I wish for you a life full of loveliness. Whether or not you possess a great amount of wealth, I hope you have unlimited supplies of joy, love, and laughter. I wish for you a lifetime of feeling at peace … Continue reading →
As I contemplate another New Year’s approach, I have hope. There is much that makes me anxious and angry. There is much I don’t understand. There are many I would like to sit in a room and ask to behave … Continue reading →
I recently finished reading through the old entries in my current journal, whose remaining blank pages are quickly waning. The oldest is dated Monday, August 31, 1998. When I wrote that entry, I was on bus from New York City … Continue reading →
Spring always reminds me of what’s possible. It’s difficult not to dream during this season. As branches begin to bear blossoms, I start to think about what I want, hope for, and need. Some people resolve to change in January—to … Continue reading →
Be patient. How easy it is to resent those words—especially in this digital world. Those of us who used to type on typewriters and find source materials at libraries now grow irritated when a Word document or website takes too long to load. We become impatient in minutes. It has become realistic to find or receive what we want in seconds. It is an uphill journey to learn and maintain patience in a culture that gorges itself on instant gratification.
Fast can be wonderful, but sometimes slow is better. Look at the world God created. Take a lesson from nature. Few things happen in an instant. Gestation, the seasons, or fruit on a tree—the world is full of things that take time to ripen, mature, or grow before they can be enjoyed at their peak.
Patience is important. Good things are worth the wait. And more than that, the wait is worth something as well. Sometimes the time spent in expectation is worth more that whatever it is we’re waiting for. So much can be learned in the silence, stillness, or tension that rests between the desire and its realization.
Patience is connected to faith. The process of trusting has its own worth—the act of having peace and reassurance without knowing or seeing whence or how our hopes or dreams will come to us. In the season of anticipation we increase the worth and weight of our faith. We see our currency of trust in God appreciate in value. And once what we hoped for arrives, we find the wait has made having it better. We treasure it more because it was elusive or slow in coming.
Patience isn’t just a virtue; it is often necessary. Sometimes we’re not equipped to have what we want, but sometimes it’s what we want that isn’t ready. Some of our dreams need time to develop and ripen on their metaphorical trees. If we force it, if we try to take hold of it too soon, it will be like eating fruit that hasn’t ripened or giving up on climbing the mountain before reaching its peak. The view might be good, but not as great as it could have been. The fruit is nice, but not nearly as sweet. We end up with a lesser version of what we would have had if only we had waited.
I am not a patient person. Patience is a lesson I’m still learning. It’s a challenge. I am trying to live a life of ambitious contentment. I don’t want my impatience to compel me towards imprudence or chain me to disappointment.
In my professional life, 2014 was a year of projected hits that turned into misses. The trajectories of my dreams were modest at best. I faced disappointment, but I didn’t dwell in it or become discouraged—a minor miracle. Even though all those doors that cracked open eventually closed in my face, I remained patient. I had (I have) faith. And so I wait to see if and when I’ll find new doors willing to open fully for me to walk through.
Time and time again, I’ve seen that few things of great value are fleeting opportunities. More often than not (at least in my life) they are the culmination of a season of waiting and working, maturing and strengthening, or observing and learning.
Patient ambition—or content anticipation—that is what I am aiming for. Don’t let me lose my peace and joy in the now simply because I don’t have something yet. I want to be able to want and to be satisfied while I wait.
I’ve been thinking about this lately: I believe in God, but do I trust Him with my dreams? Can I find more reasons for faith than for doubt? Do I really believe He cares about what I want and won’t take my hopes and dreams away from me—or turn them against me? And if I get that far, can I trust myself? Will I take the steps and leaps of faith required to put myself where I need and want to be? And what about patience? Am I able and willing to wait? Sometimes pursuing a dream feels like doing nothing—or like throwing efforts into an abyss.
I want to be content and ambitious. I want to have my dreams for the future, but without letting them obscure or invalidate how my life looks at the moment. I don’t want “right now” to feel like a letdown in light of my hopes and dreams for tomorrow. I want to be happy with today while looking forward to the future. I don’t want to be so focused on where I want to go in life that I overlook the journey.
Let me not shy away from success or be overburdened by failures. Life will have its challenges—its hard parts—its seasons of darkness. There will be times when my dreams feel foolish and my hopes seem hopeless. But there will also be triumphs and celebrations.
