When Dreams Die

Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.”― Edmund Lee

What happens to dreams when they die? Where do they go? Do they fade away; evaporate from the subconscious like a single drop of water in the desert? Do they sink to the deepest part of the soul, the dark abyss where all forgotten and neglected desires go? Are they lost within the shadows, sharing space with life’s other failures?

We’re not talking about childish wants and whims, but core, soul-building (and soul-stealing) dreams. Callings that echo from somewhere far beyond ourselves, that haunt and follow us down through the years; from the cradle to the grave. The thing – besides obligation and necessity – that makes each one of us get out of bed in the morning. The thing we feel we have to do. 

The writer who only finds solace while at the keyboard typing or in the pages of a well-crafted book. The pianist who finds herself growing physically ill if deprived of playing or listening to music. The man or woman who ignores his or her purpose in life often becomes an aimless vessel tossed upon a raging sea of regret, forever being slammed against the jagged rocks of reality. 

There are those who disregard their passion even though it burns like a fire from the inside out. Some people walk away out of fear, others because they tried once and failed. If something is hard, it’s worth doing. If being great – standing on an Olympic podium, writing a bestseller, starring on the silver screen, curing a fatal disease – if these things were easy, everyone would be doing them. 

Not all dreams have to be grand. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa to change the world. Some dreams, while seemingly simple – being a teacher, a fire fighter, a policeman, a doctor or a nurse – are as important, if not more so, than dreams based on creativity or physical might. All dreams may not seem equal, but they are in the eyes of the dreamer. 

Everyone is called to be something, yet so many ignore that inner voice. When you see someone loving what they are doing – whether it’s the friendly checkout girl at the local grocery store, or the whistling man picking up your garbage once a week – they are doing what they love. Not everyone wants to be a world leader or a rock star. 

The glue, the people who hold this world together, the real heroes, are the people we see every day. And this doesn’t just include the folks on the frontline. While they should be wearing capes, they are not the only ones. Gas station attendants, retail sales people; the mechanic who works on your car, the dentist who keeps your teeth healthy, most of them are living their dream. 

The path of least resistance is the path most chosen. It’s human nature to want to find the easiest way to navigate the world. But what if the easy way never allows us to become the person we are meant to be? We sell ourselves short, and the price we pay for choosing the easy path can damage us both emotionally and physically. 

Much like a wound left unattended, a dream abandoned can wreak havoc on the dreamer’s health, creating all kinds of unwanted and undiagnosable symptoms. There’s always a sickness just below the surface, aching like a broken bone. Often the dream ignorer stumbles through life, lost, without purpose, deaf to the sound of their inner narrator telling them they’ve cheated themselves.

Is there a point of no return for dreams abandoned? Not always, but some dreams do come with an expiration date.

Take Daniel. A once toned and athletic young man with immense talent who was on the verge of greatness in sports. All the years of hard work and training were about to pay off when he was offered a tryout for a minor-league affiliate to a pro baseball team. The likelihood of him making the team was strong, as was the possibility of him eventually moving up to the majors. 

Hope was alive, and all was right in Daniel’s world. He stood on the cusp of adulthood and the edge of a childhood dream that, barring any uncontrollable disaster or injury, was about to be realized. Like so many dreams, though, Daniel’s died a painful and unnecessary death. The saddest death of all, perhaps. 

Daniel’s mother, an overbearing and self-righteous woman who wielded an emotional sword like a dragon slayer in ancient times, and an older brother who, jealous of his own short-comings and lack of athletic ability, collectively killed Daniel’s dream. (With Daniel’s help, of course. We all have free will.)

A mother is supposed to support her children, encourage them to step out in faith, to reach for the stars. Not Daniel’s mother, she thrust her sanctimonious sword deep into the flesh of her son’s dream; told him it was time to “be a man and get a real job.”

Although the mother did her best to murder it, Daniel’s dream still had breath, until his older brother – who had allowed himself to be bullied into a career not of his choosing – served up the verbal dose of poison that would ultimately snuff out the dream.

At a time when Daniel was most vulnerable and needed his brother’s support and encouragement, the older sibling convinced the younger to abandon his dream – it would only offer short term gain and long term pain, he reasoned.

Daniel was never the same. He became an emotional time bomb, always on the verge of exploding; drinking and fighting at the drop of a hat. Anger stalked him. He floated from one job to the next, never quite sure where he belonged in this world. 

I often wonder if Daniel’s problems weren’t a direct result of not taking his shot; not following what he knew was the right path for his life? What else could be at the heart of such deep-seeded resentment and anger? 

Often it’s not even the realization of a dream that brings fulfillment, but the doing; the journey that leads us to where we’re supposed to be (which is often far from where we thought we would end up). So many dreams are just doorways to other (often better) opportunities, to other dreams.

Today Daniel lives a relatively happy life (at least outwardly). He made out better than most dream ignorers who wind up anchored to a life they never wanted do. But somewhere in the deepest part of his soul, the dark abyss where all forgotten and neglected desires go, the remains of a childhood dream is concealed by shadows. Because when dreams die, they rarely rest in peace.