Make no mistake, in my whole life Hitler has never appeared in any dream or daydream of mine. I don’t think about Hitler. He’s not in the iconography of my consciousness.
This was also the first time I’d seen him in living color, as opposed to World War II newsreel footage, which shows him in black and white. Footage of that era would not have been able to show how, in his dream appearance, Hitler’s uniform was adorned with a red cummerbund around the waist. That color was the main thing I noticed. His face was obscure.
Since I was on horseback in the dream, I quickened my pace to a trot, hoping to get past his ground-level reviewing stand before he noticed me. Unfortunately, my plan didn’t succeed and he called me over. He turned out to be in an affable mood, however. After we’d exchanged a few pleasantries, I found an excuse to trot on.
What brought on this dream? I imagine it could have been precipitated by an incident at a theology conference that Jerry and I attended just before Thanksgiving. One speaker at the conference happened to misdescribe the Judaism of the earliest days of Christianity as ethno-nationalist and closed to converts. Although I wasn’t at all keen to get into any of that, my Inner Prompt was unmistakable. So I raised my hand to point out that conversion was certainly accepted in first-century Judaism, although not a prerequisite for spiritual advancement, since the Righteous Gentile is an acknowledged figure in rabbinic discussion and is [by some discussants] admitted to have a spiritual status at the highest level. I contrasted this liberality with the illiberal positions, in equivalent cases concerning Jews, taken by fourth century Christian saints like Ambrose and Augustine.
Up to that point, I did not think that anything unusual had happened. An educated speaker had made a point, and his point had been disputed at the Q and A by an educated listener in the audience. It was only when I noticed no one in the audience looking my way – and saw everyone looking the other way – that it first occurred to me that, in current academic discourse, the point I had made might have been radioactive. That night, I dreamed the dream already described.
However, in the waning daylight of that afternoon, I wasn’t looking at metaphors. There was a situation to be handled. With Jerry, I joined an all-male group of theologians who were analyzing some interesting issues unrelated to the episode just described. In what felt like a throwback to pre-feminist days, none of the men were even looking at me. This was unusual but, intuitively, I refrained from elbowing my way into the group conversation, in which I had little to contribute anyway. I just waited. At last, late in the discussion, I saw a way to say something that would not be considered threatening. I quoted something my mother had said when she was dying. It was mild and feminine. After that, the men could see that I wasn’t mad at them and, with body language, allowed a bit more space for my presence at the table. By the next day, no one was looking away or looking at me in a funny way.
What happened? What lesson do I draw from this? On the one hand, my dream showed that I well understood the incident’s threatening possibilities. On the other hand, the success of my coping strategy showed that another reality was also present and in play.
If I forgave them enough
to stay in the game,
they could forgive me and themselves –
enough to stay with me in the game.
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