Dreaming Big, Not Giving Up, and Other Thoughts from The Thirteenth Hour

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.

~T. E. Lawrence

Ask many children what they want to be when they grow up, and you’re likely to get a fantastical answer.  Professional football player, race care driver, ballerina, Hollywood actor, rock star, etc.  When my own brother was asked this question in nursery school, he said something to the effect of “someone who jumps off buildings” – he was really into Batman at the time.  I was pretty confident I was going to be an astronaut until I was about twelve, and then I wanted to be an American Indian (sort of), as described in this post here, so I could shoot bows and arrows all day (I’m sure an actual Native American would be horrified by this stereotype, but what can I say?  To me, it was a benefit).

But not very many of us go on to do those things.  So what happens to us?

We grow up, slog our way through school, realize most people don’t become astronauts, professional ballerinas, and rock stars, get “sensible” jobs instead, start paying taxes, start worrying about whether there will be tons of traffic slowing down the morning commute or how to make this month’s rent, get into relationships, have kids, start worrying about our kids’ futures and what college tuition will be in 2030, start taking Zantac before eating spicy foods … (maybe not in that exact order, but you get the picture).

And it’s no wonder.  Although this is too big a topic to discuss here, our world today is complicated.  Like the narrator says in The Gods Must be Crazy, modern man has to send his children to school for the majority of their formative years just to learn to survive in the world they were born into.  And now, increasingly, add on one to two more decades of schooling and/or training to become “independent” in this complex world we live in.
Perhaps because there’s so much “important” stuff that children are expected to master, they are often given the message that their hopes, wishes, and big ideas from childhood are nice … but, come on, get real, grow up, and take your place in line like the rest of us.  What’s more, that happens when children and young adults, when, as befitting their psychosocial developmental stages, they’re trying to figure out who they are, how they fit into the world, and what they want to do with their lives.

I would like to ask – is all this necessary?

Must we intentionally piss on the dreams of youth?

If you’re an adult reading this and have thoughts about trying to reality check the children around you – ask yourself: how would you have responded at their age if the future you tried to talk some sense into your younger self?  Would you have listened?  Would you have even cared?

There’s a scene in the 1985 movie, The Breakfast Club, where Vernon, the hardass principal is sitting with Carl, the school janitor (drinking beer in a closet, if I remember right) and musing about this very conundrum:

“Vernon: What did you want to be when you were young?
Carl: When I was a kid, I wanted to be John Lennon.
Vernon: Carl, don’t be a goof. I’m trying to make a serious point here. I’ve been teaching, for twenty two years, and each year, these kids get more and more arrogant.
Carl: Aw bullshit, man. Come on Vern, the kids haven’t changed, you have! You took a teaching position, ’cause you thought it’d be fun, right? Thought you could have summer vacations off and then you found out it was actually work and that really bummed you out.
Vernon: These kids turned on me. They think I’m a big fuckin’ joke.
Carl: Come on…listen Vern, if you were sixteen, what would you think of you, huh?
Vernon: Hey, Carl, you think I give one rat’s ass what these kids think of me?
Carl: Yes, I do.
Vernon: You think about this…when you get old, these kids; when I get old, they’re gonna be runnin’ the country.
Carl: Yeah?
Vernon: Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night; that when I get older, these kids are gonna take care of me.
Carl: I wouldn’t count on it.”

And so, like Vern, we adults worry about the welfare of the future generation – maybe because we want them to do things we couldn’t, maybe because assuring their security ameliorates our anxiety about their future or makes us feel like good parents and role models, maybe because, like Vern, their success means our own futures are that much safer.  Or maybe because we just genuinely want the best for them or want to see potential fully realized.  There are many reasons to talk sense into fantasy, some out of self interest, some more altruistic.

So I ask again, must we piss on the dreams of youth for these things to happen?

I’m not a huge believer that every story needs to have an underlying message.  But if there is any one message behind The Thirteenth Hour, a fantasy novel of all things, it would encapsulated in the quotes from T.E. Lawrence and Harriet Tubman above – essentially, dreams are important, so make them big, for they are within your reach, and you shouldn’t give up on them.

Particularly the last part.  It’s an unspoken message in these quotes, but it’s there, under the surface – the sad fact that despite the mountains of pee that rain down on your dreams, you should hold fast to your umbrella and not let go.  It’s idealistic, that’s true, but that’s what dreams are – visions of something better, things that give us hope when we have none and help us get through the morning commute, the mountains of paperwork, the dead-end job, and the countless other mindless tasks we probably didn’t envision ourselves doing when we were children dreaming of being John Lennon.

You can help those younger than you in many ways.  Curiosity, hope, and optimism in the world’s possibilities are all qualities that can be as easily fostered as crushed.  Middle school, adolescence, and the early twenties will do a fair amount of the latter anyway, but less so if it’s circumstance, rather than the purposeful actions of another person, that does the crushing.  All this you know, because it’s probably happened to you, as it does to most of us.  But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.  Because underneath the calluses, the TPS reports, the bills, and the other trappings of adult life, beats the heart of a rock star, race car driver, jet fighter, Hollywood actress, or … even someone who jumps off buildings.

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.

~Langston Hughes

All quotes from:  http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_dreams.html#2zrGKPGfYL1XS1o4.99

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