Redeeming the Time: A Convergence of Attention, Prayer and Dream by Catherine Kober
Redeeming the Time: A Convergence of Attention, Prayer and Dream by Catherine Kober

Volume 2 , Issue 3

This is the story of apatient?s dream, my dream. Though I am a psychoanalyst, I am also an analysand, and it is my experience as dreamer and patient that is the subject of the present meditation. The dream whirled through my sleep with overtones of nightmare, and would have become nightmarish to recall and terrible to think of, were it not for two converging influences. One was the silent but palpable attention of my therapist, Dr. Martin. The other was the Siddur, the Hebrew prayerbook, which Idiscovered only a few months ago, after years of wandering further and further away from my Jewish origins. Together, these two forces transformed the dream, dragged into the session against tremendous resistance, into an ongoing source of revelation. The dream-work continues, and this is its exploration.

The dream slipped from memory as I woke from it, leaving a solemn quiet. I did not think to take stillness as a clue to the sense of the dream. Resistance was in place, and it remained established through most of that morning's session. Snatches of dream flickered in and out of my awareness but were never spoken. A momentary flash of legs against a dark background. Chiaroscuro -- something wrong with the legs.

The fragmented perceptions finally grew so vivid that the couch seemed to give way, and I fell, terrified, into the dream. The scream in the pit of my belly processed itself into words. I was compelled to speak. I managed to tell Dr. Martin that his office had disappeared and I was in a house, in the basement. At first the house seemed to be the psycho-therapy clinic where I work, and the downstairs room, my office. I was with a former patient, a nine year old girl whose cerebral palsy had slightly twisted her legs.

I remembered her legs. When our work together ended, she had requested that I photograph her legs -- in segments. I gave her the photos as a goodbye gift, hesitating, because the segments did not fit together when the photographs were lined up. As I now lay on Dr. Martin's couch rememberingthe dream, the child and the photographs, I imagined my young patient's legs against a near-black background. One segment, then another.

Dr. Martin had been quiet as the dream emerged, yet his presence was definite. The sense of an Other. Inwardly, I leaned against the Presence as if it were a wall, and remembered my mother's legs.

My mother's legs were paralyzed. She had multiple sclerosis for as long as I remember her alive. She died when I was eight. During the last years of her illness, the family lived in California. My father and I, along with a cook and secretary/governess, lived in the main house. My mother was confined to a cottage across the lawn. The purpose of this arrangement was to spare me the constant reminder of my mother's moribund condition. In effect, she was treated like an optical illusion, a mirage. Her death was treated the same way. The secretary/governess informed me of it, and it was seldom mentioned again. I was not to mourn, and for years and years I could not mourn.

In the course of many therapies, and especially my work with Dr. Martin I would sometimes weep for my mother, even tell her I missed her. But as the years went by, I came to have the feeling of wanting a formal period of mourning, a time to sit in grief, like Demeter sitting at the rim of Hades. As I came to be more in contact with my Jewish heritage, 1 missed the experience of sitting shiva, of being alone with the grief but in the presence of another.

The clinic/house in the dream, reminded me of the cottage. But it was not quite the cottage. A man, never seen, was present. He was in charge of the clinic. There was a sense that the child was no longer my patient, that care for her was being given over to someone else, and that the work would no longer take place in the basement. Telling Dr. Martin I had been praying. For some weeks before the dream I had stretched beyond the bitter agnosticism of my father's circle of literary friends and had reclaimed the Siddur. On the night of the dream I lingered with subliminal pain on one evening prayer. ?...In Your hand arc the souls of the living and the dead, (as it is written): for in His hand is the soul of every living thing and the spirit of every human being. In your hand I commit my spirit; You have liberated me, Lord, Almighty of Truth.? Before that night, when I came upon that prayer I would fight with it. ?If the dead are in Your hands, how come so many died so horribly? What of my mother whose death stretched over eight years?? But on the night of the dream the fight was out of me. ?Into Your hands I commit my spirit,? and I fell slowly and uneasily to sleep.

The prayers returned as I lay on Dr. Martin's couch, feeling that I was in the basement of the clinic contemplating the photographs of legs, and the child who was being transferred ?for healing? Remembering the child who had been my patient, I thought of the child I had been. And I thought of my mother. ?Into Your hands,? I wept, drenching the couch with tears, thinking of the dream, the soul of my mother and the troubled eight-year-old surviving her.

The name of the clinic is The New Hope Guild.

Subtly, the clinic of the dreamed, and the more developed dream within the session re-established themselves as Dr. Martin's office. I was once again aware of his presence. He sat still and I lay and wept in silence. We were almost out of time.

What time were we almost out of? Time had' become condensed. I remembered a session in which we had spoken of the Jewish concept of a six-day creation. Dr. Martin, who did not take this teaching literally, still found joy in it. ?See what can happen in a week?? he had said. I thought about time as the session moved to its conclusion -- time remembered, perhaps time redeemed. A moment left. Not a moment, that stretched over time, but time compacted to a moment, the pulse of an artery, and then another. Grief, silence and presence. The session ended with my feeling that I had sat shiva, or had begun to. Perhaps the sitting shiva is now established in my soul, and I will return to it now and again and now.

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