Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dreams Come True

I stood there in the morning sunlight, tears running down my face, feeling the fool, yet at the same time filled with the fierce joy that made my cheeks wet. Around me the crowd chanted along, and I joined them, words strong in spite of the tightness in my throat; “Dreams come true.”

In front of me, the stage erupted in pyrotechnics and the final number of the show kicked into high gear. I wiped away the tears, feeling foolish. It was just a kids’ show at the Magic Kingdom. Yet for all the ridiculous costuming and simplistic story, there was something there that touched deep. I believed, have always believed, in the power and importance of dreams. Audience participation gimmick it may have been, but the sound of hundreds of voices raised, chanting “Dreams Come True” with the conviction needed to vanquish a character whose villainy rose from the assertion that the world no longer believes in the power of dreams, struck me as a beautiful metaphor.

In my composition class, I assign an in-class essay as part of a student exam. The students may write an essay inspired by an image or a poem, and one of the poetry choices is Langston Hughes’s “A Dream Deferred.” The simple, vivid language of the piece, combined with its human and cultural messages seems a powerful inspiration to me. Every semester, students write about the psychological consequences of forgetting what our minds create while we sleep and ponder the question of what happens to those dream images when we wake up. And every semester I am horrified. “It’s not that kind of dream,” I think. And yet I am forced to face the reality that for some people, those are the only dreams of which they are consciously aware.

We all dream. As children, we choose careers on the basis of heroism, excitement, and service to others. We spend long hours playing out what we think our futures will bring, or at least imagining that our future will be what we desire – empowered, like our parents, nothing like our parents, shaped by hopes and by greatness. But years roll by, and reality intrudes. Responsibility rings us in, and we become habituated to the rolling cycle of busy-ness that fills our time. Our dreams get buried.

I do believe that is villainy. Perhaps not as tangible as a green-skinned Malificent rising from a Disney World stage in a puff of green smoke, but something far more insidious. We give up; we forget; we relegate dreams to the realm of childhood and fools. But by doing so, we lose our chance at greatness. We lose our chance at completeness and at a better world. We give up our greatest power and isolate ourselves from our fellow humans and from our own potential.

Dreams are the things that have shaped our world. From the ancients who dreamed the shapes of the stars into legends that revealed human nature to the ragtag assembly of farmers and lawyers who proposed a new country in the British colonies to Martin Luther King Jr to Shakespeare to his queen and her armada. Those men and women doubtless had night visions like the rest of us, but those were not the dreams that they paid a personal price to pursue; those were not the dreams that changed the world.

But those were great men and great women, destined for great things. Perhaps, but they were great because they were dreamers and doers. They believed strongly enough that dreams come true to pursue what they believed in, to push beyond the mundane into the places that societal common sense tells us are the realm of children and madmen. They refused to put childish visions behind them and “face reality.” Instead, they believed that human dreams could make reality. They believed in their dreams, and the world, sometimes hesitantly, sometimes violently, sometimes joyously submitted the power of those dreams.

Standing there, in a make-believe land where adults feel separated enough from reality to chant along with a person wearing a mouse costume, I felt a shiver of an arcane truth. I wondered how many of those gathered in front of a forced perspective castle in the Florida sun took a second to think about the words they tossed out into the clear morning air. How many of them really did believe, even for a moment, that dreams come true and that they have the power to overcome skepticism and apathy? Did they recognize the metaphor behind the power of their voices, raised in faith in an ideal, to vanquish an idea that has been dragging mankind to a lower denominator for millennia? Or did they merely parrot what they were told for the sake of conformity and the happiness of their children?

I’ll never know, but I do know that I choose to believe in dreams. I refuse to stop believing in possibility and heroism. I refuse to give up being a heroine in my own fantasy world. I do not believe that docile acceptance of our circumstances and the adoption of behavior that allows us to get by is the only way to live our lives. Certainly, I live a life filled with the mundane and with responsibility, and those small things fill my days. But I believe that cover of the ordinary stretches over a mighty framework of dream and possibility, and even though I cannot always see the frame, I have faith it is there, waiting to burst through, waiting for humanity to be ready for it. I do believe that dreams come true, not free, but True, and that faith is what carries me past the mundane and into the morning sunlight.

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