I could feel the sun beating down, in spite of the protection the sunshade above offered. May flies danced on the water as Aspen napped on my feet and Porter fretted over a passing beetle. It was a day filled with good food, perfect weather, long walks, and a marvelous swim in the lake. The hammock beckoned for pure camping perfection.
And then, unexpectedly, Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like you were Dying” sounded over the speakers and, in spite of myself, I discovered tears rolling down my checks and my heart turned heavy.
December 25 will mark nine years since my mom’s death. I confess to no longer thinking of her everyday for, in spite of loss, time does march on. But even now, something as simple as the words “and he said someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying” can bring me to my knees. I am once again saddened, not so much by her death at a relatively youngish age, but by the knowledge that she rarely REALLY lived during her time on this earth.
I have written about her story before, but truly listening to the words Tim McGraw sang that day, brought me to tears and then enraged me. Oh yes, the lines blur often between sorrow and anger. Anger, even now, that even when the end was imminent she refused to really grab life; even after a diabetes diagnosis, followed by the more devastating cancer prognosis. WHY WHY WHY does an otherwise intelligent person choose denial and inaction over screaming “Fuck You Cancer! I’m going to go work on my bucket list”???
This post was originally about something entirely different. It began focusing on my sadness over the nearly unanimous attitudes of those around me who feel trapped in their lives. It was to begin that, while celebrating the 4th of July and America’s Independence Day, the American Dream has eroded so far from what it started as to have become wholly unattainable for the majority of it’s citizens. But as I gazed at the water through a blur of tears, I realized this post about my moms lost dreams is, really, about the same thing.
I am surrounded each day by several co-workers who are truly unhappy, and yet feel trapped, again that word, by their bills, their unwillingness to give up something in exchange for something better, their fear. Our friend Kim recently lamented a similar fact as she drives the country as half of Backpackers Get Out More campaign, citing case after case of people sure SHE is living the dream job, while bemoaning their own lost dreams. Somehow the American Dream of simply living a better life than the previous generation has become about striving to be one of the obscenely wealthy 1% in contrast to a rapidly disintegrating middle class.
And, in that way, it’s also my moms story. Intelligent, attractive, talented, she should have lived the dream and yet, a few poor choices combined with a never-ending quest that had a familiar ring that “someday” would be the time to leave her marriage, “someday” she’d have made enough money, “someday” she’d finally visit San Antonio. You have probably guessed by now, that none of these dreams came true before her death. Perhaps her death is part of what drives me to continue to create my own brand of a dream life. Not based on having more, more, more or bigger and better, but to follow my heart and soul into the world.
Although she hated having her picture taken, I had to include this one of my wedding day because it was one of the few times her infectious smile was fully captured on film.
What I often find ironic about this American Dream, is that by far the greatest percentage of the happiest people I’ve met in my life do not, in fact, live in America. And, quite honestly, their lives and struggles are so far from the American Dream it can’t truly even be compared in any way. And yet, they seem to have a better grasp on what is truly important in life; friends, family, community. Perhaps my mom, and people in general, have gotten so media bombarded by what their life SHOULD look like, they have forgotten to stop and think about what they really WANT it to look like. For many, the idea of Jim and I selling it all and hitting the roads of the world in our camper as totally unfathomable. And that is okay because it is OUR dream. If your dream is a steady career, spouse, home with a picket fence, and 2.5 children. Excellent. But before you buy into what you need to continue to acquire in order to be happy… just be sure you don’t have to sell your soul along the way.
As the song ended, I raised my eyes to heaven, hoping that finally, mom has found her peace. And then I hugged my dogs, smiled at Jim lounging in the hammock, oblivious to my inner turmoil, and thanked her for being an example for me NOT to follow. Because she was never able to find the means to make her own life her American Dream, she endlessly encouraged me to live life on my terms, ignore the naysayers, and go against convention in my pursuit of happiness. So, I thank you mom. I thank you for encouraging me in my dreams, even as yours faded. It is, perhaps, the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned.
Don’t be too afraid to really focus on what your dream is and then run like hell towards it. Life is far, far too short to not live each day as if it is your last because, ya know what, it just might be. For myself, I wiped the tears away, and poured us some ice cold gin & tonics before taking another swim in the lake, content in the knowledge that I had discovered the dream within and that in that moment, hanging out with my family next to a beautiful lake, I was the luckiest girl in the world. I was living my dream.