I had a dream last night. In my dreams, I am often teaching. years ago, I used to dream about acting, but now my anxiety dreams and my questioning dreams are almost all about teaching. Owl dreams are the magical ones, and they are rare. Sometimes, there are supermarket dreams, like the one I had when I was an exchange student in Moscow in 1991, when bread lines and toilet paper lines, and everything lines were the norm -- you got in line, and after a while you'd ask what the line was for. In a supermarket dream, I have to find things, things I want and don't have, and if I can check out before I wake up, I get to have those things in waking life. In Moscow, I dreamt of liquid Tide detergent, orange juice, and packaged cookies.
Last night, I dreamed I was a teaching assistant, and the children were supposed to come back into the classroom and say the closing verse. I was trying to lead them. Several children wandered back out of the classroom. One of them was wrapping himself in blankets and crawling under a sink, and I sat with him until his mother came around the corner, because I knew his anxiety was overwhelming him. The lead teacher had finally gotten the children, who were fourth graders, back into the classroom, and at the end of the verse, I called one of the girls who hadn't come back when I called, but did for the teacher, over to me and asked what was up.
She became older then, as dream people can do. She was a young teenager now, and she handed me a little book of photocopied and printed pages, cut small -- 2 or 3 inches square. She had had it in the pocket of her apple-green coat. "I looked you up. I've been reading what you wrote." I was afraid for a moment. What did this girl know about me?
But when I looked at the pages, I recognized the words as my own -- not ones I can find now, but in the dream, they were my writing. And she had been reading and treasuring them. They mattered to her, and had been helping her to get through. I woke up then.
So I am writing for you, girl in the apple green coat. I'm writing for you, person I haven't met, reading my words. I'm trying to trust that who I am is okay, and that I won't be attacked with the words I've written here, and elsewhere, because someone, somewhere, is reading and is helped.
Can we really know the effects of our actions, completely? I lie awake sometimes, living and reliving the mistakes I've made, the times I failed to be the teacher children needed me to be, the times I've been less than perfect. Trusting in the goodness and needfulness of our own humanity is intensely difficult. For years, I have tried to be good enough. Good enough to be cast in a play. Good enough to have friends. Good enough to be loved. Good enough to get an A. Good enough to get the job. Good enough to be admired. Good enough to check all the "good mom" boxes. Good enough to teach. Good enough to be read online, or in print. Good enough.
When I dared to believe I was, usually something would happen to cut me down to size, to deny my status of Good Enough.
Maybe what I was looking for was "better." We are constantly told to compare ourselves to others -- encouraged in school, in sports, on TV, on Facebook, at work, at church, in the grocery store, in the fitting room. Are you as good as he is? As she is? As we are? If I was smarter, funnier, more spiritual, more pure, more beautiful, more inspiring, more effective, than someone else, I'd be chosen. What a stifling way to live.
But the girl in the apple green coat didn't care that I couldn't make a group of fourth graders obey me. She knew there was something more important. A real-life former student gave me the gift of telling me that I had helped her when she was younger and feeling frustrated and sad, and that she still remembered it 12 years later. I don't remember that day -- I remember the times I failed. But she remembers, and it helped her. The dream girl had my words in her pocket.
We don't know, always, the effects of our actions on others. We aren't necessarily particularly good judges of our enough-ness or goodness. I don't know if my writing or my words or my actions are helping anyone most of the time, but maybe I can remember the girl in my dream, who had looked me up online, and found these words, and found solace. There's a kind of humility required in this trust, that we might not get to see that we've been of use to someone, that we have made life better for them. And, too, there is a humility required to see the times that we have, that we didn't have to try so hard to be good enough, because we already were.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.