Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
For more than a year now, I've held fast to a dream. But of course, I've held it far longer than that. Before I grew into my teeth, from second grade on, all I've ever wanted to do was write. But I never told people I wanted to be a writer; I told them I wanted to be an author. Did I understand the difference back then? That something about this particular dream was held up in the thing I wanted to hold in my hands?
For the last year then, maybe it wasn't a dream I held fast to. Maybe it was more like a calling or compulsion. Always I've been a writer searching for the story-- my story-- the one I couldn't help but tell. I thought maybe this was it. I spent money and time trying to learn the mechanics and execution. Through hundreds of dark mornings I labored while my children slept, reading, organizing and planning, researching, listening and writing. It was my baby, tied so inextricably to my identity as a writer that I felt I had to mention it to others, even though it made my voice shake.
And then I got stuck. Life got complicated and crowded for a while, and I lost my inspiration. Logistics and issues outside of my control got in the way, but also I couldn't find my diligence or passion. I stopped feeling like I had something to say that was worth hearing.
This book, this baby, had been a joint venture, a deeply personal collaboration with a dear friend. It was an arduous, brutal journey for her and completely uncharted for me. She afforded me nothing but grace while I tried to find a way forward. And then one day she felt the need to let it go. She tried to give it to me, but I couldn't take it; it was never really mine. It took me weeks of wrestling before I could respond to her.
Because what happens when you know you're called to do a thing, but then the thing changes or is taken away? Does it negate the initial call? Does it mean you got it wrong? That the process was the thing, or that maybe it will come again? Is it possible it just means you have to lean in further, work harder, hustle faster to press through the obstacles?
I don't know. But I know I'm tired of starting things and not finishing them. My pile of false starts is one of my least favorite collections. I couldn't bear the thought of adding another to the heap, not one so big, so typical, so cliché. Everyone is writing a book, right? It's on so many bucket lists, but it typically doesn't get crossed off. And what about the people who heard me mumble, "Actually, I'm working on a book," at some point last year? How do I reconcile that?
Am I stopping because it got hard? Does walking away defy the clear-as-day initial call that this book was for me to write? Am I quitting or letting go?
Maybe this isn't just about how I start things and don't finish them. Maybe it's not just about the book. It's so easy to cling to dreams that aren't meant for us, at least not right now, but it can be hard to recognize that's what we're doing. But if we cling to those things that aren't working for the sake of the dream or to save face, we risk missing the better thing. I can't grasp this new call without opening my fist, without letting go of how I thought it would go, without pushing my ego aside, without risking the embarrassment of acknowledging that I tried at something, really tried, and I failed.
When I open my hand, the old dream has the freedom to do what it will. Maybe it will fly away, maybe it won't. Langston Hughes says letting go could kill the dream, and I guess that's true. In "A Dream Deferred," he wonders whether a dream deferred might rot or even explode. It could do either, I suppose. Or maybe it will hide in the rafters and then flit back to me when I least expect it. I've had to release relationships, jobs, babies, plans for a future that wasn't to be. And, for now, letting go of this old dream is really just an acknowledgement of what already was. I already couldn't make progress. I already wasn't working on it. It existed, finally, only to shame and should on me. Clenching it in my fist, by the end, served only to keep me from progress toward anything at all. It served only to hold me back.
So, with an open hand, uncertainty, and grace for myself, I move forward, grateful for a new beginning. And if holding fast to a dream isn't working for you either, but instead it's holding you down or back, maybe it's time to open your hand.