Monday, December 17