Dreams and nightmares

by Dorothy Day

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The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2008; abridged paperback: New York: Doubleday, 2011).

March 4, 1945
One night I dreamt that I was struck. I have a haunting memory of having read somewhere of a woman being torn to pieces by a mob and I have felt so surrounded by hatred that I was afraid. I wrote to Fr. Hugo and without telling him details, told him of my feeling surrounded by hate but he did not reply, answering only about his own work, his own complaints. We are all so alone.

But how fearful a work this is. I wonder at my presumption and yet I have to go on. I pray for love -- that I may learn to love God, and I am surrounded by such human hatred and dislike that all natural love and companionship is taken from me. Certainly all the joy one has in loving others is taken from me. I can only comfort myself by remembering that vines must be pruned to bear fruit. Love is being cut away to bear more love. I prayed to understand some aspect of the Passion and am oppressed with fear. Which, after all, is what I have prayed for. In the Garden, He began to be afraid. He was “sorrowful and dismayed. My soul, he said, is ready to die with sorrow. He began to be bewildered and dismayed.”

Another thing -- when these accusations begin to rain down upon me, I can see all too clearly that though immediately and specifically not applicable, they are generally true, of the past if not of the present. Like the character in Koestler’s Darkness at Noon I can see how I have been guilty and am suffering only for my sins, past and present.

June 17, 1948. St. Ephraim
Every now and then I have a delightful dream, warm, full of love, of the body as well as the soul, a dream so rich and pervasive that it remains with me for a few days and it is my real life, and my ordinary life but a dream.

I suddenly found myself in a dream with a child -- it must have been mine since I was nursing it, but the child was not real to me. I did not have my joy in it until I suddenly realized I had another baby too, a little colored child to nurse, and I thought, “How wonderful to be a foster mother to a colored baby -- to give it my milk even though I do not seem to have too much!” In my dream I was most conscious of my aged breasts -- somehow they had milk for both, and I woke with a sweet joy -- that particularly tender, warm peace one feels when nursing a baby.

That happiness stayed with me thru a few days so that I wanted to write it down, not to lose it. For even the remembrance of joys is a taste of the joy itself, and gives strength. So I was thinking, and then the more obvious ideas began to haunt me. My breasts were lean, I remembered to have felt them, as I had seen my daughter do, to see at which breast my own baby had nursed last. I began to fret -- was such a dream a sign of my presumption? Was I an empty cistern, trying to refresh others? Was it self-aggrandizement -- this generosity? Was I neglecting my own to help others?
I had the thought -- in my first flush of joy at the sweetness of the dream -- that my dreams certainly were direct, not hidden. But perhaps there are hidden meanings after all.

[These diary entries come from The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg (Marquette University Press). The selections were made by Robert Ellsberg. The paperback edition will be available in October.]

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