At what point do you wake up and accept that your life has become a compromise? Over the course of days and years and decades all the choices you have made or half-made in a fog assemble themselves in a generally orderly fashion and we call them our “life”. We look at the picture we once drew of what we wanted our lives to be and notice that in some places we have colored outside of the lines. In others, what we filled-in fails to reach and meet what we demarked as being of the most value in our lives.
All of the choices we did make have been reasonable. They have been accepted and even encouraged by our spouse, our parents, our friends and neighbors and strangers who admire us. Each decision gave us something. Something we needed, regardless of whether we were consciously aware of what we were getting. And often the only thing it cost was temporarily setting aside a piece of a dream.
But as we have plodded along every day, gathering our coat and knapsack only when the fare collector said it was our stop, we’ve given up on what has been tucked away. Given up because our dreams were unrealistic. Given up because the path was not clear, or was not easy. Given up out of a fear that if we chased after that thing that we hold most deeply in our hearts, that we might stumble and lose all of those acceptable things that really have worked for us in some sense. All of those things that spoke to some need and brought us to where we are – even if where we are is not where we want to be any more. It is so much easier to live a half-of-a-life than to fight for a dream that does not come with guarantees.
So it is no wonder that we often fail to see the beauty, the goodness, the hope and magic that is around us in every moment. What feels like a dislocated and vague dissatisfaction is not about anything out there.
It is just that at a certain point we realize that all of the successes if life, everything we have striven after, the myrtle wreathes and gold medals and everything we have achieved, no longer satisfy because they are not about the things that mattered. At work we get or get passed over for promotions we never wanted and we feel dissatisfaction and despair. The children we worried about and hovered over in joyful exhaustion for years grow up and push away into an unforgiving world where we can no longer protect them. Illnesses rudely appear. And when we look across the table at the man or woman we married out of love and shared dreams, we realize that our lives together have become a shared and omnipotent “to do” list. And somewhere in the middle of all of this, we remember that packed away in boxes in the attic or at the back of some dusty shelf, are the dreams for our lives that we’ve set aside.
Unpack the boxes. Undust your dreams. Go to work every day and do what you must, diligently and with gratitude for what work gives you. Court your spouse again, reconnect with his or her deepest desires. Everywhere recommit to those inborn capacities that elevate us and bring us together: Compassion, forgiveness, hope, love, joy, trust, awe and gratitude.
And in the long nights that are always filled with stars, stay up with your dreams. Intimately engage and never set them aside again.