The death of a dream.
I remember the night that Hubs and I packed up my 4th grade classroom like it was just a few days ago, and yet we are nearing a decade since that late night in July. I never actually got to teach a day in that classroom, but I sure poured a lot of love and time into making it lovely. It was my dream classroom at my dream school teaching my dream grade. It was all I had ever hoped for since I was only 5 years old.
And yet there I was packing all of it back up into boxes with the man that would soon be my husband because instead of starting the school year in a few weeks, I would be moving back to Guatemala with him to begin our new life together.
The truth was I didn’t feel near as calm as I looked on the outside. I was one of those mixtures of hot and cold, sad and excited, calm but fearful. But, for the most part my soon to be hubby and I worked in silence.
When we arrived back to my parents’ house, it was already quite late and my parents were already in bed but not yet asleep. I peaked in to let them know we were back, and as I turned to walk back out of the door, my dad quietly asked in the darkness, “How did it feel to pack up all your dreams tonight?”
It’s amazing how even now, all these years later that question still brings tears to my eyes.
My daddy knew me well. He knew that no matter how strong of a façade I was wearing, deep inside, I was mourning this loss. I just was too prideful to let anyone see it.
He knew how I had lined up my Barbie dolls at the bottom of the stairs to “teach them.” He saw me clapping around my grandma’s house in her hot pink high-heeled shoes pretending to be my most favorite teacher Mrs. Schmutzler. He overheard the times I made my sister “do homework” and listen to my lessons as I stood in front of my green chalkboard. My daddy knew all of these things. So he knew that turning in those keys and locking up that classroom was no easy task.
As I look back there are a thousand things that I wish I could go back and do different. In my immaturity, I didn’t always handle things correctly. I didn’t speak when I should I have. I spoke sometimes when I should have remained quiet. I just lacked so much of the foresight that age gives you.
That night still often stings. I still get choked up about it occasionally when someone reminds me of that season.
Deep down I think a part of me is still mourning the death of that dream.
And sometimes that is still really hard.
I think back to that picture of how my life was supposed to look right now, and more times than I would like to admit, I still feel a pang of sadness about it. There are still moments in time when I will catch a picture on a friend’s Facebook wall, and I will think, “Oh what a beautiful life they live. I wonder what it would be like to live it too?” Driving through the glorious Rocky Mountains back in October with my family in tow, I often stared up at those lovely cabins in the woods and wondered to myself, “Maybe someday we could live in one of those too…”
Even in the 10 years since I packed my teaching things into the boxes, there has never been an August that I don’t struggle through the grief of wishing I was starting a new school year again with my students. I still remember the smells and the sounds and the wonderful sights of new classroom supplies, new leather shoes, and the laughter of the kids excited from a wonderful summer and filled with expectation of a new school year with their friends.
The thing about death and grief is that it never quite goes away. The pain may fade in time but the sting of death and the grief that comes from it is always a bit near.
Nevertheless the death of a dream is more manipulative and much less cut and dry. We struggle with the “What if’s” and the “What could have been’s?” We never actually got to experience it in its fullness so we are left to paint the picture in a way that is often over-exaggerated and far from the depiction of the real thing. And this will damage us if we aren’t careful. It will enslave us. It will ask us to choose over and over again between what we think we could have had and the beauty and pain of what stands in front of us.
One of the most impacting moments in the newest version of “Beauty and the Beast” is the famous dance scene towards the middle/end of the movie. Belle and the Beast clearly have feelings for each other. He invited her to a lovely dinner and then they are dancing away in the stately ballroom, he in his best “suit” and she in her legendary yellow ball gown. It’s nothing short of breathtaking. Truly one of the most spectacular scenes in cinema I have seen in a very long time.
After they finishing dancing, they step out onto the balcony and the Beast asks Belle if she thinks that she could truly be happy there with him. Its obvious she believes she maybe could, but instead she says, “Can anyone truly be happy if she isn’t free?” I may have changed the wording just a tad because it’s been a couple of weeks since I saw it, but the idea has stuck with me since.
Can anyone really be happy if he or she isn’t free?
I don’t have to hesitate to answer because I know that happiness without freedom is only a mirage. Chains and captivity and walls and borders can often disguise themselves and give very lovely and impeccable illusions of freedom and happiness, but they can never master the real thing. We can never truly experience all the beauty and joy and happiness of this life if we are living in chains.
And those chains will look different for everyone. For so many years my chains were my lost dreams. I could never truly embrace this life because I was too busy mourning the one I never had but always believed I had wanted.
Later in the movie Belle of course does get to leave the castle so she can go and rescue her father. Once she does that, she tells him that she must now return to the castle to rescue the Beast (and I would add to “free him” although that was only implied never said aloud). Her father looks incredibly scared and pleads “but it will be dangerous.”
“Yes Papa, it will be dangerous. It will be very very dangerous,” she replies.
Sometimes breaking free from our chains will come with a cost. There will be a price to pay. There may even be some sadness and grief that come with it.
But isn’t freedom worth that price? Isn’t the danger worth facing if it means walls and chains and fences and borders no longer bind us?
Why do we choose captivity when we could have freedom? Why do we hold onto things that are meant to die so that we can go on living?
It took me a very long time but I finally decided to just let those dreams of mine die. I didn’t let them die because they no longer mattered, though. I let them die so I could live. I chose to believe that God knows better. I started to ask Him to give me new dreams and the strength to finally embrace this beautiful, lovely, hard, scary, crazy, rich life that He so graciously gave me.
“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
What old things do you keep trying to stuff into new wineskins? What is keeping you in captivity instead enabling you to face the perils and wonders of a life in freedom? Don’t choose the safety of what is known just because you know it. Choose to let die what needs to die. Choose to bury what kept you in chains. Choose to risk but to trust and believe that what God has for you is ten thousand times richer and fuller and just better than anything you could dream up for yourselves.
Dreams are good. They are good and lovely and wonderful. But, not all dreams are supposed to be realities, just as not all realities are as beautiful as a dream. But if we have the courage to keep dreaming while still living in our reality, I believe that we can find the freedom to trust God with both.