Dream a Dream
Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”
For bedtime, we turn on a ladybug that shines thousands of blue stars across the ceiling and, every night, the girls take a turn before storytime choosing a star and making a wish on it. Alight wished for the following tonight: “I wish to go to play with a dinosaur” while Breathe was more specific with her wish: “I wish for Mama’s nose to be purple.” After many giggles over the silly wishes tonight (they aren’t always that funny), after the final Monster Mash and Super Squeeze hugs were doled out, after the story was over and bedtime apple snacks eaten, their little eyes closed in slumber and I was left to gaze at each one. My mind was stuck half an hour back, on the wishing part. I let my eyes drift to the ceiling to where the multitude of stars still shone. I started wondering what sort of wish I might have made, had I had a red ladybug whose dots shone stars upon my ceiling as a child. I wondered what I might have wished for as a teenager. I wondered what I might have wished for as a college student. What would I wish for now? Then I started thinking about “The Character” again: it’s been on my mind a lot throughout the past few days. What would Anna wish for? What would Ash wish for? For every name I thought of, I imagined a different wish, and then I found it interesting to think about how wishes change as we age.
I don’t know if I’d have ever wished for my mother to have a purple nose or not, but there were plenty of times I wished for my bleach blonde head to be full of black or red (depending on the day) hair instead. I don’t know if I’d ever have wished to play with a dinosaur, but I’m sure I probably wished for the world’s fastest horse to be standing outside my door come morning once or twice. The wishes of children are whimsical, unlikely, extravagant, large. They wish for things that defy logic, they make wishes that reason predicts will be inevitably doomed—like having a mama’s nose turn purple. They wish they were princesses, or that frogs could talk, or that they could camp outside in a tent, even if it is thirty degrees. They wish they could be a doctor, a vet and a singer all at the same time, for real. They wish dragons and dinosaurs played together. They wish they had wings so they could fly.
Then they get older and start wishing for things like the ability to pass a math test (that would have been me), or to get invited to a special party, or that they had the same kind of sneakers as their best friend. They wish they did not have to have schoolwork, they wish that it would snow every day. The wishes have changed from grand to practical, that giant leap between childhood and societal—they want to fit in, and they want that more than they want to fly.
A few years down the road, they wish to get away, to live independently, away from home. Wishes of marriage start crossing their brains, they still dream of the fairy tale wedding and the fairy tale prince or princess. The wishes are more logical and rational, but they are still youthful and idealistic. They aren’t as impossible as flying or mothers with purple noses, but they still hint at the belief that the world is theirs and anything and everything is possible.
Until their hearts are broken, first one time, then three, then five. Until they realize that they’ve hurt people they love. Until they are taught that love isn’t a fairy tale, and that the magical weddings don’t guarantee a peaceful marriage. They, or someone they love, becomes really ill and they’re confronted by the possibility that death is real and can touch their lives. Reality gets in the way of those optimistic, youthful dreams and they find themselves using more tears than wishes. Indeed, a touch of cynicism sets in and they may even laugh at the idea of making a wish upon a star. They can’t remember wishing for their mother to have a purple nose, or see dinosaurs play with dragons. They think that wishing to fly is an example of naivete. Finally, though, that hurt and “mature” person is granted someone special, either a spouse, friend, child, teacher — someone stops and pays attention to that person long enough or her to believe in life again. Smiling comes easier and her heart feels lighter once more.
On a cloudless night, she sees a bright star and, without intending to, whispers the familiar line: star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. What does she wish for now, years removed from her own youthfulness? The safety of her children, the smile of a loved one, time. A huge growth has occurred: the wishes have evolved from flights of fancy to relational. She wishes for practical things, wishes that, if granted, will provide her with a longer sense of security than the fleeting pleasure of wearing the same brand sneakers that her classmates wear to school.
At first glance, I want to say this is good. I’m the first to acknowledge that relationships are one of the major points of life. Next to cultivating a relationship with the Almighty God, developing sound and close relationships with family and friends should be a close second on the list of priorities. Good families provide comfort and often ease the burdens of everyday life. They are among God’s greatest gifts. To wish for the protection of family and friends is a noble and honorable prayer: it is right and just. Furthermore, it shows a growth in maturity beyond what is apparent, for it demonstrates an understanding that the most important thing in the world is not one’s self. It shows a realization that in wishing for other people, you wish for that person’s entire family, since our lives are like ripples in a creek: when something affects us dramatically, it also affects those closest to us. There is nothing wrong, in other words, in making practical prayers, like “keep us safe from harm” or “let his business plan come through.”
