On occasion I have dreams that are vivid and detailed and worth writing down. Often there is a deeper meaning to be gleaned from the imagery and sometimes convoluted events in my dream. I had such a dream this week (although not very convoluted) and thought I’d share it with you.
Mike and I were having a pleasant walk through a young forest at dusk. The trail was well travelled. There were young Birch and Beech trees on both sides of the trail and long grass. The tall mature trees blocked the early evening sun. We came across an opening, something like a campsite that hadn’t been occupied for a very long time. I noticed a flicker of light that caused me to pause. Suddenly there
was the beginning of a serious grass fire, spreading in a line. Of course we were very concerned and looked around for a phone but then realized someone was already doing something about it so we continued on our walk.
We didn’t get too far when we realized that the grass fire had spread to a nearby structure. “I guess they weren’t able to get the grass fire under control,” we thought. I said to Mike, “we should call someone.” But we didn’t. We were concerned but didn’t do anything about it.
Now we were home making dinner and I looked outside and our neighbour’s house was engulfed in flames. I told my kids, “grab some things, we have to get out of here.” Mike acted as if I was overreacting, “it really isn’t as bad as you think.”
I could see the fire spreading.
I started to panic. All I could see were flames all around, the night sky lit up in orange. I tried to use my phone to call 911 but my fingers couldn’t make the phone work. I finally got through to someone, I could hardly form words, I felt like I was choking. I had to force the words to come out, “FIRE”, barely able to speak my own address. The operator told me I phoned the wrong number and I needed to call the Fire Department directly.
We stood outside in the street. Thank God someone else called the Fire Department but it was too late. The whole neighbourhood was on fire. We stood there, powerless, watching the flames spreading, knowing it could have been prevented.
Generally, I noticed these three embedded themes:
We walked past the grass fire and assumed someone else was dealing with it and had it under control.
We noticed the fire spread to a nearby structure and dismissed it because it was someone else’s problem.
The neighbourhood is on fire, now I have to do something but it’s too late.
We made an assumption, we dismissed the seriousness of the situation and didn’t act until the fire was on our doorstep.
I can’t help but relate some of this to the recent discovery of the remains of over 1000 Indigenous children (and counting) on the grounds of former Residential Schools across Canada. They’ve been trying to tell us. We haven’t listened.
How many other ways have we been given warnings, insight, even been told directly about a problem, but didn’t listen. Expecting someone else to do something about it or simply dismiss it because it isn’t our problem. “It” hasn’t been our problem for a very long time. 2000 years ago Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?” You might be more familiar with the abbreviated version, “If Not Me, Who? If Not Now, When?”
A friend of mine was recently talking about the 10 plagues of Egypt, when Moses was trying to free the Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh was a slow learner. Some of the Egyptians, however, were paying attention and learning from the ongoing catastrophes. When Pharaoh finally relented, some Egyptians made a quick escape with the Israelites (Exodus 12:38 references a “diverse crowd” which scholars suggest were Egyptians). My point is that the human race has a long history of ignoring things that bring destruction and hurt.
In my dream, by the time the fire had spread through the neighbourhood, it was too late to stop the destruction, we could only stand there and watch our neighbourhood be reduced to ash. But houses can be rebuilt. We can’t bring people back from the dead and healing from trauma is more complicated than following blueprints. Yet there is still hope. Another friend of mine posted this quote from Rachel Held Evans on Facebook as I was writing this and I thought it very suitable, “Grieve what you have lost. Rage against the injustice you see around you. Laugh deeply with your new friends. And hope! Hope! Even though it’s risky. Even though there’s a good chance you’re going to be disappointed again.”
When prevention doesn’t happen we need redemption. I pray that we be people who listen and really hear. That we be people who look and really see. And I pray that in the seeing and the hearing that healing can begin.
Personally, this dream served as a refreshing of my vision behind The Butterfly Project. I have believed for a long time that a lot of crises can be prevented - that’s why I talk about child sexual abuse and share what I’ve been learning because the more people who are aware, the better chance there is that children won’t become victims and generations of people can be saved from this form of trauma. But the reality is we live in a broken world and bad things still happen. When they do, I want to be someone who not only looks and listens but also responds.
If I could replay my dream, I would put that grass fire out with my own feet. Sure, I might burn my soles but sometimes it’s through our scars that healing happens for others.