For almost as long as I can remember, I have had vivid, narrative-heavy dreams that I often remember in great detail when I wake up. There is often a story in which I figure prominently. It's usually clear what made me dream that particular dream that night, since real life, in one form or another, pops up. I have a lot of anxiety dreams, or at least those are the ones that I remember most clearly. Sometimes I just have nice dreams that I don't want to wake up from, but I am usually happy to wake up from my dreams to find myself in bed, with my life intact.
Often, strange things happen in the dream and I therefore understand that it must be a dream. Once, when I was in junior high, when I had a dream that I was running away from the Nazis with my little sister, I realized that it was a dream and promised her that it was a dream. I told her that I would prove it to her by pinching myself and waking up. I did, and I did. (Aside: I wonder how common it is for Jewish children who are learning about the Holocaust in school to have dreams that they are being chased by Nazis or otherwise personally experiencing elements of the Holocaust.) More recently, I was being chased by a miniature rhinoceros in a dream, and I thought to myself, "That's ridiculous. There is no such thing as a miniature rhinoceros and if there was it certainly wouldn't be chasing me," and then I made myself wake up, since I was tired of running away from a miniature rhinoceros. (It looked just like this, which is courtesy of someone's imagination and Photoshop.) A British-style red phone booth also appeared in the dream, and I don't remember what else.
Most recently (over Rosh Hashanah and right afterwards), I had three anxiety dreams. In one, I was walking through the halls of my high school when a song started playing over the PA system. I don't remember the specifics, but I think that the song, which was about me, was broadcasting my lack of athletic ability and general nerdiness. I somehow knew who was behind it (two boys, both of whom exist in real life, although one of whom had my brother's initials instead of his own in the dream--sorry, bro'). I went over to one of them and said, "Seriously, this is the best thing you can think of doing with your time?" and then I walked away, disdainfully. I felt sort of empowered through the dream, like other people could waste their time trying to make my life miserable if they wanted to, but I was having none of it and furthermore, I had better things to do with my time. Sad? Maybe. I'm glad I'm done with high school, that's for sure.
In the second dream, I was going to a wedding, but I was doing something else first, so rather than wear nice clothing all day, I wore very casual clothing (jeans and sneakers) and put my wedding clothing in a backpack. When I arrived at the wedding hall, the skirt that I was going to wear was impossibly wrinkled and I had entirely forgotten to bring nice shoes. So I had to wear a wrinkled skirt and white sneakers to the wedding, and it was very embarrassing. That was a fairly short dream.
In the third dream, I was back in college. I was almost done. I only needed to take four more classes. There was one class that I had tried to take many times in college, but the professor always gave a lot of reading right at the beginning, and he expected students to be able to answer questions about the reading in class. (He called on students without asking for volunteers--sadistic!) I was always behind by the second week of class and I was never able to catch up, so I kept dropping the class rather than continuing and being hopelessly lost. Finally, it was my last semester of college, and I was bound and determined to take this class, which was a biology/neurology class of some kind, but with no prerequisites. Just a lot of reading. I went the first day, and when the pile of photocopied readings landed with a thump on my desk, dread washed over me. I could almost feel the color draining from my face in the dream, that's how intense it was. There was no way that I was going to be able to do all of this reading that week (or any week), and I didn't know what to do. I really wanted to take the class, it was so interesting, but I couldn't do the reading. In real life, of course, I would have taken the class pass-fail or audited it (and then stopped showing up halfway through, because what full-time student actually attends lectures for an entire semester for a class for which they receive no credit?). However, these options did not exist in the dream. I woke up feeling kind of trapped, as I often felt in college as I got further and further behind on work as the fall semester progressed.
I used to have anxiety dreams about school all the time. In a classic one from high school, I showed up for class and realized that I had forgotten that we had a test. (That actually happened to me once in college. Luckily, there were three midterm exams and the lowest score was dropped, so I got to drop my 36% and keep my 89% and 92% grades! The teaching assistant told me that it was the most improvement between midterms that he'd ever seen!) The high school unprepared-for-test dream involved my Navi [Prophets] class, which is kind of funny, since, with the exception of my senior year of high school when I skipped Navi class to take naps and work on the school paper, those tests were not that difficult. (It's okay. I studied at the end of the semester and aced the final. I still don't know those long names of the prophet Isaiah's symbolic sons, though.)
However, I don't think I've ever had an anxiety dream about college, and her I am, five years out, having one! I am an anxious person (can you tell?), and both college and high school had their anxious moments, but in high school it was more stomach-churning anxiety about whether I would get a B+ or an A- and in college it was more about would I pass my classes or not, or if I would finish my senior thesis on time. College also involved far more tense personality conflicts/run-ins with teaching assistants. (It was more with them than with professors.) (With one exception, I passed my classes and I finished my 116 page honors thesis with minutes to spare! Multiple minutes!) Either way, I don't appreciate such dreams at all. If I'm not in school, I shouldn't have to be anxious about school.
So, why all the dreams? What do they mean?
I haven't felt more anxious than usual lately, unless you consider the thought of facing your Creator and being judged to be anxiety-producing. Truth be told, that thought hasn't been going through my mind very much, either. This season has been much more about me hanging in there and sort of wistfully yearning for God's presence from afar than any sort of spiritual or liturgical heavy-lifting. (There are some lovely selichot [penitential prayers] that express this long/yearning aspect of the High Holidays very nicely.) For the past few years, I have been really into the whole repentance thing, and have made major personal strides during this time of year, but this year, it's all I can do to keep unpacking my apartment, eating, sleeping, and keep my head above water at work.
I hope God understands and has a better year in mind for me for 5768. 5766 and 5767 sure were doozies. In addition to the stuff y'all know about, like my cousin dying, me falling into the subway, my grandmother dying, and my somewhat-more-stressful-than-normal move, a close relative was diagnosed with cancer (is currently recovering from surgery with a sparklingly good prognosis--yay for that!), and I was diagnosed with a chronic illness in early May that is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but as far as I understand, not really dangerous, due to my good fortune at having health insurance that covers things like doctor's visits and prescription drugs that keep it under control. Still, it takes some amount of time and energy to manage, and I haven't been great at that given, oh, everything else that's happened since early May, so it's gotten worse. Also, I broke my toe in January, which, compared to all of this stuff, is so laughably minor as to be almost entirely inconsequential.
Here's to a better 5768 for everyone! (If your 5767 was already quite nice, may your 5768 be even more fabulous!)
On a happier note - shana tova and gmar chatima tova : )
My friend Jay K. once told me he also has dreams like this.