Blame it on my roommate making too many Cinderella references during our last writing workshop, but I’ve got this song stuck in my head and it won’t go away. I suppose that’s appropriate, songs being so much like dreams, both the wonderful and terrible ones. They get stuck on repeat, playing over and over no matter how you try to ignore them. Or maybe that’s just me.
There’s a dream I’ve been having for years. It is very much a wish that my heart made, if not while I was sleeping, then at the very least when I wasn’t paying attention, when I was busy reading articles and sending e-mails, making dinner, running errands and wondering if I was doing it all wrong. Somewhere in the chaos of that, the dream took root. Now it won’t go away.
I’ve tried to find a suitable replacement—another dream, a new activity. At times I get so busy or excited or distracted by small things that I really do think I’ve solved the problem and forgotten the dream altogether. But then I fall asleep. And while my brain is forming memories, my synapses firing without any supervision whatsoever, my subconscious sneaks a side conversation with my heart and together they come up with these beautiful imagined scenes that are so real and true and wonderful that I still believe they’re possible days and weeks later. Even after I wake up and check my phone. After I try desperately hard to fall back asleep into a world that works the way I wish it would.
I don’t get angry with my heart. I don’t reprimand my subconscious for doing what it does. But I do get more than a little frustrated. I expect them to be better behaved. To listen when I explain the facts of reality. But they don’t seem to hear me. And their outburst of dreams can distract me for days.
“You don’t understand,” I tell my roommate as we speed down the freeway from Moraga to Oakland. “The things that I want are just so good. I get so excited thinking about them I can’t focus on anything else.”
My roommate gives me a half-smile and releases a sigh. This is nothing new. He knows how delusional I can be, knows how strongly I’m ruled by my feelings.
“And you know, it’s totally possible,” I continue. “Everything I want and imagine is absolutely completely possible.”
“It’s just never going to happen.”
This last line I say because I know I need to say it. I need to keep telling myself that reality is what happens when I’m awake—grinding coffee and buying bananas and getting gas and making my bed. A dream may help get me through the day-to-day, but a dream is just a dream.
It’s just after sunset on a cool Monday evening and my friend Juliana has asked me over for dinner. I marvel at her spacious apartment with its sunroom and fireplace and big empty blocks of open. I’ve never seen a home kept so clean. We are on opposite ends of an enamel-colored couch. It is quiet—too quiet—and I’m trying to think of a topic of conversation. Juliana beats me to it.
“What is your biggest dream?” she asks her almond-shaped eyes dark and expectant.
The question is more than I anticipated. I give her a deer-in-headlights stare, then inhale deeply, like I’m searching for the answer.
“I don’t know,” I say, wondering how I’m going to bat back the conversation. “Do you know your biggest dream?”
She does. She goes on to tell me about wanting to design her own clothing line, and as I smile and nod and listen to the details, in the back of my mind the wheels are turning. I sift through my heap of dreams, looking for the biggest one, thinking the answer should be obvious. But it isn’t.
What makes a dream big? I wonder. Is my biggest dream the one that has the greatest impact on the largest number of people?
Is it my highest aspiration? The dream that would bring the most notoriety?
Is it the dream I’ve held the longest? Or the one I’m most hesitant to share?
Is my biggest dream the one that is the most implausible? Or is it the dream that is the deepest hope of my heart? The dream that eclipses all other dreams in my small sliver of life?
Is the biggest dream the best dream?
As I keep searching for an answer, I remember the dream I’d been obsessed with a few months earlier. The one I tried repressing and replacing and forgetting altogether. It is still there in my heart, buried somewhere between “teaching English in Prague,” “finishing a PhD,” and “being in a Broadway musical.” I have made no progress in attaining it.
I think again of that song from Cinderella, the one that promises your dreams will come true if you keep believing them. I wish I could affirm that adage and proclaim with assurance that all a dream requires is your deepest greatest hope and faith. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Some dreams need more than hope.
I have been advised to dream differently—more attainably, more realistically. But that has never felt like the answer to heartache. Some dreams may not be meant to come true. Many will never be realized. But just because a dream isn’t realized, doesn’t mean it is wasted.
I believe that we are eternal, that our spirits are bigger than the bodies that hold them. And if this is the case, then I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when I dream dreams that won’t be realized in my lifetime or at all, dreams that require divine intervention.
Dreams may have more to do with finding heartache than losing it. But somewhere in the tension between sleep and awake—the push and pull of what is and what should be, what we have and what we want—there are lessons to learn and purpose to find. Feasible or not, the wish that your heart makes—whether it is for the arrival of Prince Charming or the realization of a reconciled world—is one that deserves to be carried and shared.