Normally not one to have elaborate dreams, this morning I awoke from an intense, emotionally-gripping one.
The setting was my maternal grandparents’ house in suburban Kansas City. Many different family members were there along with a few friends. We were getting ready for a party and in order to make enough space for guests, I disassembled my grandparents’ bedroom furniture and moved it to another room. The guests, strangely, were for the most part young Thais who were looking for jobs, as if at some sort of career center. While at the party they were preparing resumes, practicing interviewing skills, etc.
When it came time for everyone to go home, I scrambled to get things cleaned up and organized. The bedroom furniture had not yet been correctly reassembled and there were loads of dishes soaking in the sink. My grandparents returned and my grandfather was very upset, fuming that things had been disturbed and I had not fulfilled my promise to put everything back in order. My grandmother was calmer, yet I sensed that she was unhappy with the mess in her kitchen.
Suddenly I was outside the house, in their large front yard with huge old trees. The yard had become a cemetery, though, and I was struggling to get back inside and finish my duties before a group of oddly Victorian mourners approached.
That was the dream.
I would generally describe myself as a person who faces life with equanimity. Many times, friends and acquaintances have remarked about the “calm under pressure” with which I handle the challenges that life presents. Whether managing an oversold film festival event or helping someone through the rigors of relationships, I consider myself a steady rock to which people can cling.
But beneath this veneer of calm detachment, I wonder if I’m not deeply afraid of letting those about whom I care, down. Two themes about which I think this dream may have spoken:
The first is my relationship with my grandparents, vis-a-vis my coming out. When I came out to my family more than 18 years ago, my grandfather was particularly disapproving and there was, for several years, a rift between us. He was never mean, but I come from a very religious family and he and my grandmother are the root of our faith, so he saw the issue in the context of “I love you because you’re my grandson, but the Bible tells us that you are also a sinner.”
(Let’s not get caught up in the religious back-and-forth of believers versus non-believers for the purposes of this post…)
My grandmother was more accepting of the situation and over time, thanks to I don’t know what conversations between them and also my parents, my grandfather’s view moderated. In 2004, when Tawn and I held our commitment ceremony, both my grandparents were there. And while they were not able to drive up to Iowa for our recent marriage, due to the discomfort of a long overnight road trip at their age, they were a part of the reception and a mention of our “civil ceremony” even made it into my grandfather’s weekly email missive to extended family members.
When I invited my grandparents to the wedding, I couched the invitation in terms of, “I don’t know if this is something you would be comfortable with, but it would mean a lot to us for you to attend.” While often preferring to avoid the confrontational issues rather than addressing them, my grandfather acknowledged that his thinking on the topic had “evolved” (his word) over time.
I think it is safe to say that with regards to the first theme in the dream, there is still an unresolved question in my mind of letting my family down, wondering whether I am not the person they expected me to be, even though they have been and become a very wonderful source of support in my life.
A second, related theme emerges from the dream: Recently, a number of friends have shared their troubles. From relationship problems to medical ones, from aging parents to one friend being infected with HIV by a psychopathic partner in the partner’s desperate attempt to force them to stay together, I have received more stories in the past week than I have in a long time.
For each of these people, I want to provide the very best support I can. I want to be a good friend. I want to be there in whatever way I can when they need me.
And I’m worried that I may not be able to.
I know what you’re going to say. There isn’t enough time in this life for us to help everyone or to fix everything. We need to have the serenity to accept the things we can’t change, the strength to change the things we can, and the wisdom to tell them apart. That’s the Serenity Prayer familiar to those in A.A. and other support groups and undoubtedly applicable to each of our lives.
Yes, I know that. And generally that’s what I believe. But if my dreams this morning were any indication, maybe I don’t believe it fully.