Just Treading Water

Water, rushing in, flooding, filling up around me, filling space, flowing, recklessly, aimlessly, dangerously, spilling, unstoppable.

When I woke, my dream was still vivid, in a way that it rarely is. There had been many dreams that night (there always are). But this one seemed misplaced, like it didn’t belong on the playlist. It wasn’t the usual variation of some event that happened that day, or something I was worrying about, or someone I had interacted with.  Instead, it felt like a completely arbitrary snippet, played at random into my subconscious.  The setting was our laundry room.

Water was pouring out, from some unknown source, and spilling into the hallway. The doors of the laundry room were wide open, but despite this fact, I could not identify the source of the leak.  There was no spigot or faucet to turn off, no washing machine bubbling over.  Instead, there was just water, flowing recklessly and aimlessly, spilling dangerously through the corridor and down the steps.  First there was just an inch or two, but before I could take a breath, the flood was a foot deep.  Water, water, a flood of water, filling up around me, unstoppable and uncontrollable. Pouring down in that way that usually sounds soothing, like at a waterfall or a bubbling stream.  But inside our house, it was overwhelming.

Just a week earlier, I had learned something new about dreams.  I was sitting on the living room couch that morning drinking coffee with my daughter, feeling particularly happy since my soldier son was finally home from Gaza for a break.  My daughter and I shared our dreams from the night; I told her about a dream that happened in my sister in law’s kitchen…but it wasn’t really my sister in law’s kitchen.  Instead of clean white countertops and modern looking sinks, she had some really strange looking contraptions.  The sink, for example, was so fancy, and in a glass box, with all sorts of attachments and teeth and extra pieces.  I turned it on, and, mystified by such a technologically advanced faucet, managed to create a giant explosion of water.  It flooded the kitchen and wouldn’t stop.  And I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to turn it off.

It’s a dream theme, Ima,” my 18-year-old daughter informed me, “Flooding means you feel out of control. Or trapped and helpless by your circumstance.”

This made sense.  Whatever contentment I felt about my son being home, I guess it hadn’t fully penetrated my subconscious.  Maybe people all over Israel were dreaming of floods right now…

Floods.  I remember a lot of them from my childhood.  In New Orleans, a city below sea level with a proneness to hurricanes and tropical storms, they seemed to happen all the time.  Somehow, they seemed less bothersome back then, more innocent. Floods were floods – exciting and fun. During one intense storm, my friend Shira’s parents brought my brother and me home; my parents hadn’t been able to reach the school because of flooded streets, a not uncommon occurrence in New Orleans.  We huddled inside Shira’s suburban house while the rain poured down in sheets, as it was wont to do in my hometown.  And then suddenly, the storm stopped, just as quickly and intensely as it had arrived.  The sun came out.  Home from school hours early with nothing to do, we stepped outside in our bare feet, into the streets.  The floodwater was knee deep. We splashed around, kids enjoying a water fight on a sunny day. I was about eight years old.  I remember noticing phosphorescent smears in the water, pooled grease from the street.  It was pretty.  Innocuous, as far as I was concerned. We played.

Another time, the rain poured down so hard that it flooded our basement in Uptown New Orleans.  This “basement” was more of a first floor than a traditional basement since it was only a few inches underground (and this due to the fact that it had sunk – houses tend to do that in swampy New Orleans).  But it was unfinished, a storage area beneath our livable upstairs level.  My mother put us all to work with buckets, lest the water should overflow into the nicer, finished (raised) part of the basement, ruining carpets, and furniture.  We stood by the open doors to the backyard, buckets in our arms, scooping and pouring, scooping and pouring and laughing, while water continued to rush in on that fun Sunday afternoon.

Within the context of childhood, floods didn’t bother me all that much.  There wasn’t a lot that I was in control of anyway.  Raging floodwaters were just one more thing that was out of my circle of influence.

But I’m no child now.  I have six of my own, and one grandchild.  I am now the manager, the facilitator, the planner, the one who makes things happen – at least in my own household.

That morning, when I woke up from the laundry room flood, I had to share it aloud right away so I wouldn’t forget. I could tell that my husband was already awake. “I dreamt of a flood,” I muttered, still half asleep, “Dalya told me that this is a common dream theme, and that it means that you feel like things are out of control.”  With that, I rolled out of bed, ready to face another wild day, full of more uncertainty, more unsatisfying and depressing headlines, and more not knowing what the day will hold for my son, who is now far away from home.

War, and all the unpredictability that comes along with it, had left me feeling like I couldn’t even plan my week, much less my future life.  Being a natural planner, I find this challenging. I had already given up my soldier-like adherence to regular routines months ago, telling myself that I would let go only for a short while.  Surely a war was a good reason to temporarily pause years of intermittent fasting?  Television was something I never watched, but lately…And a friend of mine had strongly encouraged me to lean in to a mid-week glass of wine every once in a while….

But the prolonged uncertainty of life was becoming hard to cope with. 

My logical brain knows the real truth: We never have control.  Over anything.  God is in charge, and we must simply roll with the waves, accept the divine plan, wherever it may take us.  We foster an internal illusion of control, but in truth, dealing gracefully with the chaos of life is the most that we can really hope for. These days, my subconscious is having a hard time accepting this fact.  Things feel more chaotic than usual; I often have the sense that I am treading water, that I’m just struggling to stay afloat against an oncoming current. 

Swimming strongly and solidly forward is a sensation that has been relegated to times past.

Still, the deeper I dig, the more I realize that moments like this are precisely the time when we have the most potential for growth.  The obstacle is the way, even now. This war isn’t going away, at least not any time soon. Perhaps I can use the opportunity to deeply learn this lesson:  there IS someone in charge…and it’s not me.

If we leave the chaos of the world to the realm of our Creator, if we truly accept that there is an unknowable divine plan, perhaps a weight will be lifted from our collective chest.  Breathing strong, we’ll find the power to regain control over the one thing that we can manage to some degree: Our own actions.  Then, we’ll welcome the flood waters, full of childish unconcern for their consequences (which are just not up to us anyway).  Swimming forward, we’ll breathe and stroke, breathe and then stroke, building strength as we navigate these murky waters.

3 thoughts on “Just Treading Water

  1. Wow! Amazing, beautiful commentary! I was expecting your connection to Joseph’s dreams in this week’s parsha but save that for next year. I love your daughter playing Dr. Freud, a good Jewish boy who liked to interpret dreams… 😊

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