It can be frightening to dream because not all dreams come true. Some dreams fade until they’re forgotten, while others are willfully put aside. But some dreams defy the dreamer—refusing to materialize while also declining to die. Even though dreaming can be difficult, I don’t ever want to stop. I never want to run out of dreams or faith or hope.
I have always felt different: I’m the shortest of my siblings. I was the only black kid in my class for six out of thirteen years. I was one of the few (if not the only) kid on my block leaving my neighborhood to attend a private school. I have often been (or felt like) the only Christian in the room. I have felt different because of how I look (veiny arms for a woman, too much weight and too many curves when I wanted to be a ballerina, my overbite). But mostly I feel different because of the thoughts that enter (uninvited) into my brain and the fears (though unwelcome) that I begrudgingly entertain.
Every now and again I will let an ordinary occurrence engender a dark daydream. For example, just the other evening I was walking down the street as two men smoking cigarettes were walking towards me. And for some reason I wondered the following: What if one of them decided to put his cigarette out in my eye? I don’t know where that thought came from or why, but there it was as they passed me by. Thankfully, worries like that are usually short-lived, but I wish they didn’t exist.
I’m afraid of so many things. I fear the call at an odd hour is bad news. I’m afraid of the dark—black hole dark—the kind of deep dark that doesn’t even permit shadows. I’m afraid of dying (especially painfully or violently), but sometimes I find the concept of living forever almost equally terrifying. I’m afraid of flying, falling, and crashing. I’m afraid of not trying, of failing, and of succeeding. I’m afraid of getting hurt—emotionally and physically. I’m afraid of never living up to my mother’s legacy—or of living a life that leaves no good mark—or one devoid of meaning. And given the fraught final years of my grandparents’ lives, I’m afraid of what my old age will look like. Mostly I’m afraid I’m getting it all wrong, that I’m wasting time, and that (given the missteps I’ve made) there’s no good way forward—no way to recover.
If I could set aside any aspect of my humanity, I would disown my fear. That emotion drives me in directions I do not want to go. It keeps me inactive or slows my progress to a crawl. It renders me distracted—preoccupied with potential pitfalls and worst-case scenarios (however unlikely or unrealistic).
Fear of what awaits prevents me from more fully engaging in whatever (or whoever) is before me in the present. Fear of embarrassment or failure stops me from taking more chances. Fear of being misunderstood, dismissed, or disliked makes me hold my tongue. I withdraw from certain experiences for fear of getting hurt.
When I don’t act or take a risk, it is usually because of fear disguised as wisdom. When I don’t dream—when I hang back from an opportunity, it is because of fear clothed to look like being realistic or practicality.
Fear stills my hands, binds my feet, and shackles my tongue. Fear turns my head away form my hopes and dreams and focuses my eyes on the worst-case scenario. It nails my aspirations to the ground. Fear persuades me to expect the worst even in the midst of the best. Fear denies me peace and sound sleep—it won’t allow for a moment of rest.
I have spent my lifetime learning how to undermine my fears—to shine a light on them until they disappear. At first they look mountainous, but in the face of faith and logic, few of them stand up.
All too often my fear is a liar. It pretends to be prudence. It acts insurmountable. But most of what I fear can’t or won’t ever be real. There is little foundation or substance to much of what scares me. Most of my fears are more rooted in dysfunctional imagination than reality.
Every time I set aside a fear I become a bit more free. Without fear, I enjoy things more deeply. Without fear I can more fully inhabit the present. Without fear, I don’t have to worry about what others think, and so I speak and act with more honesty.
Fear will come from time to time; it is a natural emotion. What I’m trying to avoid is giving fear too much control. There are a few fears that might save my life, but surrendering too much to fear will shrink my living down to an unhealthy size.
My dreams seem so real from the inside. More often than not dreaming feels like a natural tangent (however abrupt) to living my waking life. Once in a while I’ll remember an old dream from within a new dream. Some of my dreams take root in my mind like genuine memories. Most of my dreams, however, are transitory. As soon as I wake up, the dream’s integrity starts to wane. The colors I thought so salient begin to fade. The tangible pieces begin to dissipate. Places that appeared authentic are revealed to be inaccurate facsimiles. If I dreamt I was in my childhood home, upon waking I realize how much of the dream house was wrong.
My dreams feel real because they elicit emotions. Sometimes that is all that remains once I’m awake—a vague sensation of sadness, fear, or joy whose origin I can’t precisely locate. Now and again I wake with a sense of nervous urgency—worried that I’ve neglected something vital. I used to have low-level nightmares that I’d missed the first day of school, or that I’d managed to make it through most of a semester forgetting to attend a class or do a particular course’s homework.
