Sunday, November 11, 2007

Slow Death: How Dreams can Kill You

It's cold out tonight. Thankfully, there's no wind. The stars hang against the clear backdrop of velvet. Frost covers the ground and the crisp air speaks of a new season.

Winter is here again.

I should be in bed, but I cannot sleep. I'm thinking about all the things I would like to accomplish, all the things I planned to do when I moved here just two short months ago in pursuit of my dream, and the little I've accomplished in that time. Oh, I've heard my friends advice to be patient, to not expect so much so quickly, to hang in there, to keep believing and that it eventually it will happen. However, I am struck with the inevitable truth that every dreamer must face, not once or twice, but the one we face every day when we put our entire lives behind the vision of our life's ultimate desire.

What if it doesn't happen?

What if I'm wrong and I'm not good enough to make it as a writer? What if I can't focus enough to finish Grad school or become as skilled as I need to be in the film industry? What if I never get a chance to work as an actor? What if my pursuit of these dreams costs me the chance at a family? (What woman wants to be with a poor writer/scholar/student?) Most importantly, what if I'm wrong about making a difference for God, that this is where I'm supposed to be?

Moreover, every day I do not move closer to these goals or see anything happening I can hear the clock ticking. I hear the countdown. Soon the seconds turn into hours, the hours turn into months, and the months turn into years. I can feel time bursting the seams of my life, waiting to leap forward with only the miserable groans of a broken heart to guide its path.

And some nights, like tonight, it pulls me from my bed, an aching zombie filled with dread and uttering my own mantra of perseverance and positivism. For now, I can neither write nor sleep, I can only stand and look at the stars and the quiet street and feel the crisp winter air whispering about the upcoming Christmas season, a season I'd rather not spend alone again.

Many books have been sold on the pursuit of our passions, and many speakers have spent their entire careers selling the same product. It sounds sooooo good, doesn't it? In their fancy suits and million dollar smiles, they tap into the sacred part of us that longs to be special. We buy the books, listen to the lectures, read their materials, and yet, most of us leave our dreams aside for the 'normal life' after a short time, although we still listen to their words, as if somehow their words alone can remind us what it was like when we used to dream.

Pastors and preachers do this as well, only they use phrases like 'God has made you special' or 'finding your gift'. What amazes me is not that people leave their ideas and dreams behind so often, but that we still love to hear someone talk about it. This never made sense to me. How could we sit there in the pew or in the seminar and listen to this stuff and not do anything? How could so many people prefer the misery of routine and sameness to the excitement of a spontaneous and passionate life?

Having left everything, having put aside one life for another, I think I know the answer.

The truth is that the pursuit of dreams kills us, and it does so slowly.

Humans can live in the most abject misery, can adapt to the most difficult environments, and can face whatever comes, so long as the seeds of hope remain. So long as the seeds of mystery and future and potential remain alive, even if it's an imagined future, we find ways to cope. However, once we remove that ideal, once we take away that dream, life suddenly becomes a vast, barren wasteland. An endless trek upon the burning sands of time. Unless we find new joy in the mystery and hand of God, unless we realize that the journey has made us stronger, our lives are effectively over.

Because there's no getting around this one simple fact, the one thing they always leave out of most inspirational stories. And that fact is this: if you pursue your dreams, eventually you are going to have to face the truth. About yourself. About the world. And about where you fit on this planet.

You can no longer fool yourself about what you could've been or should've been. Somewhere along the way, the life and hope and endless possibilities you dreamed about will reveal themselves to be nothing more than a bunch of glossy cardboard cutouts.

Perhaps we don't pursue our dreams because, in some manner, we all realize this. That even if we win, there's a good chance we'll lose. Maybe we get the dream, but it turns out the dream isn't as we imagined, that being a writer isn't that great after all. There's actually a lot of work involved, and the publishers keep rejecting our stuff. We have so many deadlines, and all the critics do is criticize. Or even worse, we pursue our dreams and never get there. We get rejection slip after rejection slip, and one day come to the realization that our writing will never be good enough. The days and years pass, and we become bitter and cynical.

Self-awareness isn't easy, and it isn't pretty, but as far as I know, it's the truest path to God. Which is what makes all the propaganda of positive thinking and 'victory' marches we get from the Christian bookstore so frustrating. Too many churches are more interested in selling seats via the 'Catch Your Dream tonight' seminar than telling it like it is. How about this for a billboard?

The Truth about Dreams

Your dream is going to cost you. You can't have it all. The world isn't God's fantasy playground, and at some point, you're going to have to face the truth of who you are and why you're here. People will disappoint you. The world will let you down. Nothing will happen the way you imagined. God will disappear in key moments. You will feel alone more times than you will remember. For every step forward, you will be knocked down. Loving people means they will use you. The world will shrink even as gets bigger. At times, you will feel insignificant. (Don't worry, that's supposed to happen. God is almost ready to use you.) Just remember, there is no ultimate life, there is only life. Expect to be bloodied.

Wednesdays, 7pm, in the Fellowship Hall. Refreshments at 6:45.

I am back on the front stoop. It's still dark, but the sun will be up soon. I haven't seen my raccoon friends lately, and I wonder if they're okay. It hasn't been easy these past two weeks, but the thought of giving up is not an option. To do anything less than that which I feel called to do, to do anything less than pursue my passions, is not to live. Of course, there are days when I wrestle with the truth, with self-awareness, when I'd like to go back to a time not too long ago when being a writer held some sort of mystic quality to it. When I held up in esteem this idea of a writer's life. What I have learned however, that while the pursuit of dreams brings a certain type of death, the lack of their pursuit brings something much worse.

Cowardice seems a strong word, but it is the right one when we talk about our culture's biggest character flaw. Men talk down to women. Women are not honest with men. Families avoid confrontation. Most of us refuse to look in the mirror, to admit our mistakes. We scuttle and scrabble through our life trying not to be stepped on, and fear permeates our entire being. The same fear that keeps us from pursuing our dreams is the one that corrupts our daily lives. If we're not willing to face the truth, if we're not willing to step out and take a chance that we will not succeed as we hoped, that the journey will kill us, that our lives may end up poorly, if we're not willing to take the risk of living, than why should we expect life?

The pursuit of dreams may bring with it death, but only in our dying can we come to understand what it means to truly live.

May God give us the courage this week to face ourselves, to look again at the dreams we had as a kid and reach once more for the passionate life, and to remember that the struggles along a winding and difficult path are better than the empty barrenness of a desert road.