Obama's Fellowship of the Dream

12/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

This was a great election cycle for dreamworkers. For the first time that I am aware of, dreams were part of the public conversation about who each of the candidates were and what they stood for. Sheila Heti from Toronto set up blogs for people to share their dreams about the candidates, and contributions came in from all over the world. The resulting blog compilations garnered press attention, and also the attention of many dream researchers.

I read from the dream reports on my radio show more than once, because there was something fascinating about viewing the election, and the cultural mood, in terms of what ordinary people all over were dreaming about the candidates. They begged the question: What do dreams reveal? Do they reveal truths about people and events, or do they ultimately reveal more about ourselves?

My colleague Kelly Bulkeley had also been collecting election dreams and looking for patterns in how conservative and liberal Americans dream. After I blogged about a dream I'd had of Obama, Kelly noted that he had been getting a lot of assassination dreams from people. He wondered whether these reflected the fear that the heightened idealism of hope and change in this country would also stir up the dangerous shadow elements of our culture.

This was mid-October, when the McCain/Palin campaign was all about prodding the slumbering beast of racial hatred, the economy was in free-fall, and the national intensity-o-meter was cranked up to eleven, all the time. I was not an over-the-top Obama supporter, but thought that he was running an excellent campaign and had the potential to be a very good president. I thought about Kelly's comment long and hard. Were we fated to re-enact the dreadful myth of the hero who dies too young, of promise left unfulfilled, or was there a chance that a different story could emerge? Could Obama be less like a Kennedy and more like, say, a Mandela?

That night I had a very short, dream. In it, a whole group of us were in the White House as part of a new government. We were policy people, legislators, cabinet and staff members all working together, making decisions about how to run the country. At the same time we were consciously putting on a play, re-enacting a myth. Every one of us had a different part, and Obama was playing the role of Frodo.

I have never been good at predicting events -- I can't even choose the quickest line at the grocery store -- but I had a good feeling on waking from this dream. To the degree that the dream might reflect external events, it seemed to be reinforcing the notion first of all that Obama would survive, and succeed at the challenge he had set for himself. Second, it emphasized the importance of the Fellowship to his success. As is so often the case, a leader is only as good as the team around him -- and because I was part of that group, that meant that his team was not just the government but everybody.

Frodo is a reluctant hero in the Lord of the Rings, but the important thing is that he wins. He destroys the Ring, in part because he is such an unlikely candidate to do the job. He lives a long life, although on his journey he takes a hit which pains him long after the battle is won. As cultural myths go, I was happy that my dream had provided this one as a viable alternative to the tragic one that was foremost in so many people's minds.

On election night I watched MSNBC as the returns came in. When the race was called, they interviewed Rep. John Lewis and asked him to reflect on this historic moment in terms of the struggle for civil rights in this country. His voice laden with emotion, he said, "Sometimes I think it was like a drama. We all had roles to play." I thought again of my dream, and how every day as we do the work before us, we too are enacting roles in a larger drama.

Joseph Campbell famously said, "A myth is a public dream, a dream is a private myth." I don't know whether, in the end, our private dreams can change the myths of our culture, or even predict them. My dream certainly reflects my personal feeling that however it happens, change at that level is possible. But even in the terms of the dream, nothing comes by simply walking around in costume, mouthing lines.

There is real work involved, real decisions on critical issues which need to be made in order for the drama to play out as we hope. With a decent leader finally at the helm, and a nation of people willing to put in the effort, I believe we can surmount the tremendous obstacles which prevent us from being the country we have the potential to be. And I will be casting my vote for this to be true, every night from here on out.