It’s 1993. Two days shy of his second birthday, my firstborn, Jonathan, is exploring the grassy area behind the apartment building. His legs, alive with energy and joy, make the swish-squish sound that is the signature of the modern disposable diaper. I watch him from a distance, sitting on a concrete staircase, guitar in my lap, dreaming, resting. His squeal lifts my head. Floating in midair, caught in the contradicted drafts between these buildings, is a down feather. It floats up, then free falls, then knuckleballs randomly left, left, then right. Jig, jog, float, sink, soar. Tinkerbell’s flight path after tequila shots.
Jonathan chases the feather, giggling. The motor skills of a 2-year-old are sludgy and awkward, but he still flails about, reaching for the prize but grabbing only air. His very motion of reaching and grabbing pushes the feather just beyond the reach of his fingers.
Soft on the breeze flies a feather/ And the little boy gives chase on little feet/ Just like my dreams is the feather/ Floating slowly just beyond my reach/ Yet reaching has so many things to teach.
Dreams are important. Not sleep dreams. I mean the hopes we reach for, the experiences we long to have, the skills we want to master, our life goals, the ideals we strive to realize.
But dreams remain mere lazy, inert fantasies unless we reach for them. Chase them.
And I’ve reached for so many dreams it seems/ That dance and laugh just ahead of me/ And after a while the temptation comes/ To let those dreams just fly by/ So you sit with what you know and call it life/ Such a tiny life. I’m a dreamer. My imagination is and always has been adept at painting with crystal clarity on the future’s canvas. I dream it, then I see it, then I reach for it. The chase is on.
By the time I was 7, I was dreaming of great love. I know this because I chased girls, caught them, and threatened to kiss them. I know this because Patty Jacobs broke my heart in the third grade. I know this because of the time I spent cooking my brain between stereo headphones with pining, wistful love songs.
By the time I was 9, I was dreaming of playing in the NBA. I could see it. I knew it. I could hear the crowd roaring.
I dreamed of being a good father, even as I dreamed that someday, somehow, I would do the thing or become the man who would make my own father proud. All the while, I was awash in the spoken worldview of the parents who raised my generation: “You can do anything if you set your mind to it!” They were technically wrong, of course.
But I don’t begrudge them. They meant “Don’t give up! Many limits are in fact self-imposed.”
True enough. But also true is that not every dream comes true. Sometimes because our dreams overreach the human condition (ideals of great love). Sometimes our dreams overreach immutable realities (my body simply wasn’t designed to dunk a basketball.) Some dreams are thwarted by destiny. Meaning, we abandon some dreams because life has called us to some noble duty or some unexpected joy. Or both.
But still, dreaming and chasing dreams takes us to unimagined places.
Something happens to a man who wakes up/ And reaches for a dream he’s got no chance of catching/ His soul, it stretches as he leaps the hedges/ Of the tiny yard that he calls home/ And though he may never catch the dancing feather/ It will lead him to other dreams he’s never dreamed before/ A brand new place/ The gift of the dream is the chase.
The good life, then, requires us to tightrope this paradox: We must never stop dreaming … and we must learn to say goodbye to some dreams.
If we stop dreaming, our lives become one-dimensional, static, not fully alive. If we don’t know how and when to say goodbye to a dream, we become ridiculous. We get stuck in embittered, nostalgic quicksand.
The gift of midlife is realizing the Universe dreams bigger and better dreams than I do. Yes, I still have some modest dreams. But more intriguing now is waiting and listening for the dreams being dreamed for me.
Out of breath the little boy comes running/ Back from his adventures in the wind/ He dared to chase his dreams and now he’s humming/ His smile leads his face to where I stand/ I’ll be damned he’s got a feather in his hand.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.