Last night I had a series of Technicolor dreams that finally got me out of bed much earlier I intended. I have dreams that don’t quite reach the threshold of nightmares, but are nonetheless disturbing and vivid. They are also persistent, refusing to go away even after I wake up, get up, get something to drink, and go back to bed. The dream is still there, demanding attention.
Sometimes I have dreams which don’t seem to have anything to do with me, as if I’m having someone else’s dreams.
In this one, I was a small homosexual man being attacked by two large, powerful men. I watched this dream as a third person. I wasn’t in it, exactly. More like I was witnessing it, but I could still feel the terror of the young man. When I finally gave up and got out of bed for the day, I was begging them not to hurt me and as far as it went, was succeeding.
I am not a man nor a homosexual. How could it be my dream? The main character didn’t look like me or anyone else I know. The two men who were threatening the me-not-me were unfamiliar too. As far as I can tell, I have never met either of them. One was very tall, maybe a football or basketball size semi giant, the other normal height, but brawny. Both relatively young, maybe in their thirties. Both white. It was scary. And vaguely depressing. For whatever reason, when I got up, I knew my dream had been telling me that life doesn’t make sense.
I thought, briefly, that life used to make sense … and then I rethought my thought. “No, it didn’t. Life has never made any sense.”
When I was young, I was busy. Raising kids, Working. Taking care of a house. I had goals and plans. But the goals and plans were inventions, so any meaning they had was whatever I put there.
Get a better job, plan a vacation. Fix the kitchen. Plant bulbs in the garden. Get a bigger house. I moved from goal to goal, and when I accomplished one thing, I made a new plan.
What this did was give me a direction so I didn’t run in circles.
It turns out that life is its own meaning. Run fast, run slow, or don’t run … you end up where you were supposed to be. We make our passage from birth to death. We do good along the way … or not. It’s fortunate that goodness is its own reward since it pays so poorly.
We can enjoy the journey, find it fulfilling, frustrating, frightening or enlightening. If, when we are done with the busy years of work and family, we look back and know we followed our conscience and mostly were the best selves we could be, that’s meaning and probably, as good as it gets.
Younger people think retired folks must be bored or depressed because we don’t have jobs and lack ambition. From their vantage point, how can our lives have meaning? But that stuff was baggage. It didn’t make life meaningful, just busy. It gave our time shape and form, provided a sense of purpose, even if it was artificial. We did what we had to do to survive and, for those of us who were parents, to give our kids the best shot at life we could.
Having done all that, after we are no longer looking for a better job or yearning for a bigger house, when the kids are grown and we’ve done all we can for them … what we have left is ourselves. If our life had meaning, we know it. If it didn’t, we know that too. Retirement and senior citizenship neither add nor subtract meaning. It just gives us more leisure to notice what we didn’t notice before. Hopefully, we like what we see.
Life is no more or less meaningful when you are old than when you were young. You just spend more time seeing doctors and the drugs are not nearly as much fun.