The Dreams We Carry
Hearts are Like elephants because they never forget. Hearts are like mason jars; they hold the most sacred of all of our pieces, our fears, triumphs, heartbreaks, joy and every one of our dreams. Hearts are like stars, too, and every once in awhile the dreams they hold fall, like a shooting star, a flame dying.
Someone asked me recently what’s something you’re dreaming about? Since I didn’t really want to interrupt a lighthearted conversation, I shrugged and mentioned an upcoming trip. The response no, that’s something you’re going to do. I mean, what’s a real, long term dream you’re chasing?
I deflected the question, a skill I’m extraordinarily gifted at, because… walls… but, still, it lingered with me. Despite writing about the importance of believing in dreams and chasing them, despite coaching my daughters to follow whatever they are passionate about… I don’t actually talk about what my dreams are, or even, what they used to be. Dreams have been kind of like birthday wishes: say them out loud they’ll vanish. It’s scientifically acknowledged that if you speak something, it makes it more real. Goals, for instance, should be written down because it’s hard to disregard the written word. If it’s written, if it’s talked about, it feels more real, and you’re more likely to take steps to realize the dreams. Which is why I haven’t written about, or talked about, most of mine. You can’t really lose something that wasn’t real.
As a child, I dreamed of being a teacher or child psychologist; weirdly, I never had serious dreams of being a famous writer. Sure, I dreamed of book signings, and practiced my autograph. But I never imagined, not seriously, that I’d really make it into any bestselling lists. And I certainly never imagined I’d speak in front of groups of people.
This dream, the one of working with kids, came true. Not in the career way that I dreamed it would, but in the volunteer roles I’ve played, and will continue to lead. They fill me. This dream of teaching and loving and protecting and advocating for children is a passion that I don’t see disappearing. It’s part of what gives me hope and breath. The memories of the kids in the myriad of classrooms I’ve taught and playgrounds I’ve crawled in give meaning to a past dotted in terror.
Like most everybody, I dreamed of finding someone to love. I imagined a wedding, of course, and a home; sometimes, I even imagined what songs we’d dance to. Keith Urban’s Your Everything and Lonestar’s Amazed, books like Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught and the Only series by Lowell—-these things helped me imagine a world in which I found the proverbial happily ever after. I dreamed of this for a long time. I didn’t work too hard at making this come true and, with flawless hindsight, I think it was deliberate on some part. After all, in order for love to be real, and to last, you have to believe, at least a little, that you are worthy of it because, if you don’t, you’ll subconsciously sabotage even the most precious of chances instead of allowing the other person to figure out h/she’s getting the sour end of the deal and leave.
I think this dream burned bright for me really only once because only once was I so head over heels that I forgot, even just for a little bit, everything else, even that I might not be enough. By the time I started freaking out and trying to rebuild some of the walls I’d forgotten to fortify, it was too late. The dream faded. The next time it flickered, but I was a lot more careful. I kept the walls securely fortified this time and waited for him to leave. It took a long time but, eventually, it died. And, at that point, I think I gave up.
This love dream simply wasn’t for me. I was too broken, with too much baggage and the idea of finding someone… well, who? The first time, I thought I’d found someone perfect, and how could I expect someone who had a whole life that couldn’t have been more different than mine to see something in someone like me? That thought terrified me and I refused to trust him enough to find out if he did or not. And, so, it faded.
The second time the dream flickered…. I wasn’t honest enough with myself to acknowledge that the feelings were different, or that there were physical warnings that petrified me. I ignored those warnings because I didn’t think I could find something any better. I needed to be realistic, not foolish, I told myself. And the issue of physical trust made everything else virtually impossible.
Not trusting him physically was emotionally devastating for me. In fact, it was enough for me to let go of the love dream entirely. So, what minimal effort I’d put into finding someone before just stopped. I didn’t delete profiles, but I never log in anymore, haven’t in years. It’s been a solid ten years since I’ve been on a date, much less anything else. And I’m ok with this. It hurt, letting go of this dream, but it mainly hurt because it meant that I wasn’t enough. Not emotionally and not physically. That hurt worse than acknowledging I’d likely be alone my whole life.
