"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp-or what's a heaven for?"
-Robert Browning (1812-1889)
I was nine, living out the unfortunate fashion legacy of the 80's, on any given day sporting Jams and jellies or leg warmers and Keds, and devouring Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret when no one was looking. I was ugly and I knew it, like an English Bulldog puppy. The kind of ugly that tugs at heartstrings and causes onlookers to want to scoop her up, fix her a cup of cocoa, swipe the smudges from her pink plastic glasses, and entertain her wild ideas.
A fair amount of my time was spent watching surgeries/procedures, studying oddities that my Dad retrieved from the stomachs of his equine patients, and exploring the barns and acreage around his veterinary clinic. I enjoyed the dual citizenship extended in childhood, dividing my days between reality and imaginary worlds that spun themselves into convincing, more entertaining versions of the truth with colorful landscapes and curious culinary creations.
I was an odd little girl, (which may be the most redundant phrase ever uttered, following the previous paragraphs.) I wrote myself into mystery stories. I concocted ridiculous diary entries that chronicled the life of a more ordinary and attractive girl. (If someone were to find that little diary, some day, which is hopefully decomposing nicely in a landfill somewhere in Oklahoma, they'd be bored to tears and think I lived a very different life...with platinum blond braids.) That was the year I decided on my career path: I would attend Harvard Law School followed by a brief, but spectacular stint as a lawyer before being appointed to a judgeship which would of course, lead me directly to my seat as Chief Justice of The Supreme Court. I was nine--where are the dizzy daydreams of riding unicorns over rainbows (both of which enjoyed popularity in the 80's thanks to Rainbow Brite, The Care Bears, and Hippies having children) or wanting to be a Marine biologist and work at Sea World when I grew up?
My Mom and Dad encouraged this phantasmic life plan. I was really good at Memory so, you know, I was already qualified.
It never occurred to my adolescent self that I might not be the Chief Justice, or attend Harvard, for that matter. These things were guaranteed because in my other world, my imaginary world, I had already lived them.
My imaginary world was as easily accessible as my back yard. It wasn't until I was fourteen that it started to crumble. Reality came crashing down and the pillars of my youth showed deep and unsettling cracks. I began to question everything. Pragmatism emerged as an important ally in the days after my Dad left and my Mother couldn't stand up underneath the sadness that enveloped her. Dreaming, planning, writing, inventing, creating, were dismissed (by me) as childish and I no longer had the luxury of being a child. I locked the door to that world of dreams and tossed away the key.
A recent commenter on Jen Lemen's All That Glitters... post said this about dreams, "Perhaps the greatest threat to our dreams is what we do with them when they do not pan out..."
I have thought about this for a number of days now. I've thought about it in the context of my own life and how it applies to my daughters. I want my girls to wander through these adolescent years, unscathed by fear or pain.
But the idea that there is no pain and fear associated with dreaming is obviously absurd. Dreams and hope are as linked as fear and hope. Fear being a rope that binds, strangulates; dreams being the breath of inspiration; and hope the common ground between the two.
I want my girls to entertain dreams as possibilities. I want them to embrace potential and to understand that when a dream changes shape, it is not a death.
To reach, to dance, to follow the white rabbit, to collect keys to unknown doors, to dare, to imagine, to dig deep, to get dirty, to peel back,to question, to seek, to know...
And then I think of the odd little girl I once was, riding fences through a wilderness of infirmities, and I wonder why I did not volunteer those same ideals to her. Perhaps it was because she and I had not lived through the pain of hope differed. Perhaps she and I mistakenly thought that disappointment meant the blanket eviction of higher plans and not merely the restructuring of them. Perhaps she and I were naive in thinking that dreams are aspirations, goals to be attained, when perhaps they are meant to be forshadowing chapter titles in the unfolding story of who we are becoming.
I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask them where they're going and hook up with them later.
-Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005)
Do you read Jen Lemen? No? Well, go and make yourself a cup of tea, cancel your lunch date, pull up the comfiest bit of couch you have and settle in. She is an amazing soul. And how very fortunate for the rest of us that she is also a gifted writer and artist, drawing pictures of life and purpose in our heads with her words.
She has been talking about dreams for the last little while on her blog. (Seriously, click over and read just a couple of her posts, today. It will change the way you look at the lady who just stole your parking place at the grocery store, and that annoying neighbor, and your mother in law, and that vaguely familiar face in the mirror...)