Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. – Joseph Campbell
Sleep is an elusive, slippery eel, and dangerous. I succumb to a troubling dream where I’m working on a burglar alarm at a lavish mansion, tracing down a problem I cannot resolve while around me a party flows as liberally as the wine. Bright lights bleed into sprays of color and explosions of voices, the clink of ice in a glass, loud music throbbing down a hall, the rustle of clothing. I’m forced to maneuver though people who study me with cold, calculating stares, this stranger in their midst and armed, too, the revolver on my hip an unrelenting catalyst for societal transformation. Beautiful women immediately dismiss me with a glance though their eyes invariably linger on the butt of the revolver. The larger men gravitate to block my way, scowling and hard eyes all around, alcohol and testosterone fueling an inflexible dominancy harking back to days of chivalry. But I am no knight-errant, no seeker of the Grail. All I want is out, far away from that place, those people, the uniform, the pistol, the job, the night.
And yet wishes in dreams carry as much weight as wishes in reality. I remain fruitlessly searching from room to room under the spell of an antithetical quest, beset from without and within, opposed by all forces, my own hero’s journey (though I do not feel like a hero or anything other than broken), until at last I claw my way into a lethargic level of consciousness, or perhaps another dream state entirely.
Outside the north wind howls and rages through trees still barren. Rising from the pillow, I jab one finger through the blinds and pry them apart to gaze onto a world gone white. The street light, veiled by blowing snow, veins the pale drifts with capillaries of dark shadows so that everything is reduced to a monochromatic two-dimensional field, more silhouette and shape than tangible object. And beneath the single thorned shrub anchoring the front corner of the yard, the outline of a rabbit, ears erect, alert.
Long ago, before learning first hand the draconian methodology some religious congregations bring to bear on sinners in their midst, as well as before Las Vegas and its haunted foothills, several careful readings of the Bible, an introduction into the world’s diverse and disparate faiths and a dawning sense of global spirituality both deeper and more expansive than anything I’d been force-fed, followed by a complete collapse of faith in organized religions, I believed in guardian angels.
As a believer in the One True Way, I was under their protection. The very few biblical references to such creatures were never presented in such a way as to make them seem real, though as all young Baptists I went along with the program because I had neither reference nor exposure to anything else. The questions I dared ask later in life were met with obfuscation, merely the first cracks etching the shell of my belief. If I stepped in front of a speeding bus, would the angel pull me from harm’s way, or stop the bus like some comic book superhero? More pertinent to my own phobias, would it safeguard me from vicious dogs or school bullies? The answers, if any were offered, were directed toward my apparent lack of faith, and anyway there was the matter of predestination to account for. Which led to even more questions about the utility of a guardian angel if everything was already platted down to the nth degree.
My biggest problem with organized religion was that by purporting to have all the answers, it could not express doubt of any kind. In short, it couldn’t say, “I don’t know.” Or if it did, it was couched in such twaddle as “we’ll know in the sweet by and by,” which is the same thing as “shut up and behave.”
I was told to behave in no uncertain terms. And when I refused, when I could no longer adhere to their repressive rules, I was branded an outcast. So I moved on, trading my faith for something like agnosticism, which is another way of saying I went searching elsewhere, though it wasn't a search I recognized or was even aware of doing, not in the sense of a quest or pilgrimage.
But in my dreams the search remains unending. And if their origins are grounded in actual experiences—or the tangential mutations our unconscious minds generate, as if reality were something to be manipulated, tugged at, twisted or stretched, like so much impalpable taffy—they have evolved into symbols of something greater, something more powerful, even external. It’s perhaps indicative that the spirit I glimpsed in a field in Colorado was a therianthropic being, half-man, half-rabbit. I am only now beginning to glimpse that far country, but what I’ve learned is this: We all want to believe we’re not alone.
My breath catches in a ragged intake even as the snowflakes cease their dancing. Time is suspended for the space of a heartbeat, a preternatural stillness before flooding back with a jolt, my heart hammering through my ribs, trees lashing, snow billowing from the road in great curtains before being snatched away on the screaming wind. The rabbit shape slowly turns away and disappears into the outer darkness.
Faith is a funny thing. We either hew to the old tales or design our own, writing our own mythologies. A friend says animals cross so easily they don’t even know they’ve crossed. My father hints that Sheba was reincarnated. One morning as I’m backing out of the driveway a rabbit bounces into view and runs after me. I hit the brakes and it skids to a stop, lifting up on its hind legs to study me, and for a moment there’s a connection I can’t explain, a familiarity. It follows me to the street and watches as I drive off. I’m almost to the main road when the tears come.
I wish I knew the answers, but I don’t.