Secret Selves

Last night a dream about my father awakened me. He died last February at the age of 96. In the dream my older brother and I were talking to him about the Holocaust. As a young man my dad had escaped the rise of the Nazis in Germany by leaving the country. He rarely talked about these events. Most of what I know comes from a memoir he wrote some years ago.

My brother and I were trying to discuss the Holocaust with him in the dream and we had a book cover we were showing him — from a book by a Jewish writer. Suddenly he grabbed the book cover out of my hands and tried to rip it or crumble it. His emotions were entirely surprising. I questioned him, “Dad, what are you so angry about? What is it?”

At this, he stopped trying to destroy the book cover. Visibly upset, he looked at us. “I guess I still have very strong feelings about these things,” he said. Then he reached out to me, put his head on my shoulder and began to sob. I held him in utter sympathy and astonishment.

Then I woke up. I cannot tell you how far this dream of my father is from my actual experiences of him. In the dream it was as if he was showing me an entirely different side of himself, one he had never dared show my brother and me previously. I knew him as very private, practical and cordial — and always in emotional control when it came to his largely unspoken past.

Maybe in spirit form he is sending me a message.

If so, I would say it is a mysterious one about a secret self never revealed to his sons.

And maybe it is also a fact we all have such secret selves, sides of who we are that are unresolved but well covered by reason and conclusion, by little speeches that seem to say we’ve plumbed the depths and know what they mean. Except we don’t and maybe never will. Maybe there is shame in these things and that is why we want to keep them hidden, maybe regret, maybe hurt or fear, so they become boarded off, a locked room that no longer requires our inner attention.

And maybe the way is that whatever happens in the evolution of the human spirit, in the quest to become ourselves, we have to go back and unlock all such rooms, bringing light to these spaces and sharing them with those we love. Maybe we must do it even after death, so strong is the need.

Stump and Dried Flowers

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  • Theresa Lawrence wrote:

    Love it, Dan! So glad I found your site via the wonders of social media!

  • Thank you, Theresa!

  • Byron Murray wrote:


    My first post on your blog. In reading about your dream there are many connections. I just lost my mother in April and have been going through all the many processes that entails. LIke you I believe that dreams tell us to explore some of the many depths and dimensions that make us human beings. My mother’s death brought several issues for me and I will share those separately with you sometime but one is the idea of connections – those many doors that we should open and look into. One for me was family. Several cousins reconnected with me that I had lost touch with and helped me through the process. I remember one of your seminars where you talked about connections not in a networking vein but more in a spiritual sense. That is one of the doors that I have opened and with small steps am on that journey. I am finding it is more emotional than practical (go figure). Thanks for sharing this post.

    Your Friend

    Byron Murray

  • Thank you for writing, Byron. It’s great to hear from you!

    I am touched to hear about your own recent story. I love your line about the “many doors that we should open and look into.”

    Indeed, connections to me are much more than networking; they are about meeting the whole person, through acts and dialogue that reach past the dross of everydayness to what’s genuine and meaningful — whether or not this exactly fits with some social convention or self-expectation. I believe that what is called “practical” by some people is just code for being cut off from self or denying self, and failing to open exactly those doors that need to be opened for our inner and outer sake.

    Luckily, the heart has its own ways of speaking if we become locked up in such a way. It won’t let us simply deny our growth. We are given experiences, dreams, moods, signs. It sits on us until we are ready to be pushed out of practical and into being. In the long run — and if you want to live a good life — what could be more “practical” than learning to live that?

  • With his permission, I want to share an email from Carl Palmer related to this post. It is so strange how connections build upon connections. He wrote me, saying:

    “Your dream was touching, might have been spurred by the president’s visit to Buchenwald.

    Here’s a poem that I wrote that you may enjoy, Dan.”


    Wheel-chaired into the lobby
    from his assisted care room,

    the elderly Jewish gentleman
    squints into bright camera lights,

    accepts the lottery check,
    smiles at the television crew.

    A newspaper reporter asks,
    Was this a computer pick

    or did you already have
    some numbers in mind?

    He focuses on her microphone,
    as his hand rubs the sleeve

    of the frayed gray sweater
    covering his faded blue tattoo

    I will shortly place this poem in the Favorite Leadership Poems section of this blog. Thank you, Carl. Your poem is beautiful.

  • Dan – what a profound dream you shared. Your recollection of it is quite detailed. I do believe that our loved ones from the other side can reach out to us through dreams.

    About a month ago I was very saddened upon awakening. I had dreamt of my mother in her final days before dying from a brain tumor in Jan. ’08. I commented to my husband how I longed for a dream about my mother when she was healthy, that would not make me feel sad. Much to my suprise, I awakened the very next morning with a smile on my lips and my mood very elevated. Mom appeared in my dream, and it was just like old times. I was amazed how that lifted my spirits the entire day. Maybe that dream was Mom’s way of comforting me from above.

  • Thank you, Deb. What a loving story. Dreams indeed are so much closer to the other side.

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