Tuesday, July 23, 2013

At What Cost?

My parents raised me to believe I could be anything I wanted to be. They were extravagant in their encouragement of my dreams, their extravagance neatly balancing my lack of confidence.

"Sure, you could write for Sports Illustrated," my mother told me once when I was admiring the story-telling journalism this magazine did so well. "Why not?"

"You could be Miss America if you keep practicing the violin," I remember my dad telling me, and it warms my heart to remember that he wasn't concerned that I was beautiful enough; he wanted to make sure I had my talent ready to go.

I am one of the lucky ones, though: I have grown up to do exactly (EXACTLY) what I dreamed of doing. I wanted to be a wife, and a mom, and I wanted to write. And here I am! Sitting smack-dab in the middle of my dreams.

But what about people whose dreams lead them into a funnel so narrow that only a few ever make it through? What if I had really dreamed of being Miss America? That was not going to happen, not in any parallel universe. What if I had really wanted to skate in the Olympics? What if I had really set my heart on being an ambassador to the United Nations?

The truth is that not everyone can do what they dream. If you have a minute or 20, you should read Bounced Around, a non-judgmental feature story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about an assistant basketball coach who has been willing to go to any legal length to prolong his dream of being a college basketball coach. He has worked for almost nothing, worked harder than anyone can imagine, to keep this dream alive. He has separated from his family for months and years, and still, as he enters middle age, he's living in crappy dorm rooms and sleeping in his car because he believes in his dream.

I am tormented by this story. We, too, have told our Boys their options are limitless. We encouraged them to keep their options open, to follow their hearts, to explore and sample (with some restrictions--I could not bring myself to let them play football). And with the exception of piano lessons, which were mandatory through eighth grade, they were not required to sign up for a second season of any sport or activity. Each filtered down into a comfort zone, and while they are still in process, they all seem to be pursuing lives that are joyful.

What would we have done if we had been blessed with one or more of those children whose dreams drive them? What would our lives have been like if Husband or I had been so consumed in our drive to get through that narrowed funnel that we sacrificed everything to that goal? What if one of the Boys had had the drive and the talent and the physical attributes to be a world-class swimmer?

I have no answers. I have only gratitude that my dreams and my reality have, in this stage of my life, been the same, because for some they are not.

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