Bill Long 1/2/05
I Awoke and Behold, It was a Dream
The subtitle is not from the Bible, but is one of my favorite lines from John Bunyan's 17th century classic Pilgrim's Progress. After going through the most elaborate description of Christian's "progress" from the City of Destruction to the Heavenly City, narrating temptations, victories, attacks of the evil one, companionship, wrong turns and arrival at the City, Bunyan closes the book with this line. At what levels does that line operate? Are dreams real? How do they try to resolve the troubling issues of our lives? How real are the things to which dreams point?
A Dream and Something to Resolve
So, as I was thinking about resolutions/resolve in the last few days, I was trying to sort out another huge issue for me: the forum in which I would demonstrate my creative efforts. A little context is necessary to understand this statement. Ever since my youth I have thought of myself as a gregarious, leadership-type of person. I was a student body officer in junior and senior high, the president of my youth group at Church, president of the Brown Christian Fellowship, student body President in seminary, actively involved in the life of Portland, OR from 1982-1990 and generally interested in learning as much about people as I could (I tell the story in detail in my 2004 autobiography, 52 and Strangely Found: An Autobiography Intellectual and Intimate).
But I found that whenever I seemingly wanted to advance in the world professionally, I couldn't do it. My "break" has never come. It led to lots of introspection and dissatisfaction with my lot and with people around me. It was only in my 40s that I was confident enough in myself to ask the question of whether in fact I was more of an interior than exterior person, more of a thinker than a political/religious activist, more of an individualist creator that a "team player." I think it took courage for me to ask this because I lived my life up until 40 as if the "big life" for me was going to be in a prominent position in the public sphere.
But, as I said, this just didn't happen for me. And, I had a dream last night that, in my mind, continues to probe the resultant range of decisions open to me as I explore the interior side of myself.
The Dream--Scene 1
I was with a friend whose name, for some reason, I did not know. He was a guy about my age (I think we were both in our early 40s in the dream), and we were meeting in a cafe/coffee shop in a location that I couldn't determine. He told me he had just been named as President of a university. It was not any university that actually existed, as far as I knew, but it seemed to be a combination of the University of Chicago, Harvard and some great corporate power. He wanted me to come to the University as soon as I was able to meet him in his new office and to talk about my future. I agreed.
The Dream--Scene 2
The next scene, which vividly stays with me, was in a large office complex at the unnamed university--located somewhere not near an ocean. The office complex was breathtaking in its expanse. I walked into the office area to find 30-foot high ceilings and the most richly polished cherry wood walls and counters as far as I could see. But the most arresting scene for me was that the huge room into which I had walked was lined floor to ceiling with books. It had sliding ladders every 10 feet or so that went to the ceiling, and occasionally a young man would be scampering up the ladder to locate a book about 20 feet above the floor for some purpose. Some of the books were gilt-edged, some had very old bindings, some were books of more recent origin.
I walked further into the suite of offices and saw about four or five secretaries, each at her desk (sorry, my dreams were not progressive enough to have male secretaries!), each in the "middle" of the space, but because it was such a large space the desks were spread out from each other. A few offices of immense proportions were along one wall of the cavernous space. Quiet activity permeated the whole.
The Brief Conversation in the Dream
While I was standing in awe at the size of the surroundings and the diligence with which everyone (about 10 people) seemed to be doing their activities in this large suite, one of the women spoke to me. She said that I would begin my work as soon as I wanted. It was not clear to me whether I was going to be a "provost-like" character, and thus 2nd in command, or an "assistant to the President-like" character, and thus working with the President directly. I think it was the former.
I remember the following thought running through my mind. 'If I am provost, that means that I have to spend most of my time worrying about other people's things--their sabbaticals and class schedules and faculty politics and university resources and publicity, etc. But, I was in an office that had tens of thousands of books right there, with young men willing to climb ladders for me to get them at my beck at call. The last image of my dream I recall is standing there, letting the words sink in that the job was mine, and wondering how the issue of my "public self" (working with others) and my "private self" (immersing myself in ideas) would work.
I don't know if I really accepted the job or whether I showed up for work. I don't know anything else. I awoke, and behold, it was a dream. This is another of the issues I am trying to resolve in my life today. Any suggestions?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long