I almost never remember my dreams, but last night I had one that not only forced me to wake up but is still haunting me late the next afternoon. It was very short, but very disturbing.
For whatever reason, my two young children and I were floating in the ocean when Israeli-piloted F-16s started shooting at us. I grabbed the youngest kid and told the oldest to start swimming as fast as he could. As we swam and the bullets kept flying past us, I could only tell them how much I loved them, over and over and over, because I knew we were going to die. But my son looked at me like I was crazy, like it wasn’t a great crisis to him, like he knew we would make it. And we did. We neared the beach, and it was then that I realized that once we got on the beach we were going to be even easier targets for the bullets, we would be the proverbial ducks in the proverbial row. And that’s when I woke up. Fortunately.
I’ve never been shot at in a dream before. It was and is quite unsettling. Surely some of my dream can be explained by the events in my personal life that day: To make a long story short, I got charged by a couple of frothing, barking stray dogs while my children waited in the car; I ended up on top of the car, closing the doors to keep the kids safe, and really freaked out. Also yesterday, the oldest kid for the first time did something that could realistically be called reading, a type of milestone that is both exciting and anxiety-inducing, the former because a whole new way of thinking and experiencing is opening for him, the latter because it means he’s a little bit more removed from me.
But I think what mostly explains my dream is the effect that the Israel-Lebanon war, in the aftermath of other events over the last twelve months, is having on me personally. When I was younger, tremendous eruptions of violence, like wars, genocides, and disasters, had a minimal psychological effect on me (at least that I was aware of). I could view those events abstractly; the people dying and starving and being terrorized weren’t merely statistics to me, but I never really put a human body under those bombs or machetes or mudslides. That’s changed in the last few years. Weirdly, even though I lived in New York on September 11, it wasn’t that date that changed things for me. It was later, during the period in 2002 when Hamas was sending a spate of suicide bombers on missions in Israel. For some reason, that was when I started picturing and feeling the bomblets on the suicide belts ripping apart the bombers’ abdomens and chests and arms and legs. I always knew people died, but that was when I started to realize the bodily agony that accompanies such a death. When the Iraq war began I started feeling it even more: Those bombs weren’t being dropped into a vacant city but onto people; actual human beings were being annihilated by them.
Since then it feels to me like there’s been an endless stream of maimed and obliterated bodies. Floating bodies in New Orleans. Electrocuted bodies in Paris. Bruissed bodies in Cronulla. A continuous flow of mangled bodies in Baghdad. And now missile-shredded bodies in Lebanon and Haifa.