Ever since I graduated from college, I have had a recurring dream. My wife has had it, too, as well as a lot of other people I know. In my dream, it is time to take an exam and I am unprepared. I have not gone to classes all semester. I failed to do the reading. Usually, I am even a little confused about the subject matter. What was being taught? Who was teaching? What was I supposed to learn? No answers are provided. Now it is too late to make up for lost time. With a sense of approaching catastrophe, I realize that although I am about to be tested, I haven’t a clue how to pass.
What is the meaning of this peculiar dream? I was never that nervous about taking tests in real life, because I was a fairly good student. Why does it seem to be a fixture of our collective unconscious? Surely it concerns something more than lingering classroom jitters.
I think it is a dream about the Great Examination that each of us must face. The items on the exam are the Ultimate Questions: Who am I? What do I want? What am I afraid of? To whom (or what) am I committed? Where is my own highest good calling me?
This is not just a dream about academic anxieties or forgetting the dates of the Magna Carta. It is about forgetting our own reason for being.
We have one lifetime (that we know about), and no make-ups are allowed. Is it any wonder we are all tossing and turning in our sleep? By the time morning comes, we have to be ready to give some account of ourselves. Sooner or later, we have to answer for how we choose to spend our lives.