Perhaps because I dream so rarely, or at least remember so few dreams of my own, frequent dreamers fascinate me.
When friends report extravagant, tangled threads of narrative woven through their nights, I press for details. One awakens suddenly, her heart pounding, barely a step ahead of the ax-murderer with a grudge. Another, constricted with horror by the sight of luggage-toting reptilians at her door, thrashes awake, gasping for breath.
My mother once dreamed the Mayor had appointed her to be Keeper of the Kitties. Despite the honor of it all, the thought that she’d been charged with caring for hundreds of cats was, as she said, a real nightmare: fully as distressing as the week she spent all night, every night, searching the aisles of supermarkets for a product she couldn’t find, couldn’t identify, and wasn’t sure she truly needed.
But the Queen of Dreamers — the one to whom her faithful readers turn for entertainment, bemusement, and enlightenment — is Bella Rum. Bella dreams about house repairs, a variety of ex-Presidents, vampires, and the odd assassination attempt. There are Hollywood screen writers who would kill for the opportunity to adapt her dreams for their plots.
Because we’ve known each other for so many years, and because Bella maintains such a dream-friendly blog, I didn’t think twice about leaving an off-handed comment last March about a remarkable dream of my own:
By the way — I had a Bella dream last night. Things have gotten very complicated (not bad, just complicated) with the process of moving toward my eye surgery, and last night, after fussing and fuming over several problems that have to be solved, I dreamed that I went blind. Just like that. Poof! Everything went black.
I woke up convinced I couldn’t see, until I realized that I could.
By morning, the dream had faded. Finding my way to the coffee maker, I added an extra cup to the pot and pondered the issues still waiting to be resolved. Loss of sight wasn’t on the list.
First on the list had been moving from contact lenses to glasses prior to surgery. I wasn’t especially pleased, but I had no choice. As my ever-cheerful surgical assistant explained, hard contact lenses reshape eyes. To guarantee a perfect fit for implanted lenses, eyes have to be allowed to return to their natural state prior to determining a new prescription’s strength. Weekly appointments for measurements would be involved, as we kept an eye on my eyes’ progress.
When I asked how long the process would take, she laughed her cheerful little laugh and said, “We don’t have a clue. When the technicians get the same results two or three weeks in a row, they’ll know your eyes have stopped changing, and you’ll be ready for surgery.”
After only a week, there was no question my eyes had begun changing. My new glasses became less useful by the day, and my world grew increasingly blurry. “Not to worry,” said the surgical staff. “It happens.”
Two months later, I was back to the ophthalmological equivalent of square one, with nice, naturally-shaped eyes. After the removal of the first cataract and the implantation of a near-vision lens in my left eye, I was functional: though barely. I could work, use the computer, and read stop signs, but with one eye corrected for near vision and the other barely corrected at all, driving was difficult. “Not to worry,” said my surgeon. “Once you get your distance lens in your right eye, things will be better.”
And so it was. After a second blurry, post-surgery night, I awoke with no cataracts, and perfect vision. I was ecstatic until mid-afternoon, when something like zero visibility fog rolled into my right eye. Astonished by the sudden loss of vision, I thought, “Is this what it’s like to go blind?” Then, I remembered the dream: shuddering at the thought that it might have been a premonition.
It wasn’t, of course. In the end, reasons for the sudden fogginess were simple enough: a little inflammation here, some post-surgical swelling there. Adding antibiotic drops to my routine and increasing the number of steroid drops each day brought a marked improvement. For the first time in my life — including childhood, I suspect — I had 20/20 vision.
“See?”said my surgeon. “I told you not to worry.”
In Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber tells the story of Rabbi Mendel, who boasted to his teacher, Rabbi Elimelekh, that “evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light.” “Yes,” said Rabbi Elimelekh, “in my youth, I saw that too. Later on, you don’t see these things any more.”
Perhaps. But when the day came for a greatly anticipated, long-scheduled, and oft-postponed trip to Presidio La Bahia in Goliad, I might as well have been seeing angels.
Everything in sight had been transformed into an astonishment and a marvel: great sweeps of basket-flowers along the ditches; patterned bricks in Bay City buildings; a miles-long view down Lavaca Bay; crisp, clear horizons; the vibrant, shimmering colors of businesses and billboards.
Traveling a randomly chosen Farm-to-Market road, I even found what I feared I had missed during my spring confinement: an extravagance of wildflowers. After stopping to photograph a field where swallows dipped and gaillardia spread their rich, colorful blanket over the hills, I laughed with delight to see my first pair of images.
Thanks to a still-unbroken habit of leaving my camera in front of air-conditioning vents, I’d captured a perfect memento of my journey toward sight: one of the best before-and-after pairings in the world.
As I looked out over the hills, some words of the great Persian poet, Rumi, presented themselves as a perfect hinge between past and future:
your way begins
on the other side
become the sky
take an axe to the prison wall
walk out like someone
suddenly born into color
do it now
As for what comes next, the not-knowing is the best part. No doubt varnishing will be easier and my house will be cleaner, but I won’t be keeping my eyes at home. There are stars and dragonflies, hummingbirds and highways to be seen and experienced; words to read and words to write; births to celebrate and deaths to mourn; all within an ever-shortening span of allotted time.
The possibilities fill me with a certain exuberance, not unlike that found in a wonderfully exuberant video our League City volunteer fire department helped to create in 2012. Though less elegant than Rumi’s poetry, it’s as deeply human, and filled with happiness.
I’m happy, too — and ready to see with new eyes.
(It’s worth watching on YouTube, or full-screen)
If all the days that come to pass
Are behind these walls,
I’ll be left at the end of things
In a world kept small.
Travel far from what I know,
I’ll be swept away.
I need to know I can be lost
And not afraid.
We’re gonna trip the light,
We’re gonna break the night,
And we’ll see with new eyes
When we trip the light.
Remember we’re lost together,
Remember we’re the same.
We hold the burning rhythm in our hearts,
We hold the flame.
We’re gonna trip the light…
I’ll find my way home
On the western wind,
To a place that was once my world,
Back from where I’ve been.
And in the morning light I’ll remember
As the sun will rise,
We are all the glowing embers
Of a distant fire…
We’re gonna trip the light…