Thursday, April 8, 2010

All I Have to Do…Is Dream.

At the beginning of March we celebrated our second annual Writers Week at the high school where I teach. It was amazing and I was once again inspired by the experience of watching our students share their work along with professional and faculty writers. My students get to attend all week long for the low, low price of admission of a few reflections, some thank you notes, and a shareable draft of a piece they were inspired to write during the week. One of the shareable drafts really moved me this year. It struck a chord with me as both a father and a brother, and I wanted to share it here. Many thanks to Clayton for allowing me to post this along with our noisy little adventures.

My Dreams

Last Thursday night was the last night I said prayers with my little brother before bed. After helping him brush his teeth, wrestling with him, and then tucking him in, I asked the dreaded question: “Caleb, would you like to pray?” Despite the politeness in my voice, I still expected a “no.” But to my surprise, my brother replied, “sure.”

My brother then began his prayer, first thanking God for our family, then our friends, all of his toys, our dog Toby—and a pause.

Smacking his tongue off the roof of his mouth to make that clicking noise that people use when they’re ready to begin a sentence, he continued his prayer, “Oh, and thank you for Clayton,” he looked over at me, his eyes gleaming, “the best brother in the world.”

Caught slightly off guard I smiled and said, “Thanks, buddy.”

Caleb then finished his prayer with a quick “Amen” and then he did something that I will never forget. Squeezing me tightly in a “bear hug,” he whispered into my ear, “Guess what, Clayton?”

For those who don’t have a younger sibling, this is usually the beginning of a rant, and at this time of night—bedtime—it’s likely the child’s ploy to avoid sleep. But I decided to hear him out, what could it hurt?

“I’ll be just like you when I get older.”

I tried to find the words to reply, but none would come. He didn’t realize the magnitude of what he was saying. Just like me? I guess he just doesn’t understand how dumb that would be. But how am I supposed to tell him that? He looks up to me, perhaps more than anyone else.

“No, Caleb—you don’t want to be.”

A puzzled face looked back at me; he didn’t understand. That conversation was for another time. But I walked out of that room hurt—no, tormented by what my brother had said. I’ve led a fairly good life, full of academic achievements and whatnot, but I’ve given up on something that I want him to hold on to, and that’s dreams.

I wanted to be an artist years ago, and I put all my effort into it not because it was a duty or responsibility, but because I loved it. I took classes and I read books—I even began talking to professionals about what life as an artist was like. Now, though—now I’m going to college to study Geography, so I can get a good job and live a life of luxury. I figured that trading in what was fun for something that was rigorous yet rewarding would pay off—it didn’t. I find myself at a point where I can no longer return to my dreams, childlike as they may be. My dreams—my passions—are long gone. I’m a number, now: a statistic. What’s exciting about that?

Caleb—he still has a chance: he can still live life happily in doing what’s not only right, but what is enjoyable for him. That is why I live through him, to see that he lives the best life possible, and that he can find his niche. I want him to be smarter, more athletic, and simply put, better than me. He deserves the best, and I’ll do anything to see it through that he’s got the best. So perhaps I can still dream—but just not for myself. I’ve already lost my chance.

When I was a senior in high school I dreamt of being a storm chaser. I was going to study meteorology and travel Tornado Alley like Helen Hunt…er, Phillip Seymour Hoffman…in Twister. However, I ended up at Truman State University as a math major…for about a week…and the dream was gone. I was certainly still interested in meteorology and still hoped to one day chase a tornado across the uninhabited plains, but I resigned myself to the knowledge that it wasn’t my future career.

What happened, instead, was that another dream crept its way into my head—a dream I didn’t anticipate, but one I wouldn’t ever trade for a Pecos Bill-ian adventure: I became an English teacher. Sure, the adrenaline doesn’t course through my veins the way it would as a storm chaser, but I also don’t have to worry about the extreme winds mussing my hair. It all balances out.

When I read Clayton’s piece, the belief that his dreams "are long gone" stung like a paper cut at a lemonade stand. I don’t believe him. Dreams are fleeting and may seem to fade, but they’re never gone. They’re always a part of who you are, especially the dreams you have in childhood, because they’re so important in shaping who you become.

Right now, Mini-Me dreams of becoming a superhero. It wasn’t too long ago that he wanted to be a firefighter. The Wubster dreams of being a monkey—at least that’s what I’ll assume since he hasn’t said otherwise. I’m fairly certain that Mini-Me will never be bitten by a radioactive elephant and gain the ability to douse fires with water from his super-trunk. I’m also pretty sure The Wubster won’t fling feces across a zoo cage. Will they hold on to elements of these passions, though, and use them later in life. Maybe. Maybe not. The only given is that their dreams will most certainly change as they experience more and more of the world around them, because that’s the nature of human existence. It doesn’t change the fact that these dreams motivated them at some point, though.

I eventually took the ONE meteorology class offered at Truman State and drooled over every minute of it. My love for the class rivaled that of my best literature courses. Even if only for a whirlwind semester, I’ll always be grateful the opportunity arose to study storms and weather systems.

These days I incorporate my non-career based passions at every opportunity. I often focus on scientific aspects of literature and life, such as the discussion of sunrises in Julius Caesar or having breakfast with Mini-Me in the driveway while watching the Space Shuttle and ISS pass overhead, because that’s what I’m interested in. In doing this, I hope my students, and especially Mini-Me, the Wubster, and She-Who-Shall-Soon-Be-Named will recognize that passions and dreams don’t have to be let go. Just because your job isn’t your dream, your dreams can shape how you do your job.

Clayton may not become a professional artist as he once dreamed, but I see him constantly doodling. He obviously is passionate about his art and I’m certain he’ll hold on to this passion, just as I’m certain he’ll be successful as a Geographer if that’s where college truly takes him. I’m also sure, though, that he hasn’t “lost his chance”; he still has dreams and will have many more in his future. Maybe he’ll find a way to incorporate his artwork with Geography by illustrating maps for textbooks. Maybe he’ll end up creating graphics for Google Earth. Maybe he’ll simply share his passion for art with children, and shape their dreams.

He’s certainly already had that impact on his brother.