This week I'm linking up with the wonderful Joy over at Joy in this Journey. We write about the messy and beautiful, and share how we meet truth in it. Won't you come share your story with us?
My imagination runs away with me. I meet someone that I like, and I spin out these stories about who we could be, or what it could be like to get to know them, to be with them. I think about the future in three dimensional colored pictures that I can walk through; imagine my home and the job I'll have and the things I'll say and do. I feel like when I move from those imaginings back to here, I'm disappointed. How can I be happy with the present?
Dear Wistful Thinking,
When I was in tenth grade, a boy I liked very much (had liked for the whole year) told me on the back porch steps of one of our high school buildings that he was dating another girl. I sat there, hair crunchy with unfamiliar mousse I had borrowed (or maybe stolen) from my sister, feet stuck in blue plastic flipflops, wearing eye makeup for one of the first times, and watched as he talked to his hands. I had been dreaming about this guy becoming my boyfriend for a year. I had convinced myself those dreams were going to come true. The signs were there - the notes passed back and forth, the significant looks exchanged, the smiles and the awkwardness... I thought the story had to come true.
So you can imagine, with that beautiful untamed imagination of yours, how I felt when he got up off the creaking steps to rejoin his actual girlfriend. Like a melted puddle, or a shattered glass, or maybe just a fifteen year old longing for love.
I almost inevitably wish my vivid imagination away when the dreams don't become anchored in the day to day, feet-on-the-ground, rocky reality we all inhabit. I wish that I couldn't picture what it would be like to be that boy's girlfriend. I wish I couldn't imagine being in this or that program at this or that school, so that when I don't get in or it doesn't work out. I don't want to look at those beautiful dreams floating away like so many colorful balloons.
The thing about your beautiful three dimensional colored pictures is that you never hear in them the other actual beating hearts that are involved. You don't hear about how the boy feels about you. You don't hear about whether this or that job is hiring you. You can walk through the picture a thousand times but you can't really hear anyone except yourself. This is why it runs away with you, love. Because when you walk out of those pictures into our messy world, you collide headfirst with those other actual beating hearts. And people never do or say the things we wished they would. Never at the time or in the way or the place we pictured.
So, ultimately, the diagnosis for your problem is not that you dream. It's that you are disappointed when you collide with the limits of those dreams.
I felt disappointed, too. I swore off ever thinking that a guy liked me. I swore I'd never try to picture my life in New York City or Washington, DC or Paris, because what if it didn't happen, what then? And it is so much more impossible to stop ourselves from dreaming than you think, and before you knew it I was imagining what it would be like to move to France and become a writer, imagining falling in love with a Parisian man I'd seen once, and riding down the Champs Élysée on a bicycle, in a cute black dress. Imagining beautiful futures is not wrong. But it should make you closer to the present, not further away. It should make you praise the real things in front of you: water, clean laundry, a paper finished on time, babysitting, lunch outside.
Your imagination gets the better of you if you do not direct it towards a love of what is here. Let your dreams be praises. Move your eyes, filled with the light of the not-quite-real horizon towards the oh-so-real of the house next door. Teach yourself to hold those dreams lightly, like balloon strings, and see them as lovely, but not necessary. Teach yourself to watch them with joy at what they point to - this good world, in which so much is possible. Keep your feet planted, and release them.
And then go drink a glass of water in your kitchen in bare feet, the sun shining through a smudged pane of glass, and give praise for the water.