82: Hold Fast to Your Dreams

82: Hold Fast to Your Dreams

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Hold Fast to Your Dreams

Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.

~Edgar Cayce

I should have known I was having a dream, but somehow you never do when you’re in the middle of it. You never just stop in the middle of a dream and say, “Wait. Really? Circus clowns in my classroom, and I’m walking on a tightrope? This must be a dream!”

So I didn’t jolt myself awake that night in May of 2003 when I found myself standing at the doorway of an old mountain cabin, asking the wizened caretaker if it was safe for me to venture out to my car, since I’d heard there were bobcats in the woods.

“Oh, go ahead, you’ll be fine,” he assured me. “There aren’t any bobcats around here.” But immediately a terrifying bobcat lunged out of the woods and began furiously circling around me. I opened the door to the cabin and let him in, but soon he was pushing out of the door I was struggling to keep closed. I braced against the door with all my weight, but he was too strong for me, and he pushed the door open, dragging out a large, whimpering dog in his jaws.

End of dream.

The next night, the bobcat appeared in the doorway of my husband’s parents’ house, circling around me. On the third night, it clawed on the outside of the tent I was sleeping in with a little baby. It burst in and dragged the baby away. I awoke and knew that something was very wrong. But what?

I knew to be attentive to dreams like this — dreams that come in twos or threes, or dreams that have a recurring theme—because, decades ago, my friend Gloria had had a troubling dream about riding on a horse that, in the middle of a jump, lay down and died. Get to the doctor today, advised her friend, the Jungian dream analyst. And sure enough, she had a large ovarian mass.

My own mother died of ovarian cancer, and I had been faithful about my own surveillance for the disease. For over a decade I’d had the CA-125 blood test and an ultrasound every six months. Even though they are notoriously unreliable, they are still the only tests available for this deadly disease, and I was not going to be caught off-guard. So I knew that if I ever had a dream about horses stopping a jump mid-air and lying down and dying, I should get in to see the gynecologist.

But what could my dream mean? For several weeks I tried to pay attention. I had two friends who had studied dreams, and both Jeannie and Patty said that cats are often an indication of female energy. I couldn’t relate to that. For my money, the dream was more about the dog that was being dragged out of the cabin, or the baby dragged out of the tent. I was going through a hard time that spring, and wondered if the dream was about my fears of being dragged away from the work I love. “Most dreams don’t work that way,” they told me. “Pay attention to the cat.”

And then, as so often happens with heavenly messages, the dream began to lose its power. I was busy teaching Scripture, busy teaching people to pray, busy teaching people how to hear God. Busy, as it turned out, dying.

The following January I was giving a retreat at the beautiful Trappist monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. The Trappists invite the retreatants to pray the liturgy of the hours with them in true monastic fashion. And so at 4 a.m., we all walked in frigid silence down the mountain dirt road to the chapel, lit by a single bulb in the dark night.

After Lauds, I foolishly left my flashlight with some in our group who wanted to stay to pray so that they could go up the mountain later. I walked out into the pitch-black night, took a wrong turn and was immediately, dangerously lost. I walked in the freezing winter night, walked until the light from that solitary lantern was lost, walked until, desperate, I turned off the road and made my way to a cabin in the distance.

While standing on the porch of the old cabin, I heard some stirring in the bushes. I caught my breath as I remembered that we had just sung Psalm 104—“You give the lions their food in due season” — and then, standing at the doorway of the old mountain cabin, my dream of eight months earlier came back to me. I had walked right into my dream.

Is this what it was all about? Is that how dreams work? Had I been given a preview of my own horrible “death by bobcat”? And if so, what possible good was that? Why have prophetic dreams if we don’t have the tools to unlock them in time?

I stood absolutely still, and the rustling stopped. Soon the sun came up over the valley, and I could see the retreat center, way off in the distance. I made my way back just in time to join the group as they were once again going down the mountain for Morning Prayer.

I returned to Denver pondering all of this, astonished that I had once again been visited by the dream, only this time while very much awake! But almost immediately I was tired—too tired to work, too tired to move, too tired to investigate strange, recurring dreams. And when the quarterly newsletter from NOCC (the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition) arrived in the mail, I noticed that extreme fatigue was listed as one of the symptoms of the disease. I called my gynecologist and said, “It’s happened. I have ovarian cancer.”

From that moment, the moment I finally recognized it and named it, the dream stopped chasing me, circling me, signaling to me that my “female energy” was being eaten alive by a ten-centimeter tumor. Many months later, after the emergency hysterectomy and months of chemotherapy, I asked my oncologist how long he thought that tumor had been growing. “Probably about ten months,” he said. The very same time that the dreams appeared.

On March 24, 2014, I reached a milestone too few women with this cancer ever reach—the victorious ten-year mark. I am the longest living survivor of ovarian cancer at the Rocky Mountain Cancer at Rose Medical Center in Denver.

I will always wonder about this dream, and the dream that preceded it, the one my friend Gloria had years earlier, the one about the horse lying down to die. She couldn’t have realized that sometimes the dream sent to one finds its fuller meaning in the telling to another. And with that same sense of wonder I tell it now to you.

~Kathy McGovern

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