My dreams have their own chronology. And so now and again I will encounter the deceased in my sleep. No part of me thinks it strange to find them there. The real deaths of loved ones don’t affect my dream state memory. The limits of logic and science don’t need to be preserved in dreams. Continuity isn’t necessary. I can take an elevator to the beach. I can be here and then instantly there without travelling. I can be involved in the action while simultaneously observing it from a distance. Sometimes I can’t run. Sometimes I can fly. But no matter how extraordinary or impossible the experience, rarely do I think I must be dreaming.
Some of my dreams are realistic to the point of being boring. The contents of my dreams can be painfully ordinary. As a child I used to dream about sitting on a toilet. I had this type of dream quite regularly—usually because I actually had to pee while I was sleeping. And since my bladder couldn’t tell the difference between literally getting up to use the bathroom versus just dreaming it, these dreams greatly contributed to my bed-wetting. Fortunately for me (and every mattress I’ve slept on since) I stumbled upon a way to wake myself up. I don’t have to pinch myself to be roused. Sternly saying my own name is enough.
It isn’t often that I dream about my mother, but when I do I wake and wish that I had a better dream memory—and better dream control. I wish that I could dream about her more often—and that in those dreams I could know that I am dreaming and how special it is to be seeing her. Because in my dreams my mother is still alive, and seeing her is as commonplace as denim or oatmeal. It’s only when I wake that I know she’s been dead for years, and feel the deep pang of regret that I couldn’t have dwelt in the dream with her longer.
Dreams are so often bizarre and full of nonsensical and incongruent tangents—so wild and control defying. In dreams we can be here then there, in familiar places that look nothing like the real thing. Dreams of my mother are no different. The other night I dreamt that she and I were going through her dresser drawers. Or, rather, I was going through them as she looked on. As I often did in real life, I was searching through her clothes looking for anything of mine that might have gotten mixed in. (This would happen on occasion whenever my father folded the laundry.) I opened a drawer and found that it was bigger than it seemed. It was full of shoes—dozens upon dozens of ballet flats sandwiched together and bound with rubber bands. There were shoes in every color, shoes that were multi-colored—shoes that were bright, vibrant, and looked new. In the dream, I looked at the abundance of my mother’s shoe collection and felt sad that my shoe size was so much bigger than hers—sad that my feet were too big to wear my mother’s shoes anymore—a sadness I felt in real life somewhere around the fourth grade when I started wearing a size ten shoe.
Every time I dream about my mother I awaken with mixed feelings. I’m happy that my subconscious can still conjure her—hasn’t forgotten her. I’m happy to have had more time with her—surreal as it may have been. I’m happy to be thinking about her when I wake up—to start my day with her in my heart and on my mind. But I’m also aware that it was just a dream, and dreams are so intangible—whispers of reality that readily dissipate like fog in the wind. Even as I remember, I forget. The dream’s mark upon my mind growing ever more faint with each moment I’m awake. The dream images beginning to fade like oversaturated watercolors in the light of day. Waking up is like loosing her twice as the dream slips away and reality comes to take its place. She’s leaving. She’s gone. She wasn’t really here. She, herself, is a memory moving father and farther away from the forefront of my mind. Her life has ended, but my life goes on. And because of this, the chasm of time that separates us grows larger. Each day I live I must flip through more and more pages of memories to find my memories of my mother.
I try so hard to remember her. I wish my mind could catalog every wise or funny or loving thing she ever said to me. I wish I could still hear her voice, smell her perfume, or eat her cooking. I miss her wit and off-color humor. I miss her faith, her honesty, and how easy it was to talk to her. I miss her sage advice and how comfortable her hugs were. I miss what it felt like to still have that maternal anchor.
Now my mother resides in dreams and memories—dreams that make the impossible possible. Dreams that nonchalantly bring the dead into my dream life and never once hint at the improbability of the encounter. But dreaming about the deceased brings with it a requisite sadness and a secondary loss. We cannot dwell in our dreams or make them last longer; oftentimes we can’t even return to the same trail of surreal thought. We are roused to the veracity of what cannot be. It was just a dream, and we must now awaken to the sad truth of reality: the dead remain in their graves, unable to embrace the living. But be this as it may, I still love dreaming about my mother. I find those dreams sad and wonderful—precious and hard like diamonds, and just as beautiful.