I love to plan—events, birthdays, holidays, vacations, weekends. You name it and I like to plan it. Thanks to my penchant for planning, a new year, with its accompanying push for goal-setting and resolutions, is a fun time for me. I plan what I want to learn this year, what I want to accomplish, where we should go as a family, and how I/we will try to bring about these things. In addition to New Years’ resolutions, this planning personality trait has also tended to serve me well in life: I have diapers, sippy cups, and emergency-lollipops with me when needed; my pantry is usually full; I often find good deals on clothes, toys, hotel rooms, and so on; and I graduated early from college, to name a few.
However, this year as I’ve been thinking about my goals and my hopes for 2011, I have also been remembering times in the past when my big plans crashed and burned, times when what I had envisioned for my life was not happening, times when my tendency to plan and dream big has led to big heartache and deep loss. Langston Hughes calls these experiences “dreams deferred” in the following poem:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I think maybe dreams deferred (or even smashed to pieces) are the common denominator of human experience: no matter who you are or where you live, you have experienced shattered or deferred dreams. Perhaps your financial situation or living situation or your health is not what you had envisioned it would be, perhaps the timing of marriage or children was not as you planned for, or perhaps the relationships in your life—with spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends—are not those you had hoped for. Everyone at some time in life, and usually more than one time in life, will struggle with the loss of dreams and the loss of whatever we imagined would be our own “normal.”
So my question is how do you handle deferred dreams? How do you cope with the failure of plans or the loss of hopes? I certainly don’t like the outcomes suggested in Hughes’s poem—deferred dreams can be dried up and hard so that they’re no longer juicy or valuable or have purpose; they can fester and refuse to heal, thereby becoming constant sources of dissatisfaction and reminders of the dream deferred; they can become rotten and ugly; they can harden and separate themselves from others until they are no longer what they were initially; they can weigh you down; or, as a destructive force, they can explode. Hopefully, we can isolate these kinds of outcomes to individual days of festering or weighing down. But that is oh so hard when we’re in the thick of things. So, what have you done with your own dreams deferred? How have you handled New Years’ hopes and resolutions that have not come to pass?
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