Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dreaming California

I lived there for less than four years, but Southern California left a vivid, seemingly indelible mark on my imagination.

It comes up in dreams.We've just spent a week there, visiting my husband's family and our old friends, and showing our exchange student, a German girl, all of the well-known sights. We hit Hollywood, Palm Desert, the Getty overlooking LA, San Diego, and the beach. It was cool but astoundingly clear. Views were abundant.

I always have vivid and fascinating dreams after flying. This time, my dream was a saga, like a long movie that chronicled the story of a man who directed a kind of camp or center for people who came to realize their potential. He engineered things so that many types of people were placed into situations that were geared to intense learning. He seemed to be famous and successful. Later in the movie/dream, this man suffers a fatal incident and dies.. shortly after, however, he is again alive, although now he seems quite feeble and senile, acquiescent where he had been a dominant force.

Somewhere along the way in this story, I see people coming at me who are exact replicas of themselves, but I know that they are constructed of wax or plastic. The only way I can discern this is by the seams along the sides of their bodies. I am fascinated and somewhat frightened by these artificial personas, and find myself looking for the real human beings. That's all I remember, but it's enough.

It's a dream about control & surrender, and also about artifice and reality. So is California. No state could be more dream-like. In one day, you can be accosted with so many images of such infinite variety that it's hard to remember, let alone assimilate, them all. Every shade of skin and every style of clothing, the scent of food frying and roasting, so many cars trying to get somewhere, or maybe nowhere, music, noise, sun, wind, green mountains and brown deserts, vivid blue ocean and, almost everywhere.. flowers and trees in an array of colors and textures... breathtaking. The overwhelming sense is of a barrage of scenes from many movies, condensed into a montage of snippets of lives, vistas, sensual experiences. Because it would be impossible to impose any measure of order on all of this, one must, like the old man in the dream, surrender to a quiet awe and acceptance.

Such is life. We delude ourselves that we can manage it at all. Those of us in ministry or the helping professions are diligently trying to engineer things for others, to make their lives "better" by our definition. We are seeking the genuine behind the plastic. But nonetheless it all goes on, and ultimately, we let go our striving for order/perfection/understanding, and become thoughtful observers and dreamers. We let go... the part of us that wants to control dies off, and what is left is still us,more humble and more genuine. This is true everywhere, but somehow, in the extravaganza that is California, it plays out for us quite nicely, if we are willing to see it.