Wednesday, February 25, 2009
(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?
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 problems...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...
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)