Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Refusal to be Ordinary

Everything was blurry. I jerked my head from side to side desperately trying to be free from the cloud of images flashing in front of me like a frantic music video. A couple talking at a café, a group of crying children, two women fighting, a crowd rioting in the streets.

What was this? Where was I?

Suddenly the images stopped, and the picture faded to black. Slowly it began to clear, only this time the camera was still, and I was somewhere else.

A hockey arena?

The air was cold and I pulled my jacket in tight. The squeals and sounds of skates scraping over the ice mixed with the peppered sounds of cheering from the stands. The arena itself wasn’t big, it looked like the local arena you'd find in a small town, and I walked slowly to the bleachers where a small group of adults watching the little kids flop around the ice. It was hard not to smile, the way the youngsters would take two strides, whack at the puck, and fall over. There was no positioning either, the whole group of them flying after the puck like baby ducks following their mother. My gaze focused on one man standing apart from the others. He was tall and dressed in casual white slacks, but you could tell he had money. He held his coffee tightly in one hand. The other hand he’d cupped over his mouth and was yelling instructions to his son on the ice.

“C’mon, Billy! Skate! Don’t let them push you around!”

A couple of the other parents looked embarrassed by the man, but they remained silent.

“C’mon, Billy! Do you really think that you’ll make the pros if you keep flopping around like that!”

The man, who looked to be anywhere between thirty and forty, had a hardened, tired cast to his face. I imagined a smile would’ve taken great effort. I still didn’t know where I was or what I was doing there, but I figured there had to be a reason.

“Your son out there?” I asked him.

He pointed to a little boy wearing number five on the back of his sweater.

“Good skater. Needs to work on his shooting.”

I nodded and watched the kids play for a while. They were all so tiny. I watched the man’s son, too. How he could discern his boy's individual skills? They all looked the same to me.

“Start ‘em early, and maybe they can play in the NHL.” I said, laughing as a whole group of them fell down.

The man turned, his dark eyes blazing.

“Exactly.” He turned away, and fixed his gaze back on the boys. “I didn’t make it, and now I’m stuck in this life. But not him. He’s gonna play in the pros if I couldn’t. One of us is going to make it.”

My eyes widened, and suddenly the images started flashing again. I felt myself thrashing and suddenly everything was still. I looked around in puzzlement, and realized I was in my bed.

A dream? What a weird dream?

I got dressed and put the coffee on, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the man in the dream, especially after the long conversation I'd had with myself the night before. What had he said? I didn’t make it, and now I’m stuck in this life. When the coffee was ready I poured it, mixed in the cream and sweetener, and headed out to my balcony.

The skies were gray this morning, the air mild and damp. The one thing I couldn't get my head around was the timing of my dream. Last night had been the kicker, but the past five months I’d been thinking about how I needed to change things in my life. How maybe it was time to be a ‘grown-up.’ Maybe these dreams of being a writer, a speaker, an actor… maybe it was time to let those go and just settle down, find a good woman, settle down and have a family. Heaven knows that I wanted to be a husband and father. Especially on those lonely weekend nights, when I would sit at my table at Starbucks editing yet another of my unpublished books, watching couples and young families stroll through the door.

Let it go, Steve, it was just a stupid dream!

I sipped from my coffee, letting the sweet warmth linger in my mouth. But there was something… wrong about my dream that kept coming back. Like it was a warning of some kind. A warning about what though?

I took my time getting dressed and showered. School was out for the holidays, and it felt wonderful to relax and plan my day. About thirty minutes later I packed up my stuff and headed to Starbucks. Thankfully, the lineup was small and I was soon back at my table with a fresh coffee. I stared at the blank screen for a while before finally flipping my laptop down and fixing my gaze out through the huge window. I couldn't stop thinking about my dream. The rain had started to fall, and people in the parking lot scurried to their vehicles or bustled inside. What about them, I wondered. Did they feel stuck in their lives like the man in my dream?

What about me? Did I feel stuck in my life?

I took another sip from my freshly ordered coffee, idly wondering why I could not reproduce that taste at home. As I worked the dream around in my head, still watching the people as they passed in and out of the store, I realized why I hadn’t moved towards a less ‘artistic’ lifestyle. Every time I thought about taking a desk job or starting a family ‘because it was time’; I felt the sting of betrayal. A betrayal of self. No matter how often I longed for the ‘normal life’ or wished for a female companion simply because I was lonely, I could not bring myself to commit to it. And not because those weren’t good things.

I flipped up my laptop and began to write. The man in my dream had given up because he felt his life was over. That he was stuck. I realized that if I gave up my dreams, I would never be content. I didn’t want an ordinary life! It seemed that somewhere along the way we had taught ourselves to settle for 'good', instead of 'great'. I knew that some people thought I was a bit crazy, that I was a bit different, but as I sat there sipping my coffee, I wondered… would I want to be somewhere else? Because if all that could be said for my life today and my hopes tomorrow were that things were ‘steady’ and ‘secure’ and ‘smart’… I wasn’t that interested. I wanted a revolutionary life. I wanted to reach for all that God had for me.

I left my laptop lying open and strolled outside. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, and I walked out onto the parking lot, letting it fall against my head and face. I thought about the man in my dream. I thought about the people I met every day who seemed resigned to their life. As if they’d been dealt a hand, and couldn’t do anything about it. I felt their sadness as the rain trickled down my face. So many people had bought the lie. The one that said 'ordinary' was okay. That security was more important than your dreams. That following Jesus was about proper behavior and being nice, not risk and adventure.

I walked back inside, my face wet, my mind decided. There’d be no going back, no consideration any more. I wasn’t sure what God had in store for me, but from now on I was going to pursue my dreams without holding back. Oh, I still hoped for a family, longed for it in fact. They were as much part of my dreams as being a writer, but in the meantime, I wouldn't settle. I wasn't the richest guy in the world, but I'd no longer be intimidated by men working only for money, guys making three times my salary. Yeah. i was crazy, but at least I was living my dream.

I moved to the counter.

“Lydia, I’m going to need another coffee.”

"Another one?"

"Yeah. I might be here a while."

I breathed in the freshly perked smells and the sounds of laughter and conversation. Pursuing my dreams was no fairytale, and I'd had to make some difficult choices, but I'd made my decision. God had given me my dreams for a reason, and an ordinary life was out of the question.

-Steve

P.S. May God grant all of you the courage to reach for your dreams, whatever they may be.