There came a point in my life a few years ago in which I realized I didn't really dream anymore. Though I had dreams when I fell asleep at night, I no longer daydreamed about adventures I could take; of a person that I could become; of romances that could whisk me off my feet; of a career that aligned with my heart. At some point, I simply accepted that I was on a path, it was pretty straight, and as long as I didn't veer too far off the trodden yellow brick road, I would never become lost. I became the ultimate pragmaticist, focused on financial security and safety and comfort. Always stating, "this a means to an end," but without asking, "but is this what I want?" By avoiding my heart, I felt in control, but I also felt stagnant. I had lost an internal flame that once burned creativity and passion into the depths of my spirit. At some point, I forgot that there existed a "road less traveled." As Paulo Coehlo noticed, "there comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it's still there." My dreams were buried. I had forgotten that I could shape my current reality into whatever I wanted, and I couldn't remember what I wanted anymore.
But as slowly as my dreams subsided, one day they creeped back in. I was in Northern Nigeria having experiences so foreign I was almost certain I was not actually experiencing them. I shadowed a seventy-year old woman hiking through the bush, investigating religious conflict, traveling where she felt called, interviewing those in conflict, hugging those in need. This woman, Caroline Cox, epitomized a life driven by a heightened sense of purpose, of living the life she believed she should live. And because of this, her heart was free.
And so, half-way through law school, my world of possibility expanded. It was if, after being repressed for so long, the kinetic energy of these pent up dreams burst into the infinite leaving me chasing parts of them in Uganda, and Rwanda, and the streets of LA, and New York City, and Armenia, and Thailand. But the dreams had been stifled for so long, I couldn't quite ascertain the road to reach them. I couldn't even quite verbalize what my dreams were...and this made me sad. The girl who used to rest in imagination, now rested in imitation, mirroring the lives of those around me, wondering if I should want what they wanted.
Realizing that I had the power to dream again, scared me too. Because if I wanted to achieve my dreams, I needed to make choices. This is scary. This means I have control.
Although I am not entirely in control of my circumstances, I cannot be held hostage by them. I know that at the end of the day, if I don't attain my dreams, it is not because of societal pressures, or familial expectations, or closed opportunities...it is because I was too scared to pursue (and even sacrifice) what I believed I was called to do.
A couple weeks ago my book club (yes I belong to a book club and, no, I do not watch Oprah... yet) read the Alchemist. I had read it years ago, but it's one of those books you should keep by your bedside and pick up every so often to remind you of a life that "could be." As we sat around discussing the book, we went in a circle and each vocalized our inner aspirations. The question of "who do you WANT to be? what do you WANT to do?" invoked much more conversation than "who are you now; what do you do?" A lot of us hadn't asked ourselves about our dreams in a while; some of our dreams were simple; some were complex and far-fetched. But, regardless of what they were, the mere thought of them awakened a childish hope that anything could be possible.
My dreams as a child consisted of fantasies and castles and sugarplum fairies and prince of charmings. Now, depending on my mood, they are subject to change. The vagabond in me dreams of a life of travel and wander. The hippy in me dreams of living in a commune with my friends. The hero in me dreams of exploiting the rich and using their money to provide necessities to those in poverty across the globe. The materialist in me dreams of vacations on isolated islands. But most days, my dreams align with what I now believe to be my personal calling: to develop a self-therapeutic, voluntary, and step intensive program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, for post-traumatic stress that communities, who have no access to individualized therapy, can implement and take ownership in. I'm not sure quite the path this will lead me on, but I'm hoping as I go, the road will become more clear.
Whatever my dream may be on a given day, the simple act of dreaming blasts open the heavy bars of pragmaticism, of financial security, of parental desires, and of societal expectations. It allows me take off running to visions of foreign places, of love, of my heart's desires. It allows me to "see the world in terms of what I would like to see happen, not what actually does." (Coehlo). Though the pursuit of my personal calling will undoubtedly be filled with struggle and sacrifice, the reality of the path towards the dream makes the journey beautiful. And even though I feel that the road is long, I know that right beyond the "now" is a realm of possibility that awaits to be seized by a dreamer.