There is a tide in the affairs of men that results in dreams of foreboding and inadequacy. I’m back at school. I have the life experience I have now, but I’m full of anxiety about having to repeat A levels. Especially Physics. Or I’m back at medical school aged 63, required to sit final exams again and knowing that I never grasped biochemistry in the first place so there’s no chance now.
The psyche takes a long time to catch up with the rational mind, so dreams like this might be expected as the brain rids itself of stuff that’s past its sell-by date. Bewilderment. Wilderness.
I wondered if this was my psychopathology. And then I discovered Smirnoff. Well, actually, I started to tell a friend, but before I’d got to the end of the first sentence, he interrupted and finished it for me. He was having them too, and had been for ages. And then another and another friend tell me much the same. It’s good to know I’m not psychotic. *
Whatever else these dreams may be, they’re not irrelevant. All our lives are governed by attitudes and ways of thinking that develop when we’re in our prime. Decades later circumstances have changed, and it’s often inappropriate to let those same attitudes govern how we think or respond. With a bit of luck, I can give them up for lent. At first I was disturbed by the dreams, but now I look forward each night to the next instalment of the soap opera.
There’s a scene in Shadowlands, the film of Joy Gresham’s romance with C S Lewis, where Lewis meets one of his former pupils, now a teacher. In the course of a brief conversation, the former pupil quoted his father: ‘we read to know we’re not alone.’ We talk and listen to know we’re not alone, too. It’s reassuring to hear ‘that’s just how I see it too’. Knowing that you’re not alone gives you courage to stick to your guns.
* Neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics live in them, psychiatrists collect the rent.