The Life of Dreams
It begins in dreaming.
In the beginning, before time and space, the dreams were completely free. They blended one into another, played amusing games and dreamed new dreams. Nothing existed except for the things the dreams imagined in their dreams. And even then it's hard to say if these things were real, or if that mattered.
For ages, they dreamed of impossible things like here and there, now and then, this and that. Not much of it made sense, but the dreams didn't mind. They were free and kept on dreaming. Eventually, they grew bolder and dreamed of numbers that counted to infinity, spectacular clouds that came and went, and stars that shone for billions of years.
One day (so to speak) the dreams decided to combine their efforts and dream collectively. This had never been done before so there was much excitement.
Soon, an entire universe erupted into existence, and even the dreams were awed by what they had done. Space and time began in a jolt of energy and from this, pairs of matter and anti-matter appeared and disappeared in a fiesta of creation and annihilation. One moment, a proton and anti-proton sped toward each other and the next moment, two tiny particles of light sped away in opposite directions. Or, two particles of light collided and burst into an electron and its anti-matter brother, the positron. It was a teeming, brilliant fog that expanded all directions at once. Before long, clouds of gas pulled together from the expanding space: galaxies took shape. And one by one by one by one, in pairs and triples, bunches and clusters, stars turned on and lit up the night. The dreams watched it all unfold with terrific anticipation, nearly dying to find out what would happen next.
Most stars shone quietly, moiling protons into atoms of helium and carbon deep within their cores. Ultimately, they gave up the ghost in a puff of smoke. But it was the massive stars that were the masters of invention. For millions of years, they forged carbon into oxygen, phosphorus, magnesium and iron (to name a few) before exhausting themselves in a blaze of glory. Their stunning explosions - supernovae - could be seen clear across the universe. Again and again, they detonated like firecrackers sparking into the vast velvet night. Out of the debris, new stars turned on, now circled by families of planets.
The dreams murmured among themselves, for none of them expected planets to appear, particularly in such great numbers. But the supernovae and their litter of elements made new dreams possible. The planets ranged from small rocky orbs to magnificent gas giants that whirled elegantly around their parent stars. Delighting in the variety, the dreams continued dreaming.
Already in the clouds of interstellar space, the dreams had seen that atoms could join into molecules like methane, carbon dioxide and water. Now, on one planet where water was ubiquitous, they also snapped into long carbon chains and complex amino acids. The variety of molecules seemed endless.
It was a good time for the dreams. Here were dazzling possibilities that none of them could foresee in advance. And it only got better. Some molecules closed themselves off into tiny, self-contained cells and after many, many failed attempts, made copies of themselves. With little fanfare, they took on lives of their own.
Life, the dreams soon found out, was full of surprises.
In no time, the oceans bustled with microbes. It was like they had gained a foothold and wouldn't let go. Eons passed. The microbes frolicked. The dreams marveled.
Eventually, the microbes diversified into more complex life. Some evolved new ways to move as they foraged for food. The more stubborn ones simply planted themselves on the ocean floor and seduced sunlight into food. These plants grew far and wild, colonizing not just the ocean but also the land, transforming it from gray and brown into myriad shades of green. Once the transformation was complete, they raised their drooping heads and blossomed into a parade of colors that marched over the world. The dreams were enthralled -- they had never dared to dream such things on their own.
Because of the flowering plants, many dreams fell in love with this world and wanted to inhabit it. But they knew they could no more inhabit the world than stop dreaming. And so many dreams were tied up in the collective dream that they became afraid that if any of them stopped dreaming, this world would disappear. Faced with such an unhappy thought, most dreams gave up this dream and again watched to see what would happen next.
Long distracted by the flowers, the dreams barely noticed the other life forms that had taken shape. Fish populated the oceans. After millions of years, some renegades transformed into amphibians who began to explore the vacant land, which was soon ruled by giant reptiles. Birds took to the air. Insects made sure the flowers continued to spread. And mammals began to forage in the forests before evolving into graceful animals that romped over the vast, open savannahs.
