Raisins in the Sun: when dreams die

mf286In his lengthy poem Montage to a Dream Deferred, Langston Hughes beautifully describes what happens to a dream deferred and asks if it shrivels up “like a raisin in the sun?” As an African-American man in the segregationist south, this poet knew quite a bit about dreams deferred and even dead. Later there was a play made, with the title taken from this quote (A Raisin in the Sun.) Not surprisingly it is about an African-American family. And dead dreams.

When I was twenty, I had a bout of severe health problems, including a long series of seizures and had to leave the college campus where I had been so happy. Most people’s dreams fade as they get older. Mine all crumbled when I was barely out of my teens.

While all my friends were getting married and starting careers and families I grew bitter. Often I felt that the people around me would be better off if I were dead.

Now I see it differently. If it’s true that some people would just as soon I up and died, there’s still no reason why I should oblige them. I intend to stay alive to spite them all out of sheer orneriness!

Besides this, as a Christian, I don’t believe I have the right to kill myself no matter how tough things get. Not my body, not my choice. God gave me my body and only He has the right to say whether I leave it or not. Not me or any of my ill-wishers. (God will deal with them as well. Revenge is His.)

This blog post is supposed to be about dead or dying dreams though. The fact is, that when a dream dies, it causes other doors to open.

You may wonder how that is. In The Paradox of Choice, professor Barry Schwartz describes how too many choices overwhelm the human psyche and can prove worse in some ways than too few. Not that that is a good thing either.

Dr. Schwartz describes some interesting methods near the end of his book. Flip a coin for unimportant decisions. But what about the important ones?

Narrow them down to two or at the most three options. Easier said than done, however.

Supposing there are a multitude of career options and scores of available men who want to date and perhaps marry you. How do you possibly narrow down each to two or three possibilities? You certainly wouldn’t want to flip a coin to make such an important life decision either.

When one of your dreams dies, that narrows the field drastically. If a door won’t open up despite all your efforts it probably means God is saying, “No!” very firmly.

Ironically a dead dream frees you to look at other options–options you might otherwise have not even considered. If you fail to find a husband and start a family, it may free you to consider a career in law or medicine that a young family would hinder. If you fail to become an English professor, it may encourage you to try freelance writing as a career. That’s what happened to me.

Jill Kilmont and Joni Eareckson both broke their necks as teenagers. Both became paralyzed from the neck down. Jill lost her dream of becoming an Olympic skier; Joni lost her dream of a normal life and marriage to her boyfriend. Both went on to find new dreams though–dreams they otherwise would never have considered.

Jill became a teacher. Due to discrimination from the educational establishment, she wound up teaching on a reservation for Native Americans.

Joni went on to become a dynamic powerhouse painter, speaker, writer, and singer. Eventually she found a fine Christian man who was able to look past her wheelchair.

When your dreams are deferred or just plain dead you need to ask yourself, “OK. So what do I have left?”

It really doesn’t pay to live in the past, bemoaning what can never be and wishing things were what they aren’t. If taken to its logical conclusion, such thinking can even lead to neurosis or a psychotic break. If God wanted you to serve Him in that way, He would have opened that door.

So now ask yourself, “What do I have left? How can I best use it for the LORD?”

 

 

Raisins in the Sun: when dreams die

Having a Happy Valentine’s Day

IMG_4397I used to dread Valentine’s Day as an adult. The fact is, ever since I was an unattached 20-year-old I have disliked it intensely.

I attended a small, private college. Since it was a Christian college everyone was encouraged to marry early (to prevent unchastity I guess). Unfortunately there were almost three times as many girls as there were guys. Good statistics, if you are a guy who can’t find dates anywhere else.

It wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time, but imagine how it must have felt to see all your friends getting engaged or even married when none of the guys would even give you the time of day. I wondered if I needed to lose weight to find true happiness (this was the early nineties) so I went on a crash diet and lowered my caloric intake to 600 calories a day. Still no success with men!

Over the past twenty odd years a lot of changes have occurred. Several of my friends who were sure they had found lasting happiness and an earthly paradise have divorced. Like Eve they were eager to leave Paradise once they had it, I guess.

As a childless single I have a lot of reading time that my married counterparts lacked and still lack (they may get it back as retirees with empty nests, but then they won’t necessarily know what to do with it.) When I saw how much time and energy marriage and children took and the lack of cultural and intellectual development in married women I realized that celibacy wasn’t altogether a bad thing.

It was during some of this reading time that I came to the realization that the original St. Valentine was celibate too. He was, in fact, a priest–executed in ancient Rome for the crime of refusing to worship the emperor.

During his time in prison, the jailer introduced him to his daughter who had become blind. According to the legend, Fr. Valentine miraculously healed her so she could see once more.

Apparently the girl could read. Before he was killed, Valentine sent the first valentine note. I don’t know all that it said, but basically he encouraged the girl in her newly found faith. In addition to healing her eyes, Valentine had shared the Gospel message with her and she had become a Christian.

So remember, before Hallmark and Victoria’s Secrets took things over, Valentine’s Day is about much more than romance. It’s about the kind of love that is unselfish and honestly wants what is best for other people, even when they don’t have your best interests at heart.

If more marriages were based on this kind of love instead of the nebulous feelings that come with erotic romance, we might have fewer divorces. And people that can’t find marriage partners would be happier too because they would find other outlets for their affection. There would be an end to war, stealing, murdering and cheating. Poverty and sickness would be easier to bear, because people would give of their time and money to relieve others’ misery.

Here are some ways to celebrate the true meaning of Valentine’s Day which is agape rather than erotic love.

  1. Take some children’s valentines and a big Whitman’s sampler to work or the local coffee shop where you know people. Pass out the valentines and chocolates with a smile and wish everyone a happy Valentine’s Day.
  2. Decorate your apartment with Valentine’s Day flowers. Cook a special meal or order delicious take-out food. Invite several friends–singles and couples and have a party. If the couples can’t make it due to other plans, that’s okay. They’ll still feel good to know they were invited.
  3. Send a single friend or two a note or short e mail telling them how much their friendship means to you. This can mean a lot to singles.
  4. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or visit people in a nursing home over Valentine’s Day weekend. Spread your love around.
  5. Remember God loves you so much, He sent His only Son whom He dearly loved to die in your place. This makes you pretty special! If other people can’t appreciate that that’s their problem. God’s opinion counts for infinitely more anyhow.

So have a Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

 

Having a Happy Valentine’s Day