I had a dream last night that I was a part of a paramilitary type unit. I was in command of a small troop patrolling a city when race riots broke out. My unit and I fought to protect the vulnerable, ushering them to safety. Outnumbered, it was a bruising experience both physically and mentally. We fought hard and long, but we couldn’t protect everyone and watched as some we couldn’t save set upon by the mob and beaten.
Eventually, the riots died down, and reinforcements were sent to the city. It was in the aftermath, and we were sitting in a room sore and reflective when one of the replacements pipes up. There’s one like this in every group. He’s had a look around, and everything has become quiet, and with a mocking tone to his voice, he wonders aloud what the big deal is about? He goes onto to say it’s all an exaggeration and probably political anyway. And what does he care about the victims of this – they’re not his people.
I’m respected by my team because I’m calm and measured, and I’ll always make the right call. They know I’ll do everything to protect them. They understand that I lead with a moral imperative, but I’ll always have their back. They’re shocked then, by what comes next.
I’m exhausted. Though we’ve fought hard, I’m dismayed at the thought of those we couldn’t save, some of whom were friends. I hear this man’s words, and I sit there reflecting on them, then I get up. I walk across to him, and though I know it’s probably the wrong thing and counter to my image of self-control, I feel great satisfaction as I swing with my fist and knock the man down.
I’m disciplined for this, obviously. I’m stripped of my command locked away for a few days. My team is shattered at what’s happened. Though they understand my feelings, they wonder what got into me. Is the old man cracking up?
I’m released and return to the unit. My 2IC has now taken over the team. She’s someone I have an intimate relationship, and she looks at me with tenderness and pity. The rest of the team are happy to have me back but uncertain given my present status. It doesn’t feel right that I’m not out in front.
Also, there is the man I struck, as well as some of the top brass. There’s trouble brewing again, and we’re about to be thrown into the cauldron. The new skipper, my lover, is angry at how I’ve been treated. She wants to protest and demand that I’m reinstated. I smile at her and with a gesture as if releasing something from my hand, I tell her to let it go.
One of the top brass has observed the interaction. He chuckles, makes a comment about wise words, and then proclaims that in light of the coming troubles it’s been decided that I will re-assume command of the team.
The whole team is thrilled. They come to me, one by one, to let me know how relieved they are that I’m in charge again and how much they’ve missed me. One or two admonish me gently, but even the recruit is happy to have me back.
They feel safe with me, and it’s an obligation I’m happy to shoulder. I look at them knowing we have a job to do. They look back, waiting on my command. The world has righted; there are things to do – and our mission to do them.
Thus ends the dream.
As always, I wondered what all this meant. It seemed to me that once upon a time, I was once that person known for calm and unflappable judgement. I used to thrive when the pressure was on. There was an edge to me, and I was more inclined to go my own my way than the character in the dream, but he’s recognisably similar – at least in my mind – to who I was.
That I’m not that man now is something I’ve come to accept, though most of the elements remain – they’ve just combined in a different way. Funnily enough, a work friend told me a couple of weeks ago that I was the wisest person she knew. I felt uncomfortable with the praise and made light of it, remembering how much I’d fucked up in my life.
I like that man in the dream and wish I was he. That I dream this now is a reflection of recent times I think. I’ve been off the last few months, as many have been. In that time, I’ve been managing what I’ve described as the most unpleasant project of my life.
Much of it is just plain difficult – an incompetent vendor, a tricky brief, everyone working remotely, and perceived pressure from board level. What’s made it more challenging is that the team drafted in for this – unlike the dream – are unwilling to be part of it. They don’t believe in the value or purpose of the project and question it. I share some of their reservations but, as I tell them, our job is not to question the validity of the project but to deliver it. (Unfortunately, all of this plays into the general malaise I feel, doubting the value and purpose of every task.)
For me, it’s been difficult because I’ve got little practical support but from one, and so have to shoulder much of the burden myself. Like the character in the dream, I feel like snapping sometimes. I look at them occasionally and think how nice it is to have the luxury of an opinion when you don’t have to put anything on the line.
But how does the dream reflect all this? And what is it telling me?