Not long before my dad’s ninetieth birthday, he declared with some satisfaction that he had accomplished everything he had set out to do in his life. This got me thinking about goals and dreams and about whether I, in the end, would be able to say the same. Mostly I was thinking about my unpublished book—that regret of all regrets, the unfinished business that I may leave behind.
But is attempting to get a novel published so wildly unrealistic? I mean, it’s not like I resolved to win a Nobel Prize or to star in my own sit-com. And yet I’ve been wondering lately whether I wouldn’t have had a happier life if I had NOT persevered in what I felt was my true calling.
Maybe the trick is to limit yourself to only those aspirations that are within your control. The judging publishers, the panel of prize-granters, the network execs—these are all pretty major checkpoints in the roadmap of the dreamer’s life. So go ahead and dream; just don’t translate your more elusive dreams into goals. A goal is hard-edged, attainable, not bleary and slippery like a dream. Become a nurse. Save money. Own a home. These are goals.
But what about all the sad couples I met years ago in a support group for parents who had experienced miscarriages, still births, infant deaths? These were people who had presumed nothing more than the most basic biological function. And yet they had suffered--some more than once—the incomparable loss of a child, however unformed or evanescent. .
Just last week I learned of the death of a friend I’d met a year ago at the Stowe Weekend of Hope, an annual retreat for cancer survivors. Brenda had driven all the way from Ohio to Vermont for the weekend. We spent most of that time together and then stayed in touch. When I didn’t hear from her a few months, I knew she was gone.
Brenda’s obituary reminded me that she had fulfilled a long-standing dream when she graduated from college in her mid-forties. Brenda was a mother of four and may have been the first in her family to get a college degree. I can’t remember. I think she had it right when she set out on a route that was bumpy at times, a long road, a challenge--but very much within her capability to navigate.
Yes! Reach for the stars…well, the ones within your reach.