“Life is a dream.”

I looked up from my speech as my best friend, Mike, sat down across from me. “What?”

“The title of my new screenplay. ‘Life is a Dream.’ It’s an allegorical film arguing that all of life is just an illusion and a dream, making our struggles and goals futile.”

“Interesting. Depressing, but interesting. Isn’t there already a play with that title?”

Mike sighed. “Yeah. I have to work on that. Maybe I’ll change the name somewhat. Anyway, I’m pretty excited about the idea. Take your speech, for example. In a dream, you wouldn’t bother working hard on a speech, because it wouldn’t matter. No matter what you do, you can’t achieve anything in a dream. So, if life is a dream, your writing this speech is pointless—because it’s not real.”

I smiled sardonically at him. “Thank you, Mikey. That’s always what someone wants to hear right before a big presentation—that it’s all pointless anyway. Look, I’d like to discuss this more with you—later. Right now, I've got to work on my speech.”

“Is the banter always part of the dream?”

The question brought me back to the present, and instead of answering, I took a moment to gaze around the room. We were seated in a small room, pristine and neat, with our chairs, a bookshelf against the far wall, and an antique clock its only furnishings. The sparseness of the room lent it a professional air; an observer would describe it as efficient, or clinical, but not comfortable.

Dr. Cooper, seated across from me, repeated her question.

“Sorry, Doctor. Um . . . I guess so, more or less. The exact dialogue changes, depending on the dream. Some nights we talk more about Mike’s screenplay, sometimes less. But the dream always starts the same way. I’m working on something important—a speech this time; other times a proposal or a book—and Mike approaches me and declares that . . . life is a dream.”

Dr. Cooper nodded. “Interesting. In this dream, how similar is the dream version of you to the real you?”

“In some ways, pretty similar. In others, not at all. In the dream, I’m on the verge of success but not quite there. I’m just finishing the touches of something that will make me big—my first book or, last night, my first public speech before some committee. The details of what I’m working on or who it’s for are usually pretty vague. Anyway, when the dream starts, I’m just finishing up.”

“OK. Let’s take last night’s dream, when you were writing a speech. What happened next?”

“Great speech.”

“Really, absolutely phenomenal. The way you explained the concepts involved—”

“I have to agree. I’ve never heard these ideas expressed so eloquently.”

I nodded and smiled, allowing myself to bask in the glow of their praise. Seeing Mike approaching, I excused myself and headed towards him. “So, what did you think?”

“Well, buddy, I didn’t understand a word, so I think that means it was pretty good. How do you feel?”

“I . . . don’t know. I should feel good, but to be honest, I don’t really feel anything. Isn’t that odd?”

“No. It’s just like I was saying—life is a dream. No, don’t roll your eyes. Listen to me for a moment. You know when you have a dream, and you’re really trying to reach something, but you can’t? Like there’s this big banquet you want to eat, and you spend the whole dream trying to eat it, but you never do? It’s like that. You’re not satisfied with your accomplishments because you didn’t really accomplish anything. It's like you’re dreaming—nothing you do is real.”

“Okay, seriously, Mikey, cut it out with the dream stuff. You’re bumming me out.”

“Prove me wrong, then. What did you just speak about?”

I started to answer him, but found my mind oddly foggy, the details of my speech slipping from recollection. “I’m tired right now, Mikey. I don’t want to—don’t smile like that! This is ridiculous, Mike. The fact that I can’t remember my speech does not prove anything—I mean, come on! Don’t you think I’d know if I was dreaming?”

Mike leaned forward, his look oddly intent. “No, I don’t. Have you ever had a dream and wondered to yourself if it was real? So, you decide to test it out. You touch the wall, or try to wake up. Sometimes, you realize it is a dream, and you do wake up. Other times, however, you don’t, and become convinced the dream is real. It’s only when you wake up that you realize it was a dream. That’s what this is. You’re dreaming, dreaming the dream of life, and you’re so deep in the dream you can’t even tell it’s not real. But you need to stop dreaming. You need to. Wake. Up.”

“And that, every night, is when I wake up.”

Dr. Cooper nodded. “Well, psychology generally advocates not paying too much attention to dreams, but since this is a recurring dream and one that bothers you, I think it’s worth discussing. What do you suppose it means?”

“Well, I’m struggling right now, career-wise. I’m not really sure which path to take. Maybe the dream is my subconscious self telling me that I’m on the wrong road—that my life is without purpose. Maybe the idea is that, if I continue down this road, I’ll look back, years later, and struggle to find meaning in my actions.”

“Perhaps. And, as I’ve already mentioned, we have to be cautious about assigning too much meaning to dreams. But, if I may, I’d like to suggest a different explanation. At the end of your dream, your friend—Mike, right?—well, he compares life to a dream that you’ve convinced yourself is reality. If you think about it, however, dreams are real, at least on a lesser scale. What you’re dreaming is taking place—inside your mind. Just not physically. When you wake up, you wake up to the physical reality. Compared to that, dreams seem illusory and unimportant.

“Your dream, I think, is arguing that life is the same. It’s real, but there’s a greater truth—a greater reality—that makes life seem like a dream in comparison.”

I stared at her. “Huh? What on earth does that mean?”

The sound of knocking interrupted us.

Dr. Cooper glanced at her watch. “I’d really like to continue this further, but my next appointment is here. Perhaps I can see you another time?”

I shook my head, unsatisfied with her answer. I tried to ask her to explain, but I couldn’t focus over the sound of the knocking, which had grown from a faint, distant noise to an overwhelming clamor, incessantly clobbering inside my head and scrambling my thoughts.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

I surge awake, staring blindly around me for a moment before I recognize my surroundings. I’m in my room, my friend Mike sitting across from me, an annoyed expression on his face. His hand is lifted to knock on the table again, but he lets it fall. On the table are two open books of MaimonidesMishneh Torah.

“Well, welcome back to the world of the living. I didn’t know I was that boring.”

I rub my eyes. “Sorry, Mike, I didn’t get much sleep last night, and I’ve been working on . . .” I sigh. “Sorry. You asked me something?”

“Yeah. We were learning what Maimonides says, that a person should serve G‑d because it is the truth and he loves the truth. And I asked you a question, which must have been really riveting, because you fell asleep.”

I glare at him. “Look, I said I’m sorry, Mikey. What was the question?”

“I asked you: even if Judaism is the truth, how does someone who’s never known the truth recognize it when he sees it?”

I lean back in my chair and slowly smile. “I guess it’s like waking up from a dream.”