I’d like to begin by thanking Stephen King. The highlighted words shown below, from his book, Stephen King|On Writing, have been popping into my thoughts all weekend. Why is this concept so difficult to understand?
Secondly, I’d like to share a little about nightmares. I was never afraid of monsters as a child. Instead I feared people, or more specifically, a person. “The Child Catcher” from the movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was the main antagonist in my nightmares. If you haven’t seen this movie or heard of this man, let me tell you his role. He is hired by the government of a made up land, to hunt for children in toy stores, entice them into the back of his carriage with candy and treats, then kidnap them and take them to the basement of a castle with all the other children. Whoever thought of this concept for a children’s movie is seriously twisted.
I struggled with nightmares of the child catcher for years. I would wake up, tangled in sheets and blankets, sweating, and facing complete darkness. It felt like fear had stilled every molecule in the air. I couldn’t think, move, breath, or speak.
My dreams, always had some version of him in them. He would be wearing his black cloak and his greasy, black hair would stick to the sides of his ghostly face. His thin lips would curl into a knowing smirk beneath a large nose and the hat you might imagine the Mad Hatter wearing to a funeral. Or he appeared disguised as a circus clown sitting behind me in church, a dusty man behind the bowling alley counter, a bearded carpenter waiting in the closet where we kept the puzzles in my house. Each dream had a similar plot. I was doing a normal activity, and then I would make eye contact with a person, and I would know that they were the child-catcher. They were the nightmare in disguise. As soon as I knew, I would try to call for help or tell them to not come any closer but the moment I knew it was him I could no longer speak or move. I was defenseless against the thing I feared most- that people are sometimes the bad guys.
This didn’t make me too keen on interacting with adult men as a child because they were, without a doubt going to peel their faces off in the middle of a sentence and be the child catcher beneath their masks. Such rational thoughts I had as a seven- year- old. Eventually, I learned to look at strangers for exactly what they are. I found comfort in that they are humans, just like me. Skin and bones, eyes and hands, bodies and minds and nothing to be afraid of.
Today I watched the videos of the White Supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. Videos of men and women, with flames, with hate-filled words written on signs, with people of different beliefs, with weapons, all grasped in their hands. I watched videos of humans tearing each other apart, without pause, and without end. I watched videos of people talking about the people in the other videos- some with malice, and some with a simple “settle down boys” attitude. I watched videos of people who are scared of what people have revealed themselves to be. I watched these videos turn into top hits, as we shared them on social media like they are trailers for a new hollywood horror film.
Today, I saw a monster dream in real life. People who fear gods and genders, skin and words, books and governments, have turned themselves from humans to creatures. Monsters made out of men who have undoubtedly allowed themselves to be made out of their fears. I wonder, what their nightmares look like, if this is their reality.
I looked down from the screen at my hands. I balled them into fists and squeezed so I could feel my fingernails indenting my palms, then I let them relax so my palms were open. I thought of the poem, “Hands” by Sarah Kay in which she writes, “Hands learn how to hold other hands.” (poem can be listened to in full here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqCMHcdYR_E) She deserves a lot of credit in my thought process. How could the same hands learn to inflict so much suffering?
I wish I could have frozen the rally in the middle of all their fighting and asked each person to unfurl their fists and look at their palms. Can they feel their blows pulsing in their fingertips still? Can they look at the life they have grabbed aggressively by the shoulders and see that they are skin and bones, hands and eyes, bodies and minds? How long will they look down at their fists and see the bruises of another persons pain?
Have you ever thought of the multitude of things we hold and do with our hands? Have you ever thought that of all the things we hold, the most important thing is the power to chose what we do with them?
This incident was a living, breathing nightmare in which humans had the privilege of being awake and fully conscious. Their voices were not stolen, their limbs not paralyzed. They had the opportunity to understand something that scares them. And yet they shouted and struck one another. I have been disappointed and puzzled by this and to focus on the good seems unfair to those who have lost people today. It feels like ignorance, to simply be grateful that I wasn’t involved.
So instead of counting my blessings one by one, I have decided to focus on opportunity. I asked a gaggle of friends (thank you to you all!) to send photos of their hands doing whatever it is they do. I can’t help but smile when I see them all and remember that we have palms open before us- and what a great privilege that is. Look down at the choice we have laying between our fingers. I hope someday we learn that hands can punch and push and pull triggers and toss fire and those same hands can cook and pray and write and make music and hold what we love the most.
Life is just one big lucid dream and we get to decide whether or not it is a nightmare. Choose wisely.