Sometimes it is not the complexity of prosody that carries the greatest power; it is the pure eloquence of an image, a moment, the perfect marriage of a few words that says more than whole books may convey. Those simple things, the phrase, the moment, may touch upon something too deep to be easily explained.
I was driving home from work, listening, as is my custom, to the radio. As I flipped the switch, letting unfamiliar voices flood the interior of my car, I found myself in the middle of an interview with an African American musician, explaining why he had chosen a particular piece of music to express his feelings about winter. He spoke of an incident lost in the past that inspired him; the image of his father, a blue collar worker, struggling against brutal winter weather as he fought his way to work past the windows of the school where his son sat trying to gain access to the higher echelons of society through education. The soft voice on the radio spoke of his father's bowed back, not even immediately recognizable as his parent, as he walked "as if all his dreams were behind him."
I paid little attention to the rest of the interview. That simple phrase, those words, utterly chilled me. There, in so few syllables, was one of the great fears of mankind laid bare, the horror of aging. There lies truth. It is not the fear of physical failing or of death that makes us avert our eyes from age. It is the fear that all our dreams will be behind us, that nothing will be pulling us forward to tomorrow. Instead, the icy fear invades our gut, we will merely stumble toward the end of our earthly existence crushed by the weight of dreams scattered behind us on our path, a heavy past driving inexorably toward a vacuous future.
As if all his dreams were behind him.
As we grow older, we accomplish goals, tick things off our "bucket lists." But we often abandon dreams or push them off until later. But somewhere, somewhen, there is an elusive moment where the future and the past switch places, and those dreams fall behind us. For some, that moment conflates with the last breath; there are always dreams ahead of us, we never stop wanting, longing. For others of us, it happens far earlier. We give up on wanting and longing, or we give up because we believe those things are the purview of a younger generation, and we somehow have the notion that if we keep dreaming, there will be a shortage of dreams for them.
There are no guarantees in life, but I do not want to trudge through my life with my dreams behind me. Daily, I worry about my widower father who struggles to fill his empty days and his emptier nights. I avert my eyes from aging, fleeing not from the fears of wrinkles or aches, but of a void without dreams drawing me forward. Perhaps it is best to put that in words and to begin building, not a practical plan for the future, but a fortress of dreams, floating ever before me, unattainable, tempting, and full of hope.