Dreams are both the most powerful and most passive of these. You could say they are the garbage disposal of the mind, grinding up the stuff we can’t or don’t want to think about when we are awake. Dreams are colorful and crazy, magical realism flashing back and forward, jigsaw pieces and morphing characters, yet they make complete sense in our sleeping state and we live them out with conviction. That’s the power.
The passive part: ordinarily, we don’t set them in motion. We don’t choose our dreams. They happen uninvited, sometimes unwanted (which we call nightmares) and are erased by mid-day. We may hang on to a few details for an hour or two before the dream fades and by the time it is time to dream again, it is gone. (Unless we happen to be in analysis, and we get into the habit of writing the dreams down before they fade and then we and our analysts pore over the details like Holmes and Watson).
Hopes are sort of passive, too. “Dear so-and-so, hope you are feeling better.” “I hope you will forgive me.” “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”
Wishes have more urgency attached to them. “Wish you were here,” betrays a kind of yearning. Hope stands up straight, but wish leans in. Sometimes when you wish something, you set a goal to achieve it.
We are talking about words, here, but more. On this weekend that my beloved eldest grandson is getting married this phrase keeps going through my mind: “Did you ever dream, when he was that little boy…?”
Dream what? That he would grow up? That he would move beyond chicken nuggets for lunch with grandma and become this adult mensch about to marry a sweet and beautiful young woman? Of course not. That’s not how dreams work.
But as I count down to the day and prepare for it in all the practical and ordinary ways that families do: what to wear, when to have the haircut, where to board the dog, what time the pictures will be taken, I think about this magnificent family of mine, and the fact that through my life there has been a preparation of a kind, too, an assembling of intentions and acts that make up what is the opposite of an “accidental” life. It is more than a hope, isn’t it? And more than a wish, and not even a conscious goal.
But pitching in, giving a hand, lending an ear, making a loan, babysitting, holding them close, letting them go: how many of us have done all that, yet having reached moments such as these, think “I never dreamed…”
It had to have begun with a dream, unremembered, unfathomed, and magical – the way time takes us, awake and asleep.