press play, and then, on a white screen to the left of the throne, the details of your life would be played back for the rest of us to see. Only the bad stuff. When, as a kid, you stole from a corner shop; when you mistreated a girlfriend; when you lied to your parents; when you lived in apathy, giving your devotion to consumerism and stress. It wasn’t clear in the dream what happened after the film of your mistakes was shown, but soon enough, I found myself at the top of the line.
God looked at me, but I wasn’t sure what the look meant, and some events from my life flashed through my mind. When God didn’t intervene to save the life of someone very close to me, who had a good ten years of life left, and deserved it after five decades of serving her husband; when God didn’t stop people who were threatening me, and causing untold psychological impact; when God couldn’t figure out a way to allow me to have a sense of innocence in childhood without interference from guilt and persistent fear; when God didn’t save me from the trauma that all of us who grew up in the same place were touched by at some point. And then, images not from my life per se, but those horrifying events that I observed through the TV twenty years ago and more; the obvious ones, like the Ethiopian famine of 1984, the Armenian earthquake, the wars in Afghanistan and the Balkans and everywhere, a slide show of horrors I remembered seeing at an age when brain plasticity was pliable enough for the Nine O’Clock news to embed itself.
God had put the cassette in the top-loader. He was about to push down the flap, and show my mistakes to the world. But then, with the definitive power of a reflex, my right hand found its way to his, pushing it away from the machine. God looked at me, smaller now than he had been just a few seconds before, his eyes conveying what I can only call perturbation – confusion mingled with disappointment, as if he was a child who had just had her ice cream taken away. Then I spoke. The words that came were simple:
‘I tell you what, God. I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me.’