This morning I dreamt I went back to the house where my husband and I lived when our son was small. It was a beautiful house with lots of glass. It sat in the woods on a hill a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. But we had to leave that house, in part because of some traumatic event in our lives that I don't want to go into now.
In this dream, which, like most dreams made little sense, I had the opportunity to stay in the house again. The family that was now living in it had offered to give it up for a week, to rent it out to me and some co-workers because we were attending a work-related conference in the town where the house is located.
I woke up in my old bedroom, but not in the bed that my husband and I had once shared. I wandered downstairs to the living room, which had other people's furniture, and around the kitchen, stocked with other people's dishes and pots and glassware. I looked out onto the deck. Different table and chairs, and, on the lawn, backing up to the forest, there was no little plastic slide and climbing set that my son, then 2, liked to play on.
Then I wandered back upstairs to the room that had been my son's. One of the remarkable things about this house was that the original owners had hired a well-known local artist to paint child-friendly murals on the walls of this bedroom. So, one wall had a portrait of a collection of smiling animals, including a big male lion. We always called him "lazy lion." Another wall was covered with a scene of a happy squirrel sitting beside a sparkling blue lake, backed by a tall, snow-covered peak. The sky above the whole scene was blue and filled with white puffy clouds.
But as I entered the bedroom, the murals were gone, painted over with yellow. It didn't look like a child's bedroom anymore but an adult guest room, with a bed covered with a silky gold and red comforter.
"No," I cried. "This isn't right. This isn't where I lived." I wandered back to my old bedroom, and then back through all the other rooms. "No, this isn't right," I kept saying. I started to sob in my dream. I felt the tears hot on my cheeks. I was feeling overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and displacement. I told my co-workers, "We have to leave. I can't stay here. Why did I think we could?"
I woke up, and there were tears in my eyes. I had been crying silently in my sleep. The sadness in my dream held fast to my emerging wakefulness. "No, this isn't right," I kept thinking. But what wasn't right? I didn't know. I couldn't say. I looked over my clock. It was 4 a.m. The room was dark. I was warm and comfortable in my bed, but feeling cold and dispirited in my heart.
Over the past week, I've been waking with a similar, heavy feeling of sadness and weariness, of not wanting to get out of bed. I think it's a feeling of what the Germans call Weltschmerz. I actually studied German in college. People ask me why I chose German to study--if I'm of German ancestry. I'm not. I don't know why I studied German but in any event I came to appreciate the German language's capacity for coming up with these monumental words that describe in poetic, all-encompassing ways, various states of the human condition, usually states marked by often indescribable unease, pain, despair.
Weltschmerz. Literally: World pain. But more accurately, a general feeling of sadness for the sorrows of the world.
I'm sorry to write such a downer. These are the holidays. The tree is up in our living room, and my husband, son, and I had fun decorating it. There is a winter frost covering our front walkway and the windshield of my car. It feels as close to a white Christmas as you can get in the suburbs of the Bay Area.
Honestly, this is usually the happiest time of the year for me. But, of course, this year, things are different for many people. Last week, I heard that one friend got laid off from her lucrative writing job, then my husband had to lay off a valued employee at his work, and then a co-worker's mother learned she has terminal cancer. Then, this week, I learned that another friend was being laid off as of December 31.
And, it's not just economic woes that have got me down. It's all this uncertainty in our community, nation, and world, and that sense of helplessness and displacement I experienced in my dream. And, as I did in my dream, I want to keep crying, "No, this isn't right."