What if the only wishes I ever make again are practical ones?
What if I never wish for, or pray for, something that others scorn, laugh at, consider naive?
The dreams we have change as we age, unquestionably. A child doesn’t know that dinosaurs are extinct: an adult does and can’t pretend otherwise. Having a book published, however, is a lofty dream, believe you me. So is recording a CD in Nashville and having it played on the radio. So is acting in Hollywood. So is asking for a promotion you’re logical brain warns you you’re never going to get. So is calling an old friend, just because you want to. So is making an apology. So is offering forgiveness. So is flying a hot air balloon or bungee jumping or skiing in Colorado even though you’ve never been on skis before in your entire life. So is wishing for an entirely different profession. So is sky diving. So is adopting. I could go on — but, the point is, adults have impractical wishes to.
Greg Mortenson is the author of “Three Cups of Tea.” It is his memoir of how he went to Afghanistan, was helped by a local village of remote people and decided he needed to build a school there for the people. Mortenson lived in the United States and was not wealthy. His promise to these people of a school was a major ordeal, a very lofty dream. Nicholas Sparks is an author whose name is well-known — but he started out without an editor, without even a publisher. He wrote his first book as a gift to his wife, printed enough copies for family to read it, then a local bookstore to sell it on commission until it was picked up by a traditional publisher. But he did it. “Into the Wild” is a movie about Ivy League graduate Chris McCandless who donates his $24,000 savings to charity and just packs his bag and heads to Alaska—alone, with no money. He craved solitude (at least at first). He craved an understanding that his wealthy, elite world wasn’t providing him. What he craved was to be primitive which, in this day and age, is a lofty dream. There are thousands and thousands of stories of adults who dared to make a wish upon a star—and then found the childlike belief from somewhere within themselves to make it happen. Were they wrong to make these wishes? Were they wrong to abandon one life in search of a dream that others said was unrealistic?
The truth is, God gives us our dreams, He gives us our wishes. And relational, familial, societal prayers and wishes are all wonderful, noble and needed. But so are the deepest, grandest wishes of our ideas. Too often grown-ups push aside their ideas and dreams and wishes in lieu of attending to “daily life.” They think, “I will later,” without really considering the fact that circumstances are likely never to be different. There will always be a lack of money and time, there will always be an over-abundance of stress. Depending on outside variables to change before you stop gazing into the stars and use your God given talents to act on your dreams means accepting that those wishes won’t ever be your reality. What I advocate more than anything else is taking care of those around us, children especially. Besides the relationship I have with God, there is nothing more important to me than ensuring my children are safe and happy, and that I do my best to raise awareness and understanding of the turmoil that child abuse begets (I love old words). Volunteerism is a critical piece of happiness, in my book. But, as true as that is, it’s also true that I am a child of God myself. To neglect my own dreams, to limit my wishes to concerns over money or time or even health, to pretend I harbor no belief in grandeur is to (a) lie to myself and (b) deny one of God’s children proper attention.
You want to know the truth?
I don’t write to be a New York Times bestseller. Frankly, I don’t even aspire to it in the least. I do, however, harbor dreams of having my books read by book clubs around the world. When I was a kid, I used to have this recurring dream about sitting at a table with a line of people, signing autographs with a blue Bic pen and having someone talk to me for ten minutes about one of my books. I used to day dream about selling out of books at a book signing. I shake my head and laugh even as I admit that. But do you know what? It actually happened! I used to day dream, too, about reading stories to my own children. i used to think about what we would do together. Everybody laughed when I said I would have a game where the children were the parents and got to tell me what to do. But Breathe and Alight and I play it regularly. I’m not saying that these are the most important dreams or wishes or prayers; I don’t believe they are. The most important thing to me is the safety and emotional well-being of my family, of Breathe and Alight. To secure this, I’ll make a gazillion prayers in my lifetime. The relationships we have with people are the most important things for which we can dream. My point is only that, after those wishes and prayers and dreams have been made, it is important, too, to allow ourselves to dream impractical things and to wish for things that we feel in our hearts would bring us joy. My point is that it’s not hopeless to do that, and that it’s not wrong to spend our time and talents chasing large, whimsical dreams. I want my daughters to grow up believing in the impossible. I want them to grow up believing that whatever they imagine themselves is possible. I want them to hold on to those impossible wishes, to teach them that those naive, youthful wishes are worthy wishes.
Tomorrow morning, when my daughters awaken, they will see dinosaurs set up to play next to dragons in a forest full of wild animals—-and, at least for a day, they will have a mommy with a purple nose.