We are all dreamers.
Some would deny this, saying they have both feet firmly planted on the ground, models of respectability and responsibility, their very lives a testament to the fact that they have grown up, put away childish hopes, and learned to get along in the adult world. Deep down, however, there are dreams they have left behind, whispers of “if only” lingering in the back of their overwhelmed, task-oriented brains. Some wanted to be ballerinas or freelance photographers or Captain Planet (my son’s all-consuming goal in life when he was a little boy). The point is, we all have things we would have liked to have done, but for whatever reason didn’t. And that stirs a longing deep within us that never quite turns us loose.
When I was 17, I joined the Navy. I wanted to be a Foreign Correspondent so badly I could taste it. I had the chops to do it, too, not just in writing ability but in my sheer guts. I was fearless then, all bravado and bullheadedness, completely confident that if given the chance, I could set the world of journalism on fire. What I lacked was sound advice, and after three trips to MEPS, I was roped into believing the Navy would be better served if I was an aircraft mechanic. I could always change rates, they claimed, so I accepted what was offered, not realizing that military recruiters and politicians have a lot in common—lots of talk, very little truth in action. Fast forward 10 years and I was the single mother of three needing to put food on the table. I entered into nursing school and my dreams of writing were replaced by more pressing matters, such as keeping a roof over our heads and providing for the little people that needed me. I don’t regret my choices, but I have always wondered what would have happened if I pursued my writing then, if I had taken a left instead of right and owned the gifts I was given. There’s no way to know now, but I wonder.
I am always amazed at the brilliant and brave individuals who decide to pursue their dreams, even when it makes no sense and they’re in the final inning of the game of life. Corporate leaders who walk away from six-figure jobs to teach yoga; stay-at-home moms who start businesses in their basements; retirees who decide to lead tours through the jungle of Belize because they’ve always wanted to and they still can. I believe that what drives them is a peculiar kind of pain that grows within us when we don’t live the lives we are destined for. It starts out as a small flame of discontentment that eventually grows into an inferno within us, threatening to burn us to dust if we don’t act on the dream we’ve been given. It’s the moment “what if?” becomes “why not?” and suddenly we are propelled forward, doing things we’ve never done but always wanted to do. Scared to death, not sure where to start, let alone finish, yet happier than we’ve ever been because finally we are on our way at long last. Our glorious becoming; the metamorphosis of our long-dormant, true selves.
I have a dream. One that, if I act on it, will take me 1,400 miles from those I love most. My children, though grown, are my true loves, and the thought of leaving them makes my stomach hurt, even as I write the words. Yet there remains a yearning so deep inside me, I know I must either take the chance or wither and die. There is no in-between. I have a good life. I know I’ve been blessed. I like who I am, and yet I wonder: What if?
I wish there were an easy answer, but that wouldn’t be real life, would it? So I sit on the fence of my unrealized dreams, bothered by the rigidity of it all, the peculiar pain of not being able to stay but not quite brave enough to go, either. I hope that the courage that has ignited others will eventually find its way to me. I hope that I rediscover myself before I am an old woman, grieving the life I didn’t have the courage to actually live.