Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dreams, Deferred

(This was begun a while ago, before violent viruses and other “cares of this world” intervened. But it seems fitting somehow to finish these thoughts just after the Oscars.)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes


It’s not all sackcloth and ashes out here.

Sometimes we still live life in the fast lane.

Recently, we were privileged to attend Cousin Johnny’s latest movie premiere. Unfortunately, we made the movie star, his adorable mom, Cindy, and the studio-hired driver wait in the car about 20 minutes while we finished getting ready. Not cool. (His manager was probably eating Xanax like jellybeans.) Still, Johnny managed to hit the red carpet just before they rolled it up and turned it into “I Dream Of Jeanie’s” Goodwill donation.

We got to see several “People” magazine favorites. We took lots of pictures. We petted the primary canine star. Jawja Dawg that I am, I even let out a yelp or two in Johnny’s honor when he appeared on screen. (We thought he absolutely dominated.)

After the red carpet thing ended, we had rushed into the theatre to claim seats in the “reserved” section. Electric excitement charged the atmosphere. Young cast members whooped and cheered for each other. It brought back vivid memories of Katherine’s theatre days: the Dickensian camaraderie of the Troupe...the ‘smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd’...the euphoria of a successful production after months of agonizing rehearsal. How many times had I sat expectantly in the dark, awaiting the rising of a red velvet curtain with butterflies in my stomach? Silently praying, “Lord, just don’t let her trip.”

Our entourage had perfect seats, just far enough back, and dead center. Fortunately, there was room for a wheelchair right in the middle. As activity swirled all around her, Katherine waited patiently for the film to begin. Johnny brought people like his agent and manager over to meet her, and they were kind, gracious, and respectful.

When everyone had turned away for a moment, I noticed Katherine staring off into space. I got closer, and saw that her eyes were glistening. “Are you okay?” I whispered.

“This was my life,” she mouthed, wistfully.

This was her dream, I thought.


Where do dreams begin?

I am fascinated with dreams, both the nocturnal sort and those that are the daytime constructions of our imaginations. I’ve always been a "Walter Mitty." My first very distinct memory is of lecturing my imaginary playmates about their behavior during our move from Atlanta to Athens. I was not quite 2 years old. There were so many of them that I had to line them up on bleachers for the lecture. (My mother even wrote down some of the names as proof of what an odd child she’d birthed.) That same overactive imagination fueled dreams of future fame once I started dance lessons at age four. Throughout our sheltered childhood, my best friend and I forced the other unfortunate neighborhood children and our patient parents to sit through lengthy homegrown shows. “Let us entertain you” was our mantra, as we sang and danced and performed strange little plays until the audience started falling off of their seats in boredom. We watched movies with Hayley Mills and Marilyn Monroe. We acted out Bonanza. We dreamed of Broadway and Hollywood.

With necessary reality checks, my dreams shifted and changed over the years; but my cloud-surfing little head was never empty of them. There were dreams of exotic travel, brilliant careers, causes to be won, accomplishments to be made, books to be written. I dreamed of my future spouse and perfect children. I designed Dreamhouses on the blueprint of my mind. I savored the contemplation of Extreme Happily-Ever-Afters.

After I married my prince and presented him with the first little princess, I began passing her my keys to the Kingdom of Imagination. We had, arguably, the best dress-up box in town. We made puppet theatres that looked like castles. We read books that opened up the world, told stories never heard before. We went on spontaneous adventures and explorations. We talked about the Meaning of Life. And we had shows. Lots and lots and lots of shows.

I taught that firstborn and her two sisters to dream big dreams. I told them that anything was possible.

They believed me.


I think it’s safe to say that, at certain stages, the majority of little girls are convinced they want to grow up to be princesses or movie stars. (My middle one was an exception, consistently asserting that she wanted to be a “cheeyuh-leeduh” when she grew up.) We loving parents stoke their imaginations with princess costumes and Disney movies. The media and toy companies bombard them with the allure of fame and fortune, glamour and glitz. (Yes, darlin’, you too can be Hannah Montana one day.) But while encouraging their dreams, we can unconsciously abet the formation of illusions about life:

You can have it all.

