Dreams are a funny business. Some people spend their whole life chasing, reaching out, trying to get them, but rarely are they a catch-all to happiness if reached. Some people are empowered by their dreams. They can rejuvenate and re-energize. Others grow bitter and despondent at the things in life that never were or never will be.
As kids we dream of the world. I remember when I was young. My dad had a map of the United States hanging in his shop. In my mind, through my young eyes, it’s still ten feet across, but in reality I’m sure it was much less. San Francisco, New York, Miami, Texas. They were like faraway treasures only seen in movies. Our town wasn’t even a faint dot on the map. Population 1,200 doesn’t show up at that scale. The Grand Canyon, giant redwood trees, the rolling ocean, and the Empire State Building filled my imagination. The world seemed endless. And I hadn’t even begun to think beyond the U.S.
By 23 I had talked my way into a 16-day, solo motorcycling camping trip for my final three credits of college. I dipped my toes into the Pacific ocean, gazed across the Grand Canyon, and drove through the smoldering heat of Death Valley in late June and the snow-capped Rocky Mountains near the top of the world. I’d lived in Florida for a year and moved back to the Midwest.
Once grown, everything shrinks. Sometimes, so do our dreams. But dreams are important, and we should never stop dreaming. They can free us us from our routine and rut of life and set us on the most amazing new paths.
A few years back I read of a middle-aged couple who sold their house, their belongings, everything but the clothes on their back. They packed up their motorcycle and set out to live life on the road, experiencing the world together. They were true romantics. They were dreamers. The world is full of them.
I remember flying home for my sister’s wedding. We stopped by the local bar, the only bar really in a town of 1,200 people. Kids I’d gone to high school with drank beer and did shots and cracked jokes. I drank in silence. I thought of something I’d heard someone ask once, “Would you rather work one job for thirty years or thirty different jobs for one year each?” Those people there seemed to be of the former. I was the latter, and it all seemed so sad.
A year later I moved back home and realized I’d had it wrong. They just had different dreams. Family glued it all together in my mind. Nieces and nephews ran rampant. I got a job, one I could call a career. I got promoted. I got promoted again. I bought a flat screen television. And a car. And worked 60 hours a week, spending my nights watching reruns of The Daily Show or Keeping up with the Kardashians or some Seinfeld episode for the sixth time.
I’d never contemplated suicide, but that isn’t the same as embracing life. Or not wishing for death. An old friend complained to me out of the blue, saying he would never kill himself, but that he could understand the appeal. I understood. Weeks before, my back a total mess, almost 400 pounds, spending ten minutes crawling ten damn feet to the bathroom on my hands and knees and hoping I wouldn’t shit myself, thoughts like getting robbed or in an accident or having a heart attack went through my head.
In the dark, left alone with only myself, it seemed like a good way to go.
I’d stopped dreaming. Or I’d grown up, my dreams faded as if written long ago in pencil. That happens to many it seems. As a child those dark nights–all alone–had burst with adventure and possibility. At what point does excitement fade into bitterness?
I contemplated quitting my job. I shaved my head. I continued burying myself in work and McDonalds and television. I’d buy an extra value meal, a shake, a few burgers, then go home and try not to think about anything. Again, I’d gotten it all wrong.
What is that old quote? There are three types of people in the world: those that do, those that watch, and those that wonder. That’s bullshit. I don’t buy it. There’s only one type at the core. When you really boil it down to what we’re all after. We’re all dreamers. Some dreams have changed. Some have got smaller. Some people have just stopped dreaming altogether. I had given up.
I want to dream again. Not little dreams of a new car or a new job or a giant house or even winning the lottery. Those are small dreams. I’m talking big dreams. Dreams that will truly change my life. Dreams that will bring true happiness. Those big dreams all start on the inside. Those are dreams about changing yourself. About overcoming your fears. About accepting not who you are but who you know you can be. Dreams that start with the knowledge that when reached, won’t bring you happiness, but knowledge that the joys and experiences along the journey are what life is about. Those are the dreams that reinvigorate and re-energize. Those are the adventures I used to dream about as a kid.
Tonight, laying awake in my bed, only silence and darkness around me, I’ll once again dream.
*inspired by the weekly writing challenge