Please forgive me as I entertain myself with a romp through my mind.
Last night I woke myself up … laughing. I can’t recall any other time in my life when that has happened. Not just once did I find myself laughing, but three or four times in succession. Every time the thought came to mind, I would chuckle.
And at what were you laughing, you ask? Well, it was the phrase, “The red sheep are coming. Perhaps they’ll be dumber than the white ones,” that struck me as uproariously funny.
In my dream, this phrase occurred after my having had a frustrating dream about being given a simple chore to do by a naval officer involving some celestial navigation task and being totally inept at achieving it. Though I have been trained in celestial navigation during my years in the navy, I recall little or none of it now. And in my dream, try as hard as I might I couldn’t remember anything I had learned or do anything right. I felt the officer’s frustration with me and his derision and contempt for my knowledge and, I felt, for my intelligence as well. I was embarrassed and humiliated. But when he suggested that “The red sheep are coming. Perhaps they’ll be dumber than the white ones,” I found that incredibly funny.
A man’s dreams, of course, make little sense to any one else, outside the context in which they occur. They frequently don’t even make sense to the one who dreamed them. They appear to be merely random symbols trotted out and merged together into a stream of bizarre plot elements or narrative. Interpreting them is, I think, more a black art than a science. But they are the playground of the mind when it is left unchecked by consciousness, as it is when you sleep. And sometimes when symbols from the playground are brought into the classroom of the morning after’s conscious thought, they can provide the raw materials from which insights can be distilled.
So what do these symbols say to me this morning as I think about them? What associations do they evoke?
First and foremost, I have had the experience of having known something at one time that I can no longer recall or put to any meaningful use, and it is not a pleasant one. As I face the realization of my aging, I dread the thought that this kind of experience will only become more common for me to one degree or another. In the nightmare scenario, this is the fear of dementia, of Alzheimer’s disease, that haunts so many of us. And given medical science’s current state of knowledge, for any of us who are so unfortunate as to succumb to this cruel fate, there are no red sheep in sight.
Another association I have to this symbolic statement, “the red sheep are coming,” is that it signifies that the only hope of being intellectually superior is to compete in less demanding circles or fields. Rather than symbolizing aspiration, it signifies compromise, perhaps even resignation to defeat. If the white sheep are too smart for me, then I’ll have to hope that the red sheep come along, because otherwise I am doomed to be left behind intellectually. Because of my interest in technology, I often experience waves of new developments arriving before I have assimilated the old ones. So I have experienced the reverse of the arrival of the red sheep. Again, this association is not a thought or feeling one would normally think would evoke laughter. And yet, for me, last night it did.
So what was it, then, that I found so funny about that statement?
For one thing, it was a terrific put-down, even though I was the butt of the “joke.” Perhaps my amusement at it was with the cleverness of its punch. As a put-down, it’s a pretty powerful slap in the face. I can think of a number of times when I might have been tempted to say that to a clueless customer who was calling for technical support, but courtesy, and to a degree empathy, compelled me to refrain. Plus, despite my amusement with its power as a put-down, it’s just not my style to say something like that to anyone.
My other amusement with it is that it seems to symbolize the futile hope that things will get easier as time goes on. If anything, the reverse is true. Things that used to be simple, like family life, where the next meal was coming from, or how to spend the day, are no longer simple. The great “red sheep” hope is itself a dream. Instead of that, one must prepare for the competition with the smart white sheep and it seems the even-smarter wolves that are just over the horizon. A friend recently said, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” And I can only agree with that.
What’s it all about Alfie? I haven’t a clue. Yet, just as it entertained me last night to laugh at that phrase, this morning it has entertained me to try to make sense of all that non-sense. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the arrival of the red sheep when, with any luck, all will be made clear.