You can be whatever you want to be.

You have a right to a happy ending.


From the time she was a little girl, Katherine dreamed of performing. Unlike those of her mother, Katherine’s were not just empty dreams: she had talent and the determination to make those dreams come true. During her junior year of college, she’d asked me whether I thought she should go to Law School, or to New York or LA to try to act. I told her she could always go to Law School later. Acting was her gift.

Within a relatively short time of moving to LA, Katherine had acquired a SAG card, a manager, and signed with two agencies. She worked hard at developing her craft. She persevered in an industry where rejection is a way of life. She was disciplined, industrious, and focused. She got to experience the thrill of living off what she earned doing what she loved to do. She was the primary bread winner while Jay was in Law School. Although all of her dreams were not fulfilled overnight, she had the potential and the drive to keep going until they were.

But now, her dreams have been deferred...indefinitely.

The Langston Hughes poem at the top has haunted me since I first read it. Although the specific dream to which the poet refers is the same dream best articulated by MLK, I think its application is more universal. Consciously or not, we all have dreams and desires. We imagine the way things should be in order for us to be happy. We dream of perfect marriages, happy children, fulfilling careers, booming businesses, financial freedom. We dream of things we think will satisfy. We dream of rosy futures where we get to do exactly what we want to do, go exactly where we want to go. We dream of things we want to accomplish before we leave here...of making a difference, impacting the world, using our gifts. We dream of golden opportunities and opened doors and winning the lottery. We dream of retiring rich and healthy. We dream of finally coming to a place in life where we have no pain. We dream up endless scenarios of happily-ever-afters. Then we start dreaming them up for our children.

I think dreams must be necessary. (“Without a vision, my people perish.”) Life without them would be colorless, drab, static. Dreams are inspiration for all creative endeavor. But there is a danger in our dreams. Sometimes we can hold on to them so tightly that they hold us instead. We become Dream-Captives, bound to the Idols of our own desires and imaginations.

As Hughes’ poem so graphically illustrates, a terrible bitterness can come from shattered dreams...along with despair, defeat, disillusionment, and anger. Walking around town these days, I see one shuttered little business after the next...each representing someone’s dream that evaporated along with the Dow. I am reminded of the haunting ocean-front mansions I once saw at dusk on Long Island, abandoned to the relentless surf that eroded their foundations and carried them, piece by piece, out to sea. Each one was someone’s Dream House. Most were uninsured against such Acts of Nature. Quite literally, a picture of shattered dreams.

Sometimes dreams do come true. Saturday night, as Kate Winslet embraced her Oscar, she said, “This was always my dream. From the time I was 8, I practiced this speech in front of the bathroom mirror.” I think that’s great...good for her. But I wonder what happens when the shine wears off.

It looks like Katherine won’t be up for an Oscar anytime soon. Not even a little modeling gig. Her chosen vocation is on hold...perhaps forever. Dreams cherished from childhood gone up in smoke. I think she may need to go through some grieving over those broken dreams. I am grieving for her.

It seems that there are times when we just have to lay down the dreams we’ve given birth to... like children on Abraham’s altar. Then, perhaps, those big dreams of ours may be turned into little prayers that end something like, “...but not my will, but yours..."

Our Christmas card for 1983 featured a picture of Katherine, huge-eyed with anticipation, digging her hand down into a Christmas stocking. The borrowed caption read, “May all your impossible dreams come true.” Since then, we’ve learned that there’s only One who can do that.

In discussing suffering in Sunday School this week, someone mentioned the broken dreams she had for her children. The teacher said, “The more we abide in God, the more His dreams become our dreams.” Reading some of the letters of Francois Fenelon lately, I’ve been intrigued by his descriptions of the peace and intimacy that come from complete abandonment to God’s plans and purposes....abiding, resting, saturating ourselves in His presence.

Laying it all down...all our own dreams, desires, ambitions, wishes...

And waiting.

I imagine, first, a quiet...

Then, an expectant excitement, as I allow the inventor of dreams to take over.

