Life Cycle of a Dream

Back in January, I was doing a lot of thinking about dreams—the visions for our lives that we may or may not have, and that we may or may not chase if we have them. The poem I shared then was a lament about the apparent inability of some young people of my acquaintance to imagine realities beyond the familiar.

Another strand of the topic I’ve been pondering in recent months is the idea that sometimes we have dreams, and we chase them, and they come true…and that’s not the end of the story. By way of background…my dear friend, Lee Harper, and I spent eight years pursuing the dream of opening a coffee house in our inner-city Jackson, Mississippi, neighborhood. That dream came true on June 6, 2008, when Koinonia Coffee House celebrated its Grand Opening—and in the months and years that followed, as Koinonia became the racially, socio-economically, politically and otherwise diverse community gathering place we had so fervently longed for it to be. (For more about Koinonia, visit the coffee house’s Facebook page or website.)

But a couple of things got in the way of a simple “happily ever after” conclusion to the coffee house saga. One was that by the time we finally opened our doors, my imagination had been caught by a new dream: the hope of making a writing life for myself (and for some reason I didn’t think working full-time-plus co-managing a coffee house would facilitate my literary aspirations). Another was that although we received tremendous support from our community, money didn’t exactly roll in, and there have been multiple occasions on which Lee and I (and since I moved back to California to chase my next dream, just Lee) seriously considered shutting the whole thing down. (Lest I send any of Koinonia’s customers into a panic, the coffee house has weathered each of those storms and remains alive and kicking as of this writing!)

It was after one of those “maybe it’s time to close the doors and move on” conversations that the thoughts shared below began swirling around in my head and demanding to be given a home on paper. For the record, my answer to the middle question is no, I absolutely do not believe something should be called a failure simply because it doesn’t (or may not) last forever. Seeing a long-cherished dream come true—for any length of time—is really quite a wonderful thing!

Life Cycle of a Dream

How does that first glimmer of an idea—
that inspired aspiration so lofty
and compelling
that its attainment seems as impossible
as its pursuit is inevitable—
become one more chapter
in a storied past?

Do you count it as a failure
if that which has been
so painstakingly envisioned
appears
and then vanishes again,
Brigadoon-like,
replacing hours, days and years
of working and waiting
praying, hoping and striving
with a rumpled patchwork of memories
joyful, painful and ordinary?

Or is this the nature of dreams:
to be so ephemeral
that they can be grasped only briefly—
spoiling like manna
if held onto for too long—
and so richly satisfying
that a mere nibble is sufficient
to nourish the soul
until the next captivating notion
comes along?

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers

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Dream Job

Following the observance, last week, of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the dreams we human beings have for ourselves and one another–and, as a corollary, of the dreams some of us don’t have.

The poem below describes an interaction I had several years ago with two young men in my neighborhood in west Jackson. As younger boys, these two had participated in Bible clubs and tutoring sessions (as well as the occasional cookie-baking party) at my home, but they had outgrown all that some time back. We  remained friendly,  but I had been uninvolved in their day-to-day lives for a while before this conversation.

As I’ve thought back on this incident (and considered sharing this poem), I’ve been plagued by a nagging question: Is it right and good–or elitist and snobby–to want all young people to have (and be able to articulate) dreams for themselves that go beyond the kinds of realities they see around them every day?

Most of us–whether we grow up in low-income inner-city neighborhoods or not–will never hold our “dream jobs.” Is it cruel, I find myself wondering, to urge a young person who has set his sights on something that may well be attainable to aspire toward something more unlikely (just because that far-fetched idea seems more “dreamlike” to me)? Would doing so just sour this young person toward the job and life in which he may eventually find himself? Or is even an unfulfilled dream valuable because it challenges us to learn and grow and attempt things we don’t yet know whether we can achieve? Is shooting for a star and landing on the moon really so terrible?

Perhaps most to the point, from time to time, seemingly impossible dreams do come true. Who am I to attempt to guess whose will, and whose will not?

Personally, I seem to have made it my life’s work to chase dreams–most often with dramatically mixed success–and though I occasionally fantasize about having a “normal” life, I don’t really think I’d want to have things any other way. Then again, I’m not trying to provide for anyone but myself, and I have a family willing and able to catch me when I fall. On the other hand (or perhaps we’re back on the first hand now), should a few extra obstacles prohibit the pursuit of a dream? So I continue to wrestle with this question of what is the best and most loving way to respond to a young person whose ability to dream appears to be stunted.

I welcome any thoughts folks may have on this topic! In the meantime…

Dream Job

The two teenage boys
tell me they’re almost ready
to start looking for jobs—
school having long since ceased to be
a way to spend their days.

Street basketball
and sitting on front porch steps
have apparently become tedious,
or perhaps it’s just that these pursuits
are somewhat less than satisfactory
to the hard-working grandmas
with whom these young men reside.

Eager to show my approbation
of their work-related aspirations,
I ask the boys a question
that seems simple enough to me:
“If you could have any job in the world,
what would it be?”

Both are stumped.

One never does come up with a response.

The other thinks long and hard
before venturing,
with a conspicuous lack
of enthusiasm,
“I guess I’d like to work at Walmart.
I enjoy putting things together, you know.”

Stunned, I mumble something
vaguely affirming
and stagger off toward my home—
two doors down and a universe away—
not wanting to malign
a respectable ambition,
and yet wishing desperately
that my young neighbors
could conceive a dream
outside the big box.

© 2012
Alexis Spencer-Byers