(disclaimer: this post has zero beer, sex, or cheese references)
On Martin Luther King day, we memorialize and pay tribute to the promise of a brighter future and those who have sacrificed in the name of freedom, justice, and equality. We celebrate today with the hope that as a people we might forge a new tomorrow and carve out a landscape of inclusion, and dream the dream of those who walked before. To march in their footsteps is to live that dream.
However.. that's not what this post is about. This post is about broken dreams. When I was a kid, Martin Luther King Jr. was my hero. I wrote essays and reports about him whenever I could. Then in January 1986, three things happened in rapid succession that awoke me from the dream of childhood with a bang. First, my grandpa died. A few days later, on MLK day, I wrote about Martin Luther King and his assassination decades before. Just a few days after that, I saw adults cry for the first time in front of me, when Christa McAuliffe and her fellow astronauts in The Challenger were blow out of the sky on live television. I was in my third grade classroom and had just turned in my report on Martin Luther King.
Even though I was only a kid, the concept of death, failure, and loss hit me hard. The promise of a better future seemed to explode with the Challenger. It frightened me to see the walls crumble - that death could be witnessed live on television, that teachers cry, that my father had a father and that my father cried. The foundation of my reality was pulled out from under me.
Ten years later, in college, I made a decision to take the safe route, knowing that dreams are only dreams, and foundations can be pulled out from under us. Rather than set out to be a writer, or to make films, like I wanted, or even to be the next Jane Goodall and make a difference studying apes in Africa, I decided to be a teacher and not just a teacher but a college teacher with a Ph.D. I thought I could help people learn and follow their own dreams. I thought it would be safe and sturdy and solid and at least I would have that foundation beneath me.
But you see, now more than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in debt, with only the hope of a low paying job in which I'll never be able to own a home or pay off my student loan, a job in which I work well over 60 hours a week, and a job that has meant living 2000 miles away from home, with very little possibility of ever finding a job at home in this economy and a bit of an anti-intellectual anti-humanities climate, I have neither foundation nor my dreams.
Everyone says "its never too late.." But sometimes it is. The hopeful idealism and energy of my twenties is gone and I think now that I'm in my thirties I'm sort of expected to have figured it all out by now. But I haven't and I am contemplating the possibility of destroying all foundations to build a new one. Its interesting to think that needing my feet planted on the ground has kept me from reaching for the sky. I think its time to let that go.
In our youth, some of us probably wanted to be rock-stars and maybe those dreams didn't work out and its for the best. Others of us had good dreams. What were yours?
What did you really want to be when you grew up - and are you doing it? If not, why?