What a Mixmaster our dreams are for our memories

I take a fair amount of inspiration from dreams, which I believe are a way for the mind to reprocess memories into new configurations, the same way that a mixmaster can beat eggs or potatoes into a smooth consistency. I think dreams are a way of reprocessing experiences and distilling additional insights and learning. 

What a mixmaster our dreams are for our memories

“Sleep is when all the unsorted stuff comes flying out as from a dustbin upset in a high wind.”
William Golding

It’s a strange thing about sleep and dreams, I can go to bed worrying about a problem and either wake up around 2 or 3 and be unable to get back to sleep or wake up at 6 or 7 and have this plan fully formed in my head as to what to do. And sometimes I pull together bits and pieces of seemingly unrelated events and go on a tangent. Or they may be actually unrelated events but my well developed apophenia finds a connection anyway.

I woke up this morning with the memory from one of my seventh grade Religion classes: Fr. Miles reading

“I shall go down to Egypt with you and I myself shall bring you back again, and Joseph’s hand will close your eyes.”
Genesis 46:4

was juxtaposed with a remark a good friend of mine from college made the last time he was in town

“I was there for my father’s last breath.”

I couldn’t remember my dream directly, but somehow it had combined those two memories.

As Fr. Miles explained, God is speaking to Jacob in Genesis 46:4, promising him that he will be re-united with his estranged son Joseph, who will be with him when he dies. That Joseph will close his eyes means that he will be with him when he draws his last breath.

So I e-mailed my friend and told him of my dream, and that I thought it meant that he had been a comfort to his father. I am not in the habit of dreaming about Bible verses, much less e-mailing people about them, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

When I first heard the verse and the explanation I was twelve. Four years later my grandfather was felled by a series of strokes over a period of about nine months, he never recovered enough from the first one to live at home, and the succeeding ones washed away his personality until there was nothing left.

After the first stroke I remember going to visit him in the hospital and hearing this terrible loneliness in his voice as he recounted awakening in the middle of the night in the intensive care ward and crying out for his children (and he named them one by one as he recalled it, moving on to his grandchildren). And I got a better idea of the comfort promised in “Joseph’s hand will close your eyes,” that Jacob would not die alone, and understood the comfort that my friend had offered his father sitting next to his deathbed for his last week.

My father was born on Nov 1, 1925 and passed away Oct 23 2007. Since his death my thoughts seem to return to him with particular clarity in the last few weeks of October.

“Travelers, as you pass by,
View the ground wherein we lie:
As you are now, so once were we;
As we are now, so you shall be.”
A common epitaph with many variations dating from the 15th century

Note: this is a revised version of a blog post originally published November 9, 2004 as “What a mixmaster our dreams are for our memories” on the FunMurphys.com blog.

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What the heck is a Mixmaster?

Growing up we had a Sunbeam Mixmaster hand mixer I used to make mashed potatoes. You would peel the potatoes, boil them, and mix butter and milk into a bowl using the Mixmaster’s beaters to brake up the potatoes and smooth them into a delicious creamy consistency. This seems an apt metaphor for what our dreams do, breaking up different experiences and blending them into a smooth whole. Wikpedia tells me there are other definitions for mixmaster but this is the one I intended.

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