With time, some plants fortified themselves into towering trees. A few troops of mammals climbed the trees and after a spell, some of them came down again, walked upright and fashioned tools out of sticks and stones. In these humans, the dreams, patient for so long, saw a new opportunity to enter the world.
One day, a dream had a dream. It split off from the collection and went to speak to a man. It wanted to make the man a deal: if the man would let the dream inhabit his life, then the dream would become real. In return, the man could live the life of a dream. The dream thought it was the deal of a lifetime. But because the dream was invisible, and the man was busy hunting all day, he never saw the dream. At night, the dream finally got the man's attention, and made him the offer. It impressed upon the man the enchantment of the life of dreams, the lack of regrets, how so much that was thought to be impossible became possible. But the man couldn't believe his eyes and began to toss and turn. In exasperation, the dream set the man's cave on fire. But the man merely awoke, rolled onto his side and fell back asleep. Dejected, the dream returned from whence it came.
A few of the other dreams saw what happened and resolved to follow the first dream, who rejoined the collective spent and lifeless. For entire communities of people, they conjured what they could to get attention: they revealed fantastic vistas, appeared as long-dead parents or as friends from the dreamers' youth. But all this merely confused the dreamers, who walked about in a daze of life and death, waking and sleeping, not knowing where one world ended and another began. The dreams taught the dreamers how to fly, chased them over cliffs, took away their clothes. Nothing worked. No one believed in their dreams.
Instead, the dreamers took the dreams as omens. In the town of Xanadu, a tablet was placed in the main plaza that read: If a man flies repeatedly in his dreams, then all that he owns will be lost. Here the people began to fear their dreams and, upon waking, tried instantly to forget them. In nearby Shangri-La, there was a saying that if a man dreams of uncovering his backside, he will become an orphan. In Thule, the people kept their dreams secret to avoid ridicule. In Utopia, the philosophers reasoned that dreams were warnings of illness and the dreamer was sent to a doctor for treatment. The doctors in Utopia were always busy.
The dreams despaired that they would ever inhabit the world. But once in a long while, they glimpsed the possibility of breaking through. A Chinese philosopher once dreamed he was a butterfly. And when he awoke, he didn't know whether he was then a man dreaming he was a butterfly or whether he was now a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Happy with the paradox, thereafter he lived an enchanted life.
An Italian composer once dreamed that he handed his violin to the Devil himself who then played a sonata of such exquisite beauty that it surpassed his boldest flights of imagination. He was astonished and enraptured to the point that his breath was taken away. When he awoke he seized his violin and tried to retain the sounds he had heard. He composed his best piece (though far inferior to the one he heard in his dream) and soon founded a violin school in Padua that became famous all over Europe.
A Romanian scholar once dreamed that she went to a river and waited for a boat to take her to the other side. When the boat arrived, she saw that Death was rowing the boat. Unafraid, she got in and asked Death the many questions that had been on her mind. Death patiently answered her and soon in her mind everything became clear: life, the meaning of existence, death. She felt that a message had been transmitted directly to her. "It's unbelievable how simple it is," she thought as she rolled Death's answers over in her mind. But when she awoke, she couldn't remember anything Death had told her and the entire dream disappeared like smoke into air. She then devoted her life to comforting the terminally ill.
The dreams became excited about these few events because they longed more than ever to be a part of the world.
Now and then, some dreamers dreamed of such exquisite delights, and so vividly, that they knew they were dreaming. They even said so to themselves, "I must be dreaming." Each time, in this lucid state, the dreams repeated their offer to the dreamers. But the dreamers couldn't be convinced to take it seriously. They awoke saying to themselves, to their loved ones, to anyone who would listen, "I had the strangest dream last night."
So, in the great matinee of night time, the dreams live on, conjuring new possibilities as they wait -- and hope -- to strike an immortal bargain. They know that if the day ever comes - - if even a couple of them could break through and join up - there is no telling what kind of world might be created. For one night a poet dreamed that he went to heaven and saw a strange and beautiful flower. He was dazzled by its color and intoxicated by its perfume. The poet loved the flower with all his heart and plucked it. And when he awoke, he held the flower in his hand.