Friday, October 24, 2014

Carrying the skeleton

It’s been a long while since I’ve written a blog post. Do people still do that? Surely they must. It’s so much easier to bang out a condensed anecdote on Facebook; that’s usually what I find myself doing. To flesh out the whole story with details, setting the scene with vivid descriptions—it seems too complicated. And will anyone really bother to read it? Probably not. This story isn’t for them, though; this story is for me.

At about age six, I had a dream that haunted me for years to come. I told this dream to nearly any friends or family that would listen, and it was a rare day when I didn’t think about the dream. Now that I’m in my 30’s, I can say the dream only comes to mind a few times per year. Yesterday was one of those days.

The dream went like this: I watched the dream unfold cinematically before my eyes. An old woman traipsed through a barren desert, carrying a large and obviously heavy red bag over her shoulder. Every step clearly took a great effort, and I could tell she’d been walking for a very long time. I watched her carry this red bag, until suddenly she stumbled and fell down. I knew immediately that she was dead. As she fell, she dropped the red bag next to her and I saw it wasn’t a bag at all, but rather a red cape. The cape spilled open, and lying in the sand under it was a grinning skeleton, its face turned to be completely visible. Like the credits in a film, in large white letters appeared the words “Choose Your Friends Carefully.” And the dream ended.

Photo credit:

I woke up more terrified than I’ve ever been by a dream. It made no sense! The bleached white, grinning skeleton was emblazed in my psyche and I shuddered whenever I thought of it. That dream happened nearly 25 years ago, yet I remember it like it was yesterday. As a child, I would often ponder the dream and search for meaning. I had worked out that it was a commentary on friendship, yet I couldn’t discern why it had come to me in such a morbid fashion. Why the desert? Why a skeleton? Am I the skeleton? Why would a six-year-old conjure these images?

It took me nearly a quarter of a century, but I think I’ve finally realized the metaphor of the dream. I am not the skeleton. I am the carrier of the skeleton. The dream represents the sort of friend I am, and the sort of friend I’ve always been. Even in the most stressful and dire of situations (traipsing through a barren desert), I will not let my friends flounder. Something as final as death will not stop me from doing everything I can to make their lives better. Could I, as the carrier, have made my life easier by leaving my friend’s body behind? Yes, I could have. I could have left the body to turn into a skeleton by itself, and spared myself the extra weight of carrying the body on my own shoulder. The body did not have to become a skeleton on my shoulders, but I made the choice to let it. Perhaps I could have found a way out of the desert without the extra weight; instead, I allowed myself to perish for the sake of something that would never recognize my sacrifice. A skeleton.

Is it good to be the carrier? In some ways, yes. The carrier is loyal. The carrier wants only the best for those around them. The carrier is a martyr. It’s clear, however, that the skeleton is the real winner. The skeleton has the support of the carrier, and knows the carrier will not drop it until the carrier finally dies herself. It’s good to be the skeleton, but isn’t the skeleton eventually just extra weight? Is it ever good to be simply deadweight?

At the close, the dream boldly told me to choose my friends carefully. Not to surround myself with skeletons. A true friend would have wanted the carrier to leave her body behind when it began to fail her; she wouldn’t have burdened the carrier with her weight. Friendship contains sacrifices, but not at the expense of others. The carrier has a skeleton inside her, too; we all contain a skeleton. We need to carry the weight of our own skeleton, but never let it define us.

I shall never understand how the brain of a child could concoct an allegory of such stunning accuracy. Likely, I have assigned interpretation to nothing but random firing of synapses. Nonetheless the dream reveals a weakness of mine that I will probably struggle with for the rest of my life. My natural inclination is to help others at any cost, even at the expense of my own happiness. I must remember: it’s ok to be the carrier once in a while, but it’s also ok to drop the damn skeleton and keep walking.