I was getting into the shower tonight and for some wildly random reason, an old childhood dream popped into my head. It was one of those dreams I had way back in my early teens that recurred, often. So much so that even today, after not having had this dream in some 30 years, I can still recall the imagery of it so very vividly.
The dream. I'm in a bathtub, just a young kid. It's "my" bathroom, decorated 80's style with walls covered in flower wallpaper and of course that shag carpet thing on the floor around the base of the toilet. Those things are a whole other discussion, particularly now that I'm a grown man raising two boys. Gross.
I'm laying in the off-white ceramic tub, still young and short enough to be able to lay full-out and flat in the bottom. My eyes and nose are the only things peeking out above the surface of the water.
Like many of my dreams, this was one of those ones where you're watching it like a rerun. One moment you're watching yourself experience the dream, but the next you flip to the first-person, experiencing the dream. Back and forth. Over and over.
The surface of the water in the tub was covered in leaves. They were green, perfect leaves; covering every inch of the water except where my head poked out enough to grab an occasional breath through my nose. I had to google the types of leaves to determine that these were elm leaves in this dream. Now I know.
I suppose these days, it's pretty common for people to add greenery to their baths and showers. It's the spa thing. Hell, even my wife hangs Eucalyptus sprigs in our shower, too. And yes, they smell great.
But in my dream, even though I'm safe in the surroundings of my parent's home and comfortably soaking in warm water, the leaves covering the water's top layer were feeling more like a blanket of suffocation. I recall times in the dream where I was watching from above, and I couldn't see myself at all - I knew I was under the surface somewhere - but I couldn't see "me". Then, suddenly my perspective would instantly change to the first-person again, where I was in the water, looking just over the blanket of green, long enough to hopefully catch a breath. Back and forth. Back and forth.
There was no one else there at all. No one holding me under water, and no one checking on me either. Just me. The leaves were light, so in theory I should have been able to push them all to the side any moment I wanted to. But despite my best efforts, I couldn't. The leaves wouldn't move. And upon that realization, the back and forth of perspectives of my dream started to accelerate. Panic and fear began to settle in, and that bathtub full of water and leaves was quickly feeling more like a closing sarcophagus than a restful oasis.
Back and forth, back and forth. Quicker and quicker and quicker. Underwater - Breath - Underwater - Breath - Underwater -
And then, every time, the dream would abruptly end. Just like that. This description really was the entire extent of it - no prelude, no climax, no resolution, no credits. I suspect, if I were to re-enact it, the entire story of it would likely have lasted no longer than a TV commercial.
What hit me today was what the dream meant. It's been a long time since I even thought about this dream at all, let alone even remembered I'd had it. But when I did tonight, it became pretty clear, and pretty simple.
The leaves as a whole simply weigh us down. Individually, they're beautiful, green, healthy, soft. Collectively, gathered and overlapping on top of the water, they hold us down, pinning us beneath the surface, with only time for an occasional breath.
Those hundreds of metaphorical leaves embody all those individually innocent, seductive, wonderful or "necessary" things we bring, or allow, into our lives. All the goals, all the possessions, all the activities, all the people. Any one of which, on its own, is a beautiful green wonder of nature, floating on a calm surface, easily admired and appreciated. But, when we put all those things, objects, obligations, and choices together, not only do they make it impossible to appreciate the beauty of a single, perfect leaf; but they transform our world instead into a dense, dark, suffocating forest.
As an adult now, having been through all sorts of life-changing moments or realizations, I can perhaps only now appreciate the reality of what that dream actually represented.
What can seem like a perfect world from one perspective, can in reality be just the opposite - an imperfect, stressful and hopeless existence.
We need to remember this each and every time we reflect on ourselves, and most certainly when we see or assess those around us. The beautiful surface of someone's life can also be the very weight that holds them in perpetual paralysis.
Be careful about what or who you allow into your life.
Be careful about trying too hard to pick so many of the pretty leaves to surround yourself with that they become an insufferable source of struggle or misery or claustrophobia.
You don't need all the leaves to appreciate their beauty. You only need one.