It’s easy to miss recognizing things working out.
I have a tendency to update my goals as I go, which is good, but it makes it harder to realize how good the present really is. I remember wishing so badly for a “real” guitar to replace the rather chinsy, never-staying-in-tune, stringed piece of plywood I owned. And then I got one! But after a while you start noticing it also has a crooked neck, and the high “e” string tends to break when you tune it. And every time you get a new guitar, you just dream a new dream. It’s easy to never stop to relish the fact that a dream did come true.
I remember being 19 and visiting college campuses, trying to find the right school. This guy walked passed me carrying a leather shoulder bag, and he really seemed to have it together. I wondered what it would feel like to kind of know what was going on, to feel like I’d established myself at college, to have a great leather bag like that. And then it started to happen – I got enrolled, signed up for classes, and even carried a leather bag of my own. But it felt like I hadn’t quite gotten there yet. I wasn’t in the really interesting classes that would come later in my degree. I didn’t know that many people.
And then I got to those really interesting classes and people got to know who I was, and I wondered when I would get to apply the theories and systems of thought to “real” work, to writing that “really mattered.” This is good, but that will be better. I started a podcast with a friend, and we made tons of episodes and enjoyed ourselves greatly. But I always wondered what it’d be like to have a show where lots of people listened, one you even got paid to do. And I had some of my writing published. Yet, every time something good happens, there is a voice in me which soon suggests something else would be much better. I had a small epiphany driving home one day. All these things – this is it. It’s all happening.
This summer, I got married to my best friend. And we get to be together every single day. We have an apartment with all our stuff in it, and a wall painted golden yellow. I get to study communication and theology. I get to write whatever I want, and some of my work was just published by the Rebelution. I have a paid gig to shoot two promo videos for a nonprofit. I’m about to enter my last semester before graduating with a bachelor’s degree. In so many ways, I am now that guy I saw walking passed me when I was 19. It’s easy to miss that. The tendency is to update the dream before it can come true – to be persuaded by the voice who claims well that wasn’t really what we wanted; it could be much better. It’s better to recognize in all those small moments along the way that the dream was indeed becoming true. Billy Collins describes this recognition as the lion of contentment.
“But tonight, the lion on contentment
has placed a warm, heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance”
Billy Collins (“Osso Buco”)
To update out dreams, to cast what we want in new light, is a gift.
The Killers wrote a song, and in the second verse Brandon Flowers shouts, “We’re all gonna die!” Each time we selfishly refuse to see the good which has invaded our lives, we exercise the gift of the future – we’re banking on living longer. And not everyone has longer.
In my sophomore year, I was at Tri-County Technical College, still planning on an English degree. I remember taking a literature class with Melissa Blank, whom I always called “Ms.,” but it turns out she was married. She was a middle-aged woman, dark hair, kind of lively and always tired at once. After I passed her class and transferred to another school, I found out she had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Yesterday, I read her post, “5 rounds of chemo did not work, 30 treatments of radiation did not work, 3 brain surgeries did not work…Right now they feel the best option is in home hospice which I began on Monday.” Mrs. Blank is not very old, younger than my parents.
I remember taking the rough drafts of my essays to her office to ask for help. Once, she read over a draft and told me my writing was very good – another time she looked up from the stapled together pages and said, “This is hot trash.” I still laugh thinking about that. I never really expected to see her again after walking out ENG-102 for the last time, but I expected her to be out there, somewhere, doing whatever English teachers do when they’re not lecturing or browsing rough drafts. But she has brain cancer and hospice.
I also remember Mrs. Blank telling me to make a claim. I was prone in my writing to qualify statements: “I think the author may have been trying to say.” She taught me to not do that. Make a claim and stand by it. Say something. She even let me write about how much I hated The Handmaid’s Tale, the book she assigned us to read and write about. So Melissa, if you’re out there, perhaps it’s some small comfort to know that after you’re gone, from cancer or old age, I’ll carry that wisdom. I’ll be making claims. If it is, carry it out of here into whatever is next. And if it isn’t comfort of any match for news of dreams running dry – well, I’ll remember you nonetheless.
Either way, today I choose to recognize that my dreams are coming true. In small, significant ways. And I’ll update them and make my claims about the world keeping in mind we’re not here for all that long. You can’t reimagine what you want from life forever. “You get what anyone gets, you get a lifetime” – Neil Gaiman.
And we’ve got hope for the life to come. After all this has passed on.
a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
We’re all gonna die,
And when they’re closin’ up the door
Nobody wishin’ that they worked more (ha)
Don’t bother with your suitcase
And we’ll beat the birds
Down to Acapulco Bay
Or Honolulu on hearsay
Running at our own pace,
And I’ll be on your side
When the dreams run dry
– The Killers
You can contribute to Mrs. Blank’s GoFundMe with this link.