Born in early 1600 of a family of mixed Cantabrian (Southern Italian) father and Flemish mother who were part of the Spanish nobility nonetheless during the Golden Age of Spanish drama, Pedro Calderón de la Barca is best known for his play Life Is A Dream, as the title is translated into English. During an age of Spanish imperial decline, a decline that he sought to arrest in military terms through his service as a professional soldier of the tercios in Italy and Flanders between 1625 and 1635, during the Thirty Years War, and afterward in culture as a court dramatist and successor to the justly famous Lope De Vega , and even religiously after he joined the priesthood when the otherwise unknown mother of his child died during his late forties and served as a novice in the Order of St. Francis, Calderon lived a life full of action and drama. Although he is obscure in the English-speaking world, his dramas, which often feature deep and insoluble dramas like head against heart , intellect against instinct, understanding against will, were popular among German romanticists  like Goethe because of the quality of both reason and passionate pessimism in his playwriting. Deeply concerned with issues of love, honor, and power (the title, in fact, of his first performed play), his life was a testament to man’s struggle against fate, and the way that talent and success do not make for a happy life, because one can be deeply tormented by the anguish and distress one faces in one’s existence. In his most famous play, La Vida Es Sueño (Life Is A Dream), one of his characters makes the following comments :
“What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
A shadow, a fiction,
And the greatest good is small;
For all of life is a dream,
And dreams, are only dreams.”
In a similar vein, musician and producer Carl Stephenson is most famous for helping to produce the Beck album Mellow Gold, and for the visionary album he released as the leader of the alternative group Forest For The Trees , which was finished for three or four years before being released after Stephenson recovered from a nervous breakdown that lasted for years. Only one of the songs became popular, being a minor hit when I was a teenager, a song that I still listen to from time to time called “Dream.” Referencing the Calderon play, perhaps intentionally, Stephenson sings over trippy vocal effects and the music of violins, guitars, sitars, drums, keyboards, and even a didgeridoo, “When I get up, I don’t know if I’m truly asleep or if I’m awake. When I am dreaming I don’t know if I’m truly awake, or if I’m still dreaming. Dream, dream, dream, dream. Life is but a dream.” One wonders what it was that led Stephenson to produce such an odd and trippy song, or what it was that strained his nerves to the breaking point while he was a productive and successful songwriter and musician. What sort of waking nightmares did he experience, what sort of torments did he see that he tried to medicate away in some fashion but which ended up robbing him of the ability to write for years, leaving his masterwork to languish in obscurity while others received credit for approaches that he had pioneered, and helped them achieve themselves. How that must have burned deep inside, even if he was unable to show the world what he was capable of. Even after the first album of his band was released, the second album created remains shelved and unreleased because the label the band was signed to has itself been closed down, leaving the music an orphan without a home.
In the Bible, dreams are a fairly consistent form of communication from God to people, often with deep and curious significance. In the story of Joseph, for example, his own dreams as a teenager of seventeen promised that he would be a ruler over his family, but long years of slavery and imprisonment for a crime that he steadfastly refused to commit were required before he was ready to fulfill his destiny, and even then it took the interpretation of the dreams of two fellow prisoners and then the Pharaoh at the time before he was taken from prison and made the first minister of the Pharaoh over all of Egypt, and it was another couple of years after that before Joseph was reconciled to his shocked family. Daniel saved the lives of himself, his friends, and his fellow intellectuals in Chaldean Babylon when he was able to tell and interpret the dream of Nebuchadnezzar about the statue of mixed construction destroyed by a stone cut without hands symbolizing Jesus Christ’s millennial rule. A sleepless night for King Xerxes was required before Mordecai and Esther were able to find deliverance for the Jews and to overcome the plotting of the wicked Agagite Haman and their own secure places within that empire. Even in the New Testament, dreams and visions have had serious importance. Joseph was told in a dream to marry Mary and not put her aside because she had not been unfaithful to him, and was later warned to go to Egypt because of Herod’s desire to murder the one born to become King of the Jews. Paul was struck down on the road to Damascus and given a vision, and was later given a vision of the third heaven, where he saw what it was not lawful to discuss, whatever that was. Although we live in a contemporary society that does not place much importance in dreams, the Bible itself makes it clear that dreams are a subject of interest, and that God can, if He chooses, communicate to people through them, although it is not always clear or straightforward what the point of dreams is, unless He gives us the means to interpret them as well.
Off and on for more than a quarter of a century I have had memorable, if sometimes deeply troubling dreams. Many of these dreams share certain elements, like difficulties for myself or others because of the sins of the father, kidnapping and rescue, and cooperation between a somewhat unlikely group of allies and partners who I have known from church or school. They feature high action and intensity along with a concern for odd logistical details, like preparing a base of operations, dividing up rooms for sleeping, and examining the materials of one’s dwelling and the tools of one’s adventures. It is hard to tell whether these dreams are a good thing or a bad thing, or whether to call them nightmares because the level of anxiety and tension in the dreams is continually ratcheted up to a high enough level that it triggers my conscious mind, and usually a fairly speedy feeling of panic and anxiety, or whether to consider them dreams that speak to the symbolic nature of my own life, but whose anxious care is at such a high level that it is impossible for me to remain sleeping while I see such things in my mind. If I cannot sleep peacefully at night, for reasons beyond my own control, I at least want to know what the point of it all is, so that I can act or refrain from acting in such a way that whatever I am being told comes to pass in a good way, and so that it may no longer be necessary to be tormented at night and I can sleep at peace like normal people do instead of being woken up multiple times a night, night after night. In the meantime, I trudge along as best as I can, hoping for time where I can truly rest peacefully, where what my dreams tell me may not be so troubling and so filled with anxiety. Is not one supposed to be refreshed by one’s dreams? What good is sleep if one cannot escape what troubles one’s life? If life is but a dream, why can’t it be a good one?
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