Dreams shouldn’t always come true, as we know. Sometimes, we can make sure they don’t.
Last night, a snippet of a long, involved dream had to do with a gorgeous, blue-patterned butterfly on top of a pool of water. I kept trying to rescue it before its wings got waterlogged, but suddenly it was camouflaged against a larger dress of the same pattern and I couldn’t find it. I searched desperately for it on the dress that was suddenly covering more than half the pool, catching glimpses of it being very still, then losing it. Finally, lifting the very heavy, wet dress out, I snapped it out in the air to release the butterfly. The susurration of wings from out of the dress made my heart lift, then I saw it was a grey owl, not the butterfly. I snapped out the dress again, just in case, but nothing.
With a heavy heart, I stepped out into a large garden as an announcement was being made about a close friend of mine. I can’t remember what it was, but I woke an instant later, a chest-wracking sob threatening to break out. It took a long time to be able to settle down to some semblance of dozing, which was all it was for the rest of the night.
I woke and showered, returning to a butterfly/moth (of a similar pattern to one in the office, who had appeared and hovered for days after my uncle died) fluttering wildly, trapped in the paper globe lampshade on the ceiling.
I sat down on my bed, in shock at the parallel to my dream. Then I committed – this would NOT end like the dream. I lifted the globe, trying to entice the butterfly out…no go. It would come as far as the bottom, creep around the edge cautiously, then go back to its panicked flying inside the globe. I laughed ruefully, the symbolism of how we stay in situations that imprison us, come to the edge of freedom and go back in to what we know, not lost on me. To quote Rachel Remen from My Grandfather’s blessings:
I was surprised: "But they were suffering, Grandpa. Why didn’t they want to go?"
My grandfather looked sad. “They knew how to suffer,” he told me. “They had done it for a long time and they were used to it. They did not know how to be free.”
I was shocked. “But what about the Promised Land, Grandpa? Wasn’t it true?”
“Yes, it was true, Neshume-le, but the choice people have to make is never between slavery and freedom. We will always have to choose between slavery and the unknown.”
And that butterfly, like us, at the edge of the unknown, chose slavery, again and again. One moment, when I saw its still silhouette through the lantern, my heart stopped, afraid that real life would end like last night’s dream.
I was damned if it would. I lifted the globe to disturb its torpor, and finally, enough to force it out, holding my hand against the opening at the bottom as it beat against me, desperate to return. Finally, it settled on the outside of the globe, climbing up. Once it was high enough not to be able to return too easily, I went and flicked off the light, then opened the curtains, making the grey dawn the brightest part of the room.
I stood by my bedroom door in the reluctantly lightening near-solstice morning, willing the butterfly to move, my heart lifting as it landed on the net curtain. I leapt across the room, pushing open my window, pulling down the net curtain to try to force it over the top. Resisting, the butterfly went sideways. I laughed, saying, ‘Trying to take down your defences too soon, am I? Ok, you lead.’
I waited, and when its tiny, insect leg brushed the top of the net curtain, I pulled the curtain down far more gently than the first time, coaxing rather than insisting – out of my own panic, my own need to change the ending of the dream – that it set itself free.
In the next instant it was on the window pane, a heartbeat later it flew out, finally free.
I choked back another sob, a happy one – suddenly realising what my deepest commitment was: freedom. Mine and others’. I may have often misunderstood what freedom is; my understanding of it continues to evolve and deepen, knowing it has as many faces as those who experience it, generated from the same bedrock of truth and love – and it is to fostering that freedom in all that my vocation lies: as a teacher, as a therapist, as the pastor I’ve always felt the calling to be, as the person I’m becoming.
For to be committed to freedom is to be committed to life truly and deeply lived, in whatever form that takes. L’chaim.
I often thought – and I suspect it was true, at first – that my passion for freedom came from growing up in a country that proclaimed it, in escaping a family that tried to enslave. And in the moments where I am fighting desperately, I still feel that. But even as I have known that my ways of being - my tendency to force things into the open; to use anger to transform; to speak out (rarely with the greatest of tact) in places where acting in was the norm; to push for depth and authenticity – that all these things were forged in a difficult family, I have also known that my passion for freedom was woven into every cell, was breathed into me by the G-d who knit me in the womb and called me by name. I have always known that it had a deeper purpose, and again, Rachel Remen – or rather, her grandfather, calls it by name:
“Why does G-d come Himself, Grandpa?”
“Ah, Neshume-le, many people have puzzled over this question and have thought many different things. What I think is that the struggle toward freedom is too important for G-d to leave to others. And this is so because only the people who become free can serve G-d’s holy purposes and restore the world. Only those who are not enslaved by something else can follow the goodness in them.”
That is why.
And though I may fight for it, push myself and others towards it, force the truth into the open, hold the space for others to find their way, it is G-d who comes down and leads – whether a butterfly finding its way out the window or someone leaving an abusive situation of many years’ standing.
Our nightmares need not define us – not every dream needs to come true.
That is the freedom to which we are called - and when we answer 'Yes,' choosing the unknown - to which we are led, by none other than G-d Himself.