“When you compare the sorrows of real-life to the pleasures of the imaginary one, you will never want to live again, only to dream forever.”― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
I think it possible to describe a cold, a common respiratory cold, in such a way that no one, in their right mind, would ever want to experience it. Just the thought of getting a cold sends us to memories of past colds. We recall the dillies, the ones we thought we were going to die from our head exploding because our nose had cemented over.
I’ll stop before you reach for a tissue and imagine a tickle in your throat. Who wants to read about the physiology of the common cold and the misery it has caused humanity? Had I been Adam and Eve snuggled up and said, “Honey, take a bite out of this apple and you’ll soon suffer from respiratory viruses, thousands of them,” I would have found the edge of the garden and thrown it out hoping it hit a snake or two.
If you're of the Darwinian persuasion and the story of Adam and Eve is poppycock, then you no doubt have pondered the origins of viruses and their subsequent evolutionary mutations. Eventually, you have to confront the question of ‘what evolutionary benefit does the common cold serve?’ Well?
It was a Christmas decades ago that I remember a particularly nasty head cold. I was forced to breathe through my mouth, had my pockets stuffed with sodden handkerchiefs, snarled at anything that moved, and grew tipsy drinking Nyquil by the pint (it contained alcohol back in the day). In my misery, I tried one last remedy- I turned to cursing. Feeling every bit the victim, the source of my misery needed to have a stern verbal lashing.
For me, cursing is essentially an irrational prayer offered in anger. It’s a brief but colorfully worded, heated conversation with my antagonist. Instead of a prayer pleading for patience, I damn God as if He picked me from a line-up and blew virus dust up my nose. Why me? But if God is indeed dead or never existed and my misery a result of evolutionary mutations, then I have cursed in vain- like spitting into the wind.
A Detroit sportswriter and popular novelist, Mitch Albom, asked this question of someone acquainted with misery. “Did you feel guilty cursing God--you, of all people?” “No,” he said. “Because even in doing so, I was recognizing there was a greater power than me.” He paused. “And that is how I began to heal.”
Thanks, Mitch, but I still have some guilt.
Ultimately, calm returns to my Christmas. My cold subsides replaced by holiday cheer and gatherings and songs of good tidings. Having survived another round of respiratory misery, I gave no thought to when the next one would invade. Life with all its hopes and dreams resumed its march.
I think it was that same Christmas that John Lennon gave the world ‘Imagine.’ His 1971 song (listen here) encouraged all the world to imagine a universe more perfect than it was or ever has been. With history littered with wars and religions and misery, Lennon sang of peace and harmony and claimed it was easy- all one had to do was try. A beautiful song, which even today, is considered one of the most beloved pieces of music of our time.
John Lennon also imagined a world with no heaven above or hell below. Perhaps he thought religion the reason for war and misery never considering errant evolutionary mutations as a contributor to our inclination towards violence instead of peace. He was a self-described dreamer but not the only one, he sang. He, unfortunately, was taken from us by an evil act of violence. John Lennon was shot to death in front of his apartment in December of 1980.
Even dreamers want company, so John Lennon dreamt of many dreamers all dreaming of a more perfect world. In 1971, Imagine encouraged millions to dream of a utopian garden where borders did not exist and ‘people lived as one.’ A world where anger gave way to peace, envy turned to generosity, and hate was returned with love.
Unfortunately, fifty years later, wars and the threat of wars still exist. Borders still keep people in nation-states and the ‘dreamers’ of the 1970s, now gray and rich, build walls around their estates to remain safe from society’s riff-raff. Gone is the dream of ‘living as one.’ Only envy, hate, and anger know no boundaries.
So our dreams have adapted to a new world. The dream of a color-blind society has turned into a demand not for equality… but for equity. To dream today suggests that accomplishment and excellence be dissuaded and mediocrity held up as the highest standard. That the bargain higher education made with the uneducated, to give them the skills to accomplish great things was just a joke and the money refunded- not by the institutions- but by the taxpayer. And in these years of the pandemic, we have those who claim to speak for science offering up dreams of a world no longer made miserable by a particularly virulent upper respiratory virus. Just take a shot or three, wear a mask, stay away from each other, and this nasty virus will be put back into the bat it came from or the laboratory it was encouraged to grow in. Doesn’t really matter as all the world’s brightest have never eradicated a respiratory virus before.
John Lennon offered us a most worthy dream. Peace, harmony, and love. Interestingly, it is also the message the Christmas story offers. In all our dysfunction today, it is still the message that offers humanity the greatest hope.
To all of us dreamers, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a poem that ends with a question mark. Merry Christmas
“What if you slept And what if In your sleep You dreamed And what if In your dream You went to heaven And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower And what if When you awoke You had that flower in your hand Ah, what then?”