I follow all the usual advice, and read all the usual books, but the one absolutely definitive thing I have learned is this: if the memory of a dream suddenly pops into your head as you are doing something mundane, stop and notice it. Pay attention. Try to see how the dream is connected to that tiny action.
You may even save a life.
When he was about three years old, our pediatrician, a wonderful, dedicated older woman, excitedly told me about a new pediatric medication that had just been developed. It was the first one ever approved for daily use in young children, and she thought it was the answer to his chronic ear infections.
I was always suspicious of the wisdom of putting chemicals into my children’s bodies, but the antibiotics being used to combat the infections had serious side effects, and there was the distinct danger that the infections were destroying his hearing.
This was a very long time ago, so I still had a bit more faith in the medical profession than I do today. I also felt obliged to follow medical advice for my children that I might not have followed for myself. I did not feel I had the right to take chances with their health despite my own dubious experiences with medications over the years.
The new drug was an orange liquid. I gave it to Aaron several days in a row, but did not observe any differences in his runny noses. Every time I reached for the bottle of this orange liquid, my stomach would feel tense and nervous. In fact, after the first week I began to second guess myself. I would reach up to the shelf, start to feel nervous, and decide not to give it to him. I always felt this same strange reluctance to dose him, and ultimately it sat untouched for a couple of weeks – until the next ear infection reared its ugly head.
The doctor took out an enormous needle, at least 8 inches long, and attached it to an equally enormous syringe. He began to lean over Aaron’s small, helpless body, pointing the syringe straight at his heart. He was carefully, wisely, and calmly explaining to me how injecting this massive syringe directly into my baby’s heart was the medically correct action.
Suddenly I knew, with the perfect certainty of true knowledge, that if he succeeded in forcing that needle into his heart, Aaron would die. I became so terrified that I was blasted out of bed, fully awake at 2 am, gasping with fear. Every detail of that dream was bright and clear, clearer than real life, and I could not stop the pounding of my own heart.
I eventually fell back asleep, and I barely thought about the dream the next morning as I busied myself making breakfast, ushering my husband off to work, and getting the kids ready for our daily walk to the park.
I opened the cabinet where the new antihistamine stood on the top shelf, my eye fell on it, I reached up my hand – and all of a sudden the nearly-forgotten nightmare was clear and bright before my eyes.
I didn’t know what it meant, but the sudden panic and fear that welled up in me made up my mind for me. I instantly knew nothing could ever persuade me to give Aaron that medicine again. Nothing.
A year or so later, the wonderful new antihistamine was abruptly pulled off the market. It was killing little children by causing their hearts to stop.