Dreams and Aspirations
“…I too will something make /and joy in the making / although tomorrow it seem
like the empty words of a dream /remembered on waking—”[i]
Along about 1962, my best girlfriend and I, seeing high school graduation and The Future looming, daydreamed about taking an adventure before Real Life set in. The song “Moon River,” popular at the time, became our song: "…wider than a mile/I’m crossing you in style someday…
Wherever you’re goin’/I’m goin’ your way/Two drifters, off to see the world—”[ii]
Moon River was our river. We wanted to be those two drifters, seeing something of the world. “There’s such a lot of world to see—”
My friend was German and had emigrated to the U.S. with her family when we were both in grade school. So the two of us, casting about for an adventure, decided that Germany seemed like just the right size. She could speak the language. She had relatives there. We would go to Germany.
We had no money, of course. I typed a letter on my manual typewriter to the U.S. State Department, asking if they could place us as nannies in German homes. I received back a kind but deft letter. They did not do that sort of thing.
It was a short-lived dream. We both got jobs after high school.
Dreams and aspirations are fine things. We actually cannot live a healthy life without them. Dreams—those sometimes-intangible notions of what we want to do, what we want to be, what we want to experience, even ones unlikely to be realized—are what keep us moving into the future. When they are disappointed, we may sigh with regret for the “lost dreams of youth” or dismiss them as hopeless anyway. We may tell ourselves that the dreams of childhood were childish dreams. And perhaps they were. But we must dream.
Back there at the end of high school, after Moon River left us without a paddle for our canoe, I fell back on my other, more realistic, dreams—call them aspirations. I was saving my money to go to college, a year away of necessity, as my parents had little to contribute financially. My college of choice had a performing choir, and I dreamed of being in that choir. My older sister had gone to the same college and unexpectedly found her husband after one year. I dreamed of finding my husband, maybe even in my first year. I dreamed, also, of being a writer.
Of course, I had to apply to the college, be accepted, try out for the choir—and find the man. Dreams, after all, do require something besides inspiring, romantic songs. They may need some effort on our part. Becoming a writer was a little less tangible. What would that require?
Robert Bridges, a Victorian poet in the early 1900’s and author of the above quote, dreamed of devoting his life exclusively to poetry. The poem from which the quote comes, begins rather wistfully: “I love all beauteous things/ I seek and adore them—” It is clearly his desire to make something worthy and lasting—but was he capable of making the beautiful poetry he dreamed of? Only time, of course, would tell. It would require effort.
He made that effort. However, he suffered various setbacks until he was finally able to realize his dream: he became the Poet Laurate of England. Bridges, though, today is less known for his own poetry than he is for promoting someone else’s poems—and someone else’s dream.
Friendship with a fellow undergraduate at Oxford, Gerard Manley Hopkins, developed into a lifelong camaraderie and a mutual love: poetry.
Hopkins, however, had what he deemed to be conflicting desires: he entered the Jesuit priesthood and felt that the writing of poetry was not compatible with his vocation. He burned all his early poems. But giving up that dream would come to be a thorn in his flesh: he chafed at an institution that seemed to undervalue what was clearly his gift, denying him the freedom to practice it. Thankfully, he later resumed his writing at the encouragement of friends, but his poems were not published, and he did not get to experience a wider audience for his work in his lifetime.
A writer who has a gift, who must write, wants naturally to be read. That person will write whether or not the writing receives a readership. But, surely, knowing your work—whatever it is—is valued by others is part of the dream. Any person with any gift feels this.
Where was his dream, then? For Hopkins, clearly, there was “joy in the making.” But not until twenty-seven years after his death did Robert Bridges feel it was the right time for England to be receptive to Hopkins’ poetry. He took on the exacting task of editing, notating, and publishing Hopkins’ work. Eventually, this resulted in giving it to the wider world. How thankful the world is! How thankful I am, discovering rather late, in my thirties, Hopkins’ poetry. But it was discoverable because of Robert Bridges.
Bridges gave us a body of work not his own and a dream not his own. That giving was in itself a beautiful and lasting act. Bridges’ commitment to that arduous task clearly demonstrates that he, too, received joy in making Hopkins’ poetry available.
Is that enough? I feel myself asking--to make someone else's dream realizable?
A wise friend once counseled me to give my dreams to God and let him resurrect the right ones at the right time. Giving up a dream—even to God—feels costly; but she was right. Not all dreams should be resurrected. We often see this only in retrospect.
But some are. I was accepted at the college of my choice and even made it into the performing choir. It took me four years, not one, to find the man—but then, that dream blew away like dandelion floss. A broken engagement felt like an empty future. How was I to know a different dream—and a different man—awaited? The dream of becoming a wife was resurrected. But the dream of being a writer was put on hold as children came along. I was able to pick it up only sporadically. I devoted myself to being a wife to my husband and mother to my children, as well as moving to four countries outside my own—and I could not do it all well. My priorities were clear.
Even dreams can go down the priority list.
Both my high school friend and I eventually made it to Germany, though neither of us got there in the way we dreamed of. But that delayed dream had, for both of us, a much different character from that of high school girls looking for adventure. And I have seen more of the world than I could ever have imagined.
“Moon River” still tugs at my heart to this day when it comes to mind, if only to recall my first awakening to dreams of distant places beyond my horizon and of the effort dreams require.
[i] Quote from “I Love All Beauteous Things” by Robert Bridges (1844-1930) [ii] “Moon River” was composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer for the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961. It became the theme song for Andy Williams.