Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Don't Dream It's Over"

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Get to Know the Feeling of Liberation and Relief

My friend Susannah works to help people see the humanity of prisoners, former prisoners and victims' families, and blogs against the death penalty. Reading an issue of my college magazine that was among the six months of mail we amassed while in India, I thought of Susannah and her constituents...and myself.

The article, "Art in Dark Places," talked of how a couple of University of Michigan professors enabled students to work with prisoners, so that the prisoners could express themselves artistically. It showed striking artworks and also profiled Mary Glover, one of the staff of UM's Prison Creative Arts Project and an alumna, who had herself been a prisoner.

I finished the article today, after our friends David and Gerard went back to the city, and related to Glover's statement, "I came home and found my mom dying [God forbid, but I did come home to a sick relative]....I had to relearn everything -- how to drive, social to cook...even acceptable behavior on a job. I had to get to know my family again" ("LSA fall 2007," p. 45).

My Own Liberation and Disorientation

Have I no shame at all? In a previous entry, I compared my experience to that of a returning soldier, and now, I'm suggesting a parallel between my time in India and that of a woman, who spent 26 years in prison(!) I know it's gross on the one hand to dare to compare our experience, since she suffered prison life and I led a life of career opportunity and relative luxury while in India.

And yet, I do find that life moved on while we were gone, and it's unnerving; I went to set my alarm clock for work tomorrow -- it'll be my first day back -- and saw that it was set to 3 am, which was the time we got up to go to the airport six months ago. When we left six months ago, the gladioli hadn't yet bloomed; now, they're dead stalks in the garden; the trees were in full bloom and now their brown leaves litter our lawn.

When we left, everyone was relatively healthy; now, one of my relatives is sword-fighting cancer via medication or radiation -- the relative will find out the treatment recommendation on Wednesday. When we left, my identity at work was solid, and now, I've got a new one again; when we left, favorite foods were delicious, but not like manna. Now, I have gorged a couple of times on fruit that is too large and cheeses that are too rich.

Six months is nothing compared to 26 years, and I hope that a foreign service assignment is the closest I'll ever come to understanding what it's like to be away from nearly everyone and everything familiar for an extended period.

Had Hoped That Jet-lag and Being Home's Oddness Were Done...

When I thought of writing about my disorientation, the "Crowded House" tune, "Don't Dream It's Over" came to mind for its one line, "Get to know the feeling of liberation and relief." And I recalled a nightmare from last night that was full of cliches and yet haunted me beyond waking:

I returned to work in Armonk with a head full of gray hair (in reality, I don't dye my hair and there are no more than a couple of gray strands at this point), wearing only a sheet. I went to my office and found that my neighbor had taken the wall down between our offices, to enlarge hers, and so I had no office to go to.

While walking around in just a sheet, suddenly all of us in the Learning Center were being herded into a room I'd never seen, which looked reinforced. We were going to the room to use it as a shelter from some threat.

Being back in Armonk on Wednesday will be a marked contrast, I trust, to the wild dream I woke from today...I'll confirm the difference, I hope, within a day or two.


Anonymous said...

Happy New Year?
So, how did your day compare to your dream? I always used to have returning to school dreams about showing up, sometimes naked, sometimes not, to the wrong room, late, unprepared to either take, or, when I was a teacher, administer THE TEST. I had some kind of anxiety dream last week about running late...
Going back to work after only one week off was kind of disorienting, so I can't imagine after six months. It was actually kind of nice to be back. How about you?


Sarah Siegel said...

Big anti-climax: I worked from home, as I thought it would be dangerous to drive today. The snow flurried for just a few minutes in the morning and never became fierce.

So Thursday will be my first day back in the office.

We just saw "A Passage to India," and related to some of it visually...but now, I'll be tired for work, if I wake up to go swimming first....I think that that's not going to happen.