Old man and dreams
By Lee Chang-kook
Professor Emeritus of English at Chung-Ang University
One of the things I miss most in my advanced age is the good and sweet dreams that I used to have through my youthful years. In fact, I do not have any dreams at all these days in my sleep. If there be any, they are just some jumbled, blurring, overlapping, disconnected images that disappear altogether from my memory on my waking. All those vivid dreams that have a coherent story or an episode with memorable scenes in them (so that I can recall clearly after and tell the contents to others) do not visit me anymore. I feel sorry about that and wonder where they have all gone.
For a long period of time one of the most frequent and recurring motifs of my youthful dreams were associated with the river that runs through my rural hometown in the country where I was born and spent my boyhood. My house, which had a roof of thatch, stood on a hill by the river. The river provided the boy with almost everything he needed in his life. Unknowingly but certainly the river seems to have seeped deep into the boy's psyche and continued to flow in his sleep and appeared in his dreams.
Often I was walking along the river in my dreams. I see a fishing rod fixed upon a prop with its line thrown far into the water, only without the angler. Suddenly I see the float start bobbing up and down frantically and I know what it means. I cannot resist the temptation to snatch up the rod. I feel the weight and the size of the fish at the end of the line. The fish struggles desperately to get away. As the fish comes nearer to the land with its white belly glittering in the water, I find it enormously huge. By the time I land the fish on shore after a great endeavor, I wake up only to find it a dream.
I used to swim far into the river with a glass fish-trap in my hand and dive down and place it very carefully at a designated point holding my breath for a minute or two, and kick myself up to the surface breathing heavily and swim back to the shore and wait for a while. When I dived down again to collect the fish-trap, it was always full of large minnows struggling desperately to escape. It was a great sight, a real fun adventure in reality as well as in my dreams. Now, removed far and long from the time and the place, I cannot tell apart the dream from the reality.
These dreams have departed from me. The river, the old thatched-house on the hill, the fishing rod, and the minnows in the glass fishing-trap no longer appear in my dreams. I no longer fly in the sky as freely and safely as a bird does in my dreams, nor explore the strange grottoes under the clear and clean water, nor run, like a roe deer, over the field stretching far and wide, usually full of beautiful flowers in full bloom. With these exciting dreams all gone my sleep has become a dry and mechanical necessity; it is not a journey leading and inviting me to an adventure or a romance any more. Without these dreams I feel I have lost one more important asset in my life.
Among so many incomprehensible things in the world dreams seem to be one of the most mysterious phenomena in human life. In fact, we don't know anything about our dreams at all, although we experience them all through our life. Since time immemorial, therefore, we have tried to analyze and interpret them logically and even use them practically as a holy prophesy or divine revelation of the things to come, fortunate or unfortunate. Even today, I heard, some buy a lottery ticket when they see a pig in a dream and hit the jackpot. Once I did the same without any good result. So long as dreams are concerned, we are all, without exception, very superstitious beings.
Now, recently my dreams have made a very strange and even dangerous turn. I had a dream the other night in which I confronted an ugly and harmful object. I cannot remember nor recall clearly what it was. Was it a thief, a furious dog, a tiger, or a bull? Anyway, it stared at me. Being afraid and desperate, I kicked it very hard with one of my legs with all my might and woke up with a shriek feeling a terrible and unbearable pain in my toes. The object I had kicked so hard in my dream was the hard apartment wall beside my bed. I sat up on my bed in the middle of the night, moaning miserably for the rest of it. "Thank, God, it was the wall, not my side," said my wife. I agreed. I could have broken several of her ribs.
I feel sad, worried and miserable. Not only have the good and healthy dreams departed from me, I am also no longer able to control myself even in my dreams. Of course, I have kicked or hit something in my dreams before, but I could contain the action within the realm of my dreams. But, now, I find the line separating the dream from reality has disappeared. They have converged. I am afraid of even going to sleep. My advanced age is the very culprit for all these wrongs and misfortunes. Old men should die.