The dream that has always mastered the most is that of being a mother. Even as a very little girl, I remember thinking of names and dolls mattered. Being around children made me feel whole; I didn’t feel clumsy or inadequate, I didn’t feel inferior. I understood them and, unlike in moist (read: all) adult relationships, I could give what they needed. First with the students I taught in volunteer capacities, then with the children I mentored one-on-one and, finally, with the births of Breathe & Alight, I dreamed of making a difference in the lives of a young child. They offered me (and still do) so much more than I gave. Immersing myself in their world, I didn’t feel quite so much like a failure in mine. The dream for a bushel of kids motivated me for decades.
When my girls were babies, sometimes I would look at them and be overwhelmed, whispering are you a baby? because I couldn’t believe this dream came true. This gift has been the one I’ve spent my entire adulthood protecting and nurturing and trying to deserve. It is awe inspiring and magical. And it puts the other dreams in place.
Last week, the hysterectomy threatened to completely unglue me. It was the permanent removal of any chance to see that’s dream bloom again. Which is so, so silly. I turned 40 in October, I have literally not been on even one date in at least 10 years, it’s not like there’s any chance of pregnancy. And yet—that was my girls’ home for 9 months, it was the thing that gave me the only dream that ever really mattered. Giving it up meant saying goodbye to the only dream I had left. And quickly, without opportunity for enough written words for me to come to terms with it.
And so, now, here we are, a bit more than a week out. For awhile, I’ve been drowning a bit. Bout with COVID followed by an anaphylactic reaction to iron, followed by the hysterectomy. Dreams haven’t seemed real. They haven’t seemed close and I was trying to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I stopped doing the things I love: I hadn’t bought a new book or read a beloved one in ages, I stopped taking the bubble baths, showering instead. And I trudged along, feeling unseen, broken and really, really exhausted. The memories of the heart were heavy and, piece by piece, suffocating me. Old nightmares led to renewed insomnia and that led to a silence that led to paralyzing self-doubt.
Yesterday a random email from a very kind stranger, a Chatter Chat with the girls and a spontaneous decision to reread a beloved book left me feeling a bit more optimistic, a bit more capable of seeing the sunlight. And I was reminded that the dreams we carry, we can’t ever really lose. Already a mother to the two most precious girls, a legacy is being written now. And their home is with me, still. The heart is like an elephant: it never forgets. And, if we let it, the remembering can birth new dreams.
Someone recently asked what’s your dream? When I responded about an upcoming trip, he said, no, that’s something you’re going to do. But what are your long term dream that you’re chasing?
I spent most of last night thinking about that. The truth is: I’d sacrifice all of my dreams if I could ensure that my life could inspire someone else. I want to live so that my girls are proud of me, so that God is proud of me and so that, just maybe, I can be a light in the darkness for someone else.
A couple years ago, I was at work one day when I overheard two colleagues talking religion. I don’t speak unless I have to, so I kept working, until I heard one of the colleagues say, what’s the difference between baptism and salvation? My ears perked up and I remember cocking my head, feeling a stirring in my heart. Still, I didn’t interfere. The second colleague hesitated and then said, yeah, I don’t really know. I bet Tiffini would know. And they came to ask.
That was one of the highlights and greatest compliments I could have received because, even though I don’t talk about God at work (I don’t really usually talk about anything non work related), they knew I’d know the answer to that question, and they felt comfortable asking me. See, the real dream isn’t in achieving a happily ever after (a good thing for me!) or even having kids. The real dream is about leading by example and being a light to others; about creating change through kindness because, in the end, how you make others feel is what they will remember.
Am I enough?
Probably not. I’ve got issues within issues. And I’ll never play in the leagues of some of the most incredible people I’ve known. I’ll probably never believe the things I am consciously trying to make sure my girls do. I’m probably exactly what I fear: broken and unseen. And even on my best day I’ll probably be found lacking. Between my trust and control issues and my childhood, well, it is what it is.
But I do know, first hand, the power strangers have on our lives. Mine has been forever alerted by more than one. I also know that, as human beings, we’re programmed to compare ourselves to those around us. This means that, even if I never know it, one of my books or one of my blog posts or something about the way I interact with the world could be the catalyst for someone else choosing to take a bubble bath or accept the standing dinner invitation or visit the church. And people like Rahab and David and Paul and Jonah and Moses and tons of other people in the Bible were broken and unseen. They weren’t enough either.
Until they were.