I was walking down the hill that leads towards my grandmother's apartment building. I was talking to my boss (strangely) who was discussing my job performance. Although I was doing well, she said that I should be doing so much more. And not in a "better at my job" sense; in an "improving the world" sense. She reminded me that I'd scored the second-highest ever score in their application test (a test that was laughably complex in any real world job less than, say, genius-level government think tank, butmy brain still thinks in terms of SATs and achievement tests; they were only part of my life from the time I was 4 until the time I was 29). The only higher score was the perfect score some savant kid got, and it turned out he didn't work well with others (he wasn't high-functioning enough; I don't mean that he was some asshole).
So I looked up the ridge across the street from my grandmother's to see this new high-rise they were building, and suddenly my mother and grandmother had replaced my boss, and were talking about the stresses the building materials were under, and how I should be able to endure much, much more. But in looking at the unfinished skeleton of iron girders, I thought back to my work with polarized light and how it was used in stress analysis. I felt like I could 'see' the structural weaknesses, and what I saw wasn't reassuring. Additionally, they were building the thing with some kind of overhang (to increase square-footage?) and it all looked very precarious.
We went inside the building and into this common area that doesn't exist IRL, where folks and families were milling about, sitting together, chit-chatting, etc. I generally hate idle chit-chat, so I wandered over to the window and looked out and up. I saw them lifting girders into place for the new building, and I expressed concern that their path went over the front end of the room we were in. I moved to the back of the room and encouraged my family members to do the same. I wasn't worried enough to raise a general alarm or anything. My mom came with me, but my grandmother was talking to one of her friends. My mom started talking to me, I forget what about but likely something related to her current brand of religious fundamentalism. Whatever it was, it got me mad enough to take my focus off of my grandmother. So when the cable on the crane frayed and snapped, dropping a huge girder across the other end of the room, I had no idea where my grandmother was. Real world problem that worked its way into my dream: She's been having trouble with her phone, making it hard to get in touch with her. So I basically have to tell my mom to shut up and tell me if she can remember seeing my grandmother leave (can't go check because the exit is blocked). We take turns calling her until I finally get through. My (normally-unflappable) grandmother is in tears, totally shaken up (but alive) by her brush with death (she'd left the room just moments before to get something from her apartment). And I'm kicking myself for not having been able to do something, or stop it, be more sure in my prediction.
And then things sort of stop for a moment. Time stops, or I stop paying attention to it. In my head, I go into my brain and observe all these many counterfactual scenarios that are zooming around. And I'm looking at all these "what I should have done" moments and they're all insane and not at all realistic, like lifting the girder with super-strength (as if it's my fault for not being Superman or the Thing or Tony Stark).
Because fuck it, let's face it, I'm addicted to helping. It's all fine and well to say I need to be less accommodating and life for myself, and so on, but what's left when that's all I am? I am a little engine of change powered by self-doubt, a furnace that forges equal parts empathy and solutions. I know that's not true, that I'm nothing if I'm not that guy who's always there for someone, always willing to help, always ready to sacrifice. I don't know what it'll be. I worry that, as an overcorrection, I'll start acting like some kind of jerk or asshole or jerk-asshole hybrid. I worry that I'll lose my friends. I worry that it won't be me. All that typical bullshit.
And as I lay there, realizing I was now awake, working through my thoughts like Rain Man trying to solve "Who's on First?" I thought of the story from Astro City about the hero (Samaritan, the Superman analogue) who dreams in his brief dreams of flying, free of the responsibility of caring for the people on the ground below him. Free of having to fly, non-stop, around the globe to stop endless catastrophes. With nothing to fix, and, more importantly, nothing to fail at. Because I imagine what gnaws away at Superman most (I'd say keeps him up at night, but I don't actually know if/how he sleeps) are all the things he couldn't fix, all the people he couldn't save. Being helpful can be a terrible, oppressive responsibility, especially if it's essential to your self-concept, or, like me, it's where you derive your sense of self-worth.
I'm working on internal validation, but man is it ever hard to switch a vehicle from one fuel source to another, especially if the latter is scarce.