Occasionally, sleep produces lessons that are so obvious that we miss the meaning entirely. And how to tell what is the right interpretation? That’s where dream books and web sites enter the picture. Google alone offers hundreds of sites, many promising thousands of “free” interpretations.

And if you believe the “free” part, may I suggest that you are, indeed, dreaming.

The dream in question placed me in a smoky, dimly lit restaurant, my back to a wall lined with photos of powerful men – the sort of place where Washington’s movers and shakers gather to drink their lunch from goblets filled with martinis. My table, though, hosted classmates – all older women now, all staring at one of our number who’d had a face-lift.

The results were spectacular. We all said so.

In fact, her restored face reminded me of our high school days when we equated beauty with the prospect for great success. For us, that meant marriage to the type of men whose pictures lined the restaurant’s walls. Without good looks? Well. We would likely be “out to lunch.”

Gazing at our classmate’s renewed looks, I remembered that she had married a man who likely was pictured behind me. If she’d been born 40 years later? How different her life might have been. I tried to say so, my words stumbling. She replied with the only words I would remember, “You’re beginning to piss me off.”

The dream shifted. I was standing in a circle of women, hair covered by scarves, discussing the need for more schools for girls. Nearby, children in cheap, cotton uniforms ran about a dirt field beyond dusty, cinderblock-walled classrooms.

The women – American and local Jordanian government officials – spoke with accustomed authority. All had hurdled high barriers to reach their current positions.

And, then, I was back in Washington, standing outside a basement cafeteria on Capitol Hill, surrounded by small groups of networking men and women in their 20s – staffers, obviously, some of the many who flock to Washington to jump start their careers.

I knew they had diverse backgrounds; some had already overcome major challenges. But one and all, they expected a life holding marriage, children, and various degrees of professional and personal success.

I woke up then.

“You’re beginning to piss me off.” My classmate’s words bounced around my head. Why?

I’d not said anything offensive to her, had just spoken a home truth about gender and opportunity ... or lack thereof for our generation. Certainly, that’s what the rest of the dream had illustrated.

Except, maybe there was a larger truth. Maybe, she was “beginning” to be pissed off because I’d missed the fact that she’d done her best with what she’d been given.

Maybe, that’s the proper interpretation of my dream sequence. A free one, too. Maybe the dream was only intended as a reminder that each and every one of us face new challenges and opportunities with each year, each generation, and each shift in our core culture.

So, here’s a “free” wish: Happy New Year.

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