When Jan and I were first married, we went on a cruise in the Caribbean. Our room was a cheap windowless enclosure the size of a walk-in closet somewhere near the engine room. About two nights into the cruise, I had a nightmare. I thought we were under attack. At the time, my 24-year-old frame was in top shape, having spent several years training in martial arts.
As the dream-induced fight began, with each punch and kick, I let out a scream, a karate kiai, punching and kicking an imaginary enemy that my nightmarish mind thought was real. Jan later told me she made herself as small as she could and waited. At one point, I jumped up from the floor and snap-kicked the ceiling with the ball of my foot. I can only imagine what the people in the room above us felt when my kick awoke them in the middle of the night, thinking the ship had struck a submerged reef. Finally, I awoke, drenched in sweat to see Jan looking at me with a concerned expression, hoping I was finally awake.
After Jan told me what happened, my first thought was, “The people on the ship must think I was killing Jan.” I opened the door to our room and looked both ways up and down the hall. Heads were poking out of doorways with expressions of concern looking for the source of the mayhem. In a somewhat weak and embarrassed voice, I tried to assure them all was well and spoke loud enough for everyone to hear, “I am sorry for all the noise. It was a bad dream.”
I recalled that incident this morning, realizing people may feel like they are living in a bad dream – a cultural nightmare. Viruses, racism, and brutality are in a nightmarish clash. None of us reacts perfectly to these issues when they appear. People can hear our words or watch our responses to the cultural nightmare and judge our first response, thinking that is our reality. What we all need is enough time to wake up and regain our composure to reconsider and reevaluate our initial response.
Jan modeled wisdom that night in our “stateroom” 45 years ago. She kept her head down and waited for me to come to my senses. I think that would be wise for all of us to model at this moment in history when life seems to be a nightmare and out of control.