Saturday, June 02, 2007

June 2, 2007 - Fear of Failing

There are few things more refreshing than waking up out of a nightmare.

That's what happens to me, early this morning. I open my eyes, and consciously push back a tortuous chain of thoughts that have been plaguing me for what seems like hours (although I know most dreams are actually of brief duration). I feel like a wreck, physically, but I resist going back to sleep, for fear I'll find myself cocooned in the dream-web again.

Here are the details: Claire and I are leading some kind of international tour (we've done that once before, a bus trip around the Scottish highlands and islands). For whatever reason, everyone's traveling separately. The plan is for all of us to meet up at some rendezvous-point in Britain, for a trip to India. Claire and I are traveling though some country that's a conglomeration of Scotland and Ireland. The airline has checked our luggage through to our final destination, but in order to accomplish the transfer, we've got to do a good deal of walking along country roads n this Celtic country, from one airport to another.

We're walking along one of these rustic roads, when suddenly it occurs to me that I've forgotten to pack any clothing in my suitcase. I realize, to my horror, that, for the next couple of weeks, I'll be limited to what I've got on my back – and I know that, traveling through a land as foreign as India, on a tight timetable, there will be neither time nor place for shopping for the kind of items I'll need.

Calculating the remaining time before our next flight, I realize that, if I rent a car, I have just enough time to drive back to the airport, fly back home, rent another car, drive back to finish my packing, then return. It seems to be the only solution to the problem: but, if it's to work, I've got to turn around and go back immediately. (Our itinerary evidently includes the granddaddy of all airline layovers, but who says dreams make any logical sense?)

Claire and I agree this is the only thing to do, and so we ask someone to help us find a car-rental place. Helpfully, he takes us back to his home, and lays out on the dining-room table a whole collection of travel brochures, telling us there's rental-car information in there somewhere. Aware that our layover time is growing ever shorter, we start riffling through these, trying to find the phone number of a car-rental place. We have no success – and, our helpful host seems to have disappeared. The more time slips by, the more my feeling of panic grows. Maybe we should just forget about extra clothing, I think: I'll just wear what I've got on, no matter how unpleasant that will become in time – for my traveling companions as well as myself. No, I can't do that. Quick, look through those brochures again! There's got to be a phone number in there somewhere...

It's then that, in a semi-conscious decision, I push back the suffocating blanket that is my nightmare, and start repeating to myself the healing mantra, "It's only a dream."

Someone skilled in dream interpretation would have a field day with this one. Even an amateur like me can identify the feeling of isolation, of being a stranger in a strange land. That's cancer, for sure.

Then, there's anxiety about professional competence. Advertising myself as a tour-group leader, then forgetting to pack my own bag, is the height of incompetence (although, to be fair, who knows how to pack for the journey of cancer?).

The tour group – offstage in the dream, and unable to witness my momentary panic – is surely my church.

The fear of body odor, from living in one set of clothes for weeks, could have something to do with the physical symptoms of illness, or even – to be perfectly blunt – the stench of death.

As for the rental car, there's a prosaic explanation for that. I had to rent a car yesterday, a temporary-replacement vehicle provided by the insurance company while my son's car is being repaired in a body shop. I felt frustrated that, for various reasons related to fine print in insurance-company and rental-car contracts, I couldn't avoid paying $20 a day out of pocket, for collision insurance on the rental – even though I can usually avoid the surcharge in other circumstances.

Running through the dream, like a rhythmic scratch on an old, vinyl record album, is the steadily-escalating pressure of time – something I'm very aware of in my life, on the micro-level, as my surgery date looms larger, and also on the macro-level, as I'm dully aware of the possibility that my life could be shorter than most.

Finally, there's the aspect that I'm not entirely alone on this journey. Claire's along for the ride, but she doesn't share my problem, personally (her suitcase, evidently, contains everything she needs, although she's sympathetic).

The most significant aspect – and, perhaps, the real lesson imbedded in the dream's surreal landscape – is that my illness isn't my fault. Much as I'm beating myself up, in the nightmare, for forgetting to pack clothing for the trip, there's nothing I could have done to prevent my cancer. Just keep saying to yourself, It's only a dream, (it's not your fault)... It's only a dream (it's not your fault)...

I'm glad it's only a dream. But, then again, in the usual fashion of dream-logic, it's remarkably true to life – at least, to the way I'm living my life right now, in this surreal, extended layover between medical tests.

1 comment:

Gregory said...

Dear Carl Freud,

I've always felt that dream interpretation shows much more about the interpreter than the interpretee. In this case you're both, so I'm sure it doesn't matter, but there is one correction I would make to your analysis: the tour group is much larger than your congregation. I'm not a Christian and I've only been to New Jersey once (and please don't hold more than one of those against me), but you have helped to serve as my tour group leader through cancer almost as soon as I signed up for this particular vacation package. I know I'm not the only one. You have been a great example for me, and while I'm still not exactly sure what to pack in my cancer bag (as you wrote, who knows how to pack for that?), I'm much calmer after reading your blog. You forgot to tell me not to pack a hair brush in an overnight bag after I lost my hair (I laughed a long time about that one), but otherwise I have greatly appreciated your guide services. If my wife and I decide to take another cancer vacation, we'll know where to find the right brochure.