And the DreamMaker paints a 4-D Technicolor future in colors I’ve never even seen before.

I believe He is doing that for Katherine.


“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

granny made another oops

Okay, I got too big for my britches and tried to upload a picture from the Darius website. Obviously, it was unsuccessful, and now I can't get Blogger to let me take it off. Do any of you young people have any advice for grandma? Help!!!


Thanks so much for the good tech advice! It worked! Yaaaaay!

(For pictures of Darius and crew, please go to the link at the bottom of the previous blog, click on "Press" at the top, and scroll down and click on "Download Stills "on the left.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


(I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted. Several unfinished blogs are haunting me, but it's been busy and I've been sick. This one was begun on Thursday, Feb. 5)

I felt absolutely flattened by bad news today.

So many people I know are in horrendous pain.

Betrayal, addiction, depression, suffering children, terminal illness, violent death:
I’ve heard instances of all of these today.

When I picked up a fluff magazine to mentally escape for a moment, I read of more horrors. Throwing it down, I turned on the boob tube: the local breaking news was of a young single mother being doused with gasoline and set on fire. Burns over 60% of her body.

why oh why oh why

There are so many things on this planet which are simply unbearable. Impossible to be borne.

Life isn’t fair. Innocents suffer. The wicked seem to prosper. All our “strutting and fretting” ends in death. As Paul puts it, “The whole world groans as in travail until now...” Centuries of flawed mankind screaming through the painful process of metamorphosis. Against such a flood of pain, such a collective cry of anguish that crescendos to unearthly roar, what can be the response? How are we to address so much suffering? We can’t fix it all. We can’t fix anybody, especially ourselves.

Platitudes don’t help much. Sometimes words are not only inadequate, they are next to impossible.

The word “compassion” keeps resonating in my head. I wonder about the deeper meanings. I think com is “with.” “With feeling,” maybe? (Why didn’t I ever take Latin?) I am happily surprised to find it defined as “bearing with.” Of course. From the Latin, com: with and pati: to bear.

Compassion, then, is to come alongside someone who is trying to bear the unbearable...and to bear it with them. A load that threatens to crush and destroy becomes just light enough to carry, after all.


I don’t normally sleep during the day anymore, but this afternoon I was so drained...completely wiped out...there was no other option. The news of the violent and senseless murder of the son (Katherine’s age) of one of the most precious staff members here at Casa Colina had left me stunned and sickened: last emotional straw. After putting a certain fussy baby down for his nap, I finally just “took to bed” myself.

The nap was a drooler. I heard voices and tried to swim up to reality’s surface, but drifted back down into dreams until hearing a polite tap at the door. It was Jay telling me we had company. I stumbled into the family room, still more than half-asleep.

There, of all people, was Daniel.

“What in the world are you doing in Pomona, California?!?” I sputtered.

Daniel laughed his wonderful trademark laugh and smiled his wonderful trademark grin.

The world seemed okay again.


I’ve known Daniel for most of his life. I’ve known his family forever, and I’ve had the privilege of watching him grow up. He was one of my all-time favorite little rapscallions in Sunday School. He has matured into a remarkable young man. Actually, Daniel is like a force of nature...great gusty wind and sunshine.

All the members of Daniel’s family are amazingly talented and highly creative multi-taskers. You never know what they’ll do next. So it was no surprise to find him involved in an undertaking such as Darius Goes West.

DGW is a documentary film made by some college kids from my hometown. It started as a little dream fueled by a barbeque sale, and blossomed into a life-changing experience and multi-award-winning movie. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It will make your life richer. You will simultaneously laugh and cry, and be inspired to live and think differently.

Darius is an Athens boy who suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the most common fatal genetic disorder to affect children worldwide. Most kids who suffer from it die by the age of 20, as Darius’ brother Mario did. Before he died, Mario elicited a promise from his friend Logan: he asked him to watch out for his baby brother. Logan has kept his word, coming alongside Darius and helping him to bear the heavy load of increasingly heavy limbs and the wheelchair they necessitate. And bearing with him the burden of a young life evaporating much too quickly.

