Monday, September 01, 2014

Rudy: Dreamers vs. dreamers

Fall is here. For many of us, school starts tomorrow. We'll send our kids off, or head back to work, or we'll head there ourselves in pursuit of new dreams and new goals. It can be an exciting time, especially if we allow it to be. This post is for all my fellow dreamers out there, in honour of one of the most famous dreamers ever to grace the silver screen.

There are a number of great scenes in the movie, Rudy, that deals with what it means to be a dreamer, but I'll only reference a few of them. When Rudy's best friend dies in a mining accident, he decides he has to leave. That if he doesn't try to get into Notre Dame now, he'll never make the attempt. His dad meets him at the bus stop and tries to discourage him. Only rich kids and great athletes go there. He tells him a story of his own childhood, how his father lost everything "chasing a stupid dream."

Rudy's father is not trying to be hurtful or petty, he's trying to protect his son from crushing disappointment. It's an act of love. But Rudy is young and stubborn and knows that if he just doesn't do something to change his life, his life will never change.

Big 'D' Dreamer vs. Little 'd' dreamer

There's something important in play here, in the analogy Rudy's dad gives his son. When Rudy's grandfather decided to take a risk and buy the dairy farm, he acted as a Dreamer. (with a big 'D') Big 'D' Dreamers are people who take chances for themselves, and in so doing, put others at risk. They live in an abstract world, a narcissistic world, a world in which they've become so focused on their dreams they have lost sight of those around them.

I knew a guy once who kept saying who wanted to be an Olympian. He was a good athlete (with the help of drugs) and on the fringes of making it. He refused to get a job, though. Lived with his mother and payed no rent. Gave her no help at all and made his girlfriend pay for everything. For the time I knew him, about four years, nothing changed. He bragged about his "Dream" of making it to the Olympics, was a pompous ass, and mooched off everyone in his life like a great sucking parasite.

We've all seen people like this, heard about people like this, and they give small 'd' dreamers a bad name. They encourage people to lump every dreamer into the same category. Most of them, like Rudy's father, are not trying to be hurtful when they tell you not to follow your "stupid dreams."

But Rudy is young. He doesn't have a family. He should be dreaming about going to school. Yes, he'll probably end up facing crushing disappointment, but so what? If you really want something big you have to make a big effort.

Here's the other thing about small 'd' dreamers. They don't get so caught up in the abstract nature of what they want that they try to reach for something impossible. They don't talk about making it as a singer when they can't sing a lick. They don't talk about being a star, they talk about acting. Or maybe their dreams have nothing to do with the arts. Maybe they want to own their own business, become a doctor, have their own house by the time they're thirty, be able to provide for family somewhere else.

For a small 'd' dreamer, their 'dream' is more a goal and less a vision statement. It is something to work towards, and blood and sweat and tears will get you there or get you close. What makes it special isn't even the goal itself, but the work that goes into it. Especially when most people won't see it. They won't see the extra hours spent alone in a coffee shop, studying or writing. They won't know about your weekend, how you didn't go out, didn't go to the party or the bar or the game so you could work towards your dream.

But if you're a dreamer, you know when you've put in the time. You know when you've made the sacrifices. You know what it cost you. And when it finally happens. When you finally reach the bottom rung and begin to see some success, everything will change.

Why Not?

Have you ever thought about doing something else? Have you ever wondered what your life would look life if you took a chance? Not a chance that puts others at risk, but a chance that requires work and sacrifice. Why not go for it? Anything that moves you to a position where tomorrow looks better than it does right now, and anything that excites you about getting up the next day is not only a good thing, it's where we find the essence of life.

Rudy understood that, and when it finally happens, when he finally gets accepted into Notre Dame, it isn't just his life that's transformed. Everyone else around him gets touched as well.

It's new year, folks. A time when the leaves change their colours, when cool winds rustle the trees. Remember what you felt when you were young. Remember what it felt like when you left high school for the first time. Remember what it felt like to look forward to whatever was coming next. Don't wait another year. Put down your disappointments and become a dreamer. You won't regret it.

"To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting."
-E. E. Cummings