Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dreaming Big

I used to have dreams.

Big ones.

Practicing my Oscar acceptance speech big.

What would I win for? Acting, maybe. Later, screenplay. Adapted, naturally. It’s the easier route.

Those dreams were fun to think about, but were more fantastical than actual goals. They eased gradually as real life took over, and sort of puffed away like breath clouds in the winter.

I haven’t practiced my Oscar speech in at least a year.

Sometimes, though, the kind of person who has big dreams resurfaces, and she comes quietly, just humming under the skin, until the moment I’ve realized that nobody in my house listens to a word I say nor notices that I manage their garbage all day long.

Then the surface breaks and that person unleashes a Come to Jesus monologue usually aimed at my husband, a performance complete with tears and snot about how I put my career permanently on the shelf for our family. Has anyone sacrificed this much? Surely no one has given up what I have (declared dramatically, with Katharine Hepburn affect).

A rant like this would certainly win me an Oscar if not for the small fact that this movie is my life and there’s only one actor and there’s no one paying to watch it.

Though I’m sure my husband would argue that he pays plenty to watch it. Plenty.

And then one day, after many of these moments, just like that – my grandfather died.

Soon after, it was my husband’s uncle. Then my grandmother. My other grandmother. My husband’s grandmother. Between them, the parents of several good friends. Then more: a family friend, a woman from church, the list goes on.

The rule of three – where death happens in threes and then stops for a while – was thrown out the window with the loss of life that swirled in and around our lives the last several years. While the rest of the world mourned the parade of famous people passing, we were already grieving. It is just beginning. We are at that age where the people who helped formed our histories are approaching the end of their own. “Death is a part of life,” I say to myself, often. It happens to all of us.

Their obituaries are long. The columns list birthdays, anniversary dates, workplaces, churches attended, hobbies, names of family members. They include descriptions about their personalities complete with flourishes, highlighting all the best parts and all the wonderful things they did, their high significance in their loved ones’ lives. These were great people in their circles. They were “loved by all” and would be “missed by many” in their absence. The funerals I attend are celebrations of life, filled with shared memories, laughter, tears, fond remembrances spoken with quavering voices to rooms full of mourners.

Life will never again be the same when the people we love die. Back-to-back deaths like this affect us deeply, change us forever. We resist getting used to these life-altering losses, refuse to take the news of a life ending with anything but shock and sadness. We are devastated without them, yet our lives go on.

This intense period of loss awareness makes me think about what will happen when I die. Selfishly, I want people to think of me with flourishes and high significance. I’m not alone in this, and neither is my husband, who, after being away from a business trip for two days, bursts thorough the door bellowing, “I’m here! Was it unbearable without me?” and then is disappointed when the reaction is anything but dancing with joy, piles of presents, and gushing that life ceased to have meaning while he was gone.

Take it easy, guy. You were in Park City, not back from your fourth tour in Afghanistan.

The people in our lives are regular people who live alongside us for years, and their lives touch ours deeply. Everyone has big dreams at some point in their lives. Maybe they even hold onto them until the end. Maybe we know about these dreams, and maybe we don’t. Of all the people that I have known to leave this world recently, not one of them won an Oscar. Maybe they had Oscar dreams, but that doesn’t add to their significance and the manner in which they are remembered.

We all want to be remembered fondly, and in big ways if possible. But memories don’t always call up honors and awards. They settle on how we were thoughtful gift-givers, the way we welcomed people we barely knew, how we helped those in need, our warmth and humor and fearlessness and strength.

We all dream about what we might achieve, but we might not dream about how we will be remembered. Maybe we won’t win Oscars, but we can refer to the good examples of loved ones who have passed and pattern our lives after theirs. And maybe we will be honored with flourishes and significance when we are gone.

I am learning that those are dreams worth having.


Please don’t use this as my obituary picture.
Or do.
Either way, please remember me with high significance.

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