But, of course, it is the quality, not the quantity, of our days that matter in the end...the lushness of our lives, not the longevity. Darius had never been beyond the borders of our town. Logan enlisted 10 of his most big-hearted, life-affirming, adventure-loving friends to take Darius on the trip of a lifetime...or many lifetimes...and in doing so, to raise awareness and funds for Duchenne’s research. The documentary is the story of that riotous roadtrip. Our friend Daniel was the official Crazy Driver/Chief Comedian/Heavy Load-Lifter of the expedition.

So what in the world was Daniel doing calmly sitting on the sofa in Pomona? He explained that the Darius crew was on tour promoting the next phase of their endeavor, which is an initiative to sell a million DVD’s in a year. Every penny of the profits will go towards Duchenne research. The crew is once again traveling the country in an RV, but this time a donated van has accompanied them as well. So Daniel, head driver, was able to take off from Anaheim or wherever during rush hour(s) and somehow find his way to us in Pomona...not an easy feat even for a California native. (His high school nickname wasn’t “Braveheart” for nothing.)

Daniel said, “I told myself the one thing I was gonna do when I got near LA was to go find Katherine. So here I am.”

Daniel brought us love, hugs, humor, news, and a copy of the new DVD. He also brought Katherine a t-shirt that says “goslabi” on it. (See the movie if you’re curious.) And after Katherine and Jay had to leave for acupuncture, he stuck around for a while with James and me to see if he could lend a fresh ear.


I tried to get him back on the road before it got too late, plying him with food for the journey, and reminding him to make a last pit stop before battling the giant. He just laughed and reminded me where he’s driven in the past couple of years.

After he left, I thought about what could inspire a young man in his twenties to put his own life on hold for so long and devote it to the care of another. In our conversation, Daniel had reminded me of some of the nitty-gritty care-taking responsibilities he and his friends have taken on with Darius. Much of it is not pretty. I imagine most of it is tiring. Darius weighs a good bit more than any of the guys. Just moving him from point A to point B is strenuous. But the look in their eyes as they help him makes me hear “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” playing in the background.

One of the most beautiful scenes in the movie is when Darius sees an ocean for the first time. He wheels himself down to the end of the boardwalk, but there’s no way to get from there to the sparklingly inviting ocean. His friends innovate, working together to carry planks and whatever else they can find to make a pathway. They laboriously push the heavy wheelchair and its occupant down to the shore and into the crystal water. There they pull the confining chair away from Darius and hold him up in their arms to rock with the waves. He laughs the most unselfconsciously raucous, joyful laughter I’ve ever heard; and, liberated from the weight of his encumbered body, he in the arms of his loving friends.


Unbearable sadness is all around us. For any of us, tragedy is just one phone call away. It is easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed. It is equally easy to become callused and self-focused. For some reason, a young man named Logan Smalley made the decision to help another young man bear the unbearably heavy burden of a fatal illness. Just one person deciding to help just one other person.

Just one.

The ripple effect from that decision grows bigger by the day. I pray that by this time next year a million more will have been touched by its waves.

Daniel’s timely visit reminded me (again) that I don’t have to bear the weight of the world alone. No one can.

As God’s dearly-loved children, we are all members of the same family...soldiers fighting in the same war...pilgrims scratching and scrambling our way up the same rocky path. A burden that seems impossibly heavy for one may be light for another. Your leaden cross might seem light to me; mine to you.

We can help each other shoulder the load. One on one, for a start. And carry each other when we’re incapable of continuing to walk on...

...remembering that the arms of our prayers are even longer and stronger than the ones hanging at our sides.

Thank you all for helping us to bear the unbearable.


“Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” (Mark 1:41)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ...” (Gal. 6:2 nkjv)


*Darius Goes West has won over 30 film awards. It has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, two segments on ABC’s Nightline, the Ellen DeGeneres Show, the Dennis Miller Show, and on multiple regional news shows. It has been applauded in Forbes, Variety, and the Los Angeles Times, among many other publications. Please click on the link below for more details:

Check out the Today Show video (under “Press”) for part of the ocean scene. It will make your day.