My mother was part of a close-knit family, and we spent a lot of time when I was growing up driving to New England to be with my aunts and uncles and cousins. Over the years, as in every family, a body of family folklore has arisen. These stories are usually rooted in fact, but they often grow as they get retold. You know what I mean: the fish gets bigger, the precocious child gets younger, the injuries get more extensive.
One of my favorite stories revolves around my cousin Janet. Janet is probably 8 years older than I am, and so I would guess that I don’t actually remember this incident, I only know it through family storytelling. At some point in her childhood, someone asked Janet what she wanted to be when she grew up. “A missionary,” she responded excitedly, and then paused. (I’m sure her mother beamed with pride.) “Or an actress.”
We’ve always loved the incongruity of those two careers that seemed like such a logical choice to a child.
Children are full of dreams. The younger they are, the more interesting it is to talk with them about their dreams. They haven’t been beaten down by life yet. They haven’t learned that dreams are supposed to be logical. Our laughter at their wild dreams hasn’t yet caused them to hide their dreams from public view.
One of my childhood dreams was to be a nurse, specifically, a missionary nurse.
It was my dream from the earliest I can remember. Maybe it was all those missionary biographies I read. Or these books called Jungle Doctor. Maybe it was because Janet, whom I adored, didn’t end up as either a missionary or an actress, but as a nurse.
But for whatever reason, I had this dream.
You know, sometimes dreams die. Somewhere around junior high—probably when I started babysitting—I discovered that I don’t do body fluids. A visit to a nursing course at the tech school made it clear that nurses spend a great deal of time handling all types of body fluids. My dream of being a nurse died a quick death, never to be resuscitated.
There are other dreams, though, that never really die. Instead, we bury them alive under fear. It might be:
- fear of failure—What if I can’t do it? I don’t want to look foolish.
- fear of success—How would this change me? I’m pretty used to the status quo.
- fear of sacrifice—Do I want to work that hard? What will I have to give up if I pursue this? I don’t want to make difficult choices. I have no stamina for an arduous climb.
- fear of disapproval from parents, husbands or friends—Would Mom, or my husband, think this is silly? Would they understand? I don’t like being labeled crazy.
Sadly, not only do we bury our own dreams, but sometimes, as parents, our fears become the shovel used to bury our children’s dreams.
Our dreams may be buried alive but they usually refuse to die, no matter how hard we try to kill them. They pop their heads up at the most inopportune moments, begging to be acknowledged. They may slither in under our self-protective radar and whimper for our attention, creating an unidentifiable longing, leaving us unsatisfied with life as we know it.
Judy Collins talks about the dream of writing this way,
“Writing is a voice that calls us from dreams, that peeks out of the corner of our eyes when we think no one is looking, the longing that breaks our hearts even when we think we should be happiest, and to which we cannot give a name.”
I believe most of us have dreams like that. Things that keep coming back even when we think we should be content.
For me there were two. Writing and acting. I wanted to write, but I can’t stand rejection. And if there’s anything a writer enjoys plenty of, it’s rejection! Form-letter rejection, even. I wanted to write, but I didn’t want to work very hard at it. When I went to my first writers conference, and people asked why I was there, I said, “To find out if I’m any good. If not, I don’t want to waste my time.”
Acting had its own fears, the fear of fear even—we call it stage fright. What if I got on stage and, as Meg Ryan puts it in You’ve Got Mail, “my mind went blank?”
But the dreams wouldn’t die.
And you know what? Yours won’t either.
What are your dreams that will not die? I’d love for you to share them with me in the comments.
Join me next week as we talk about how to make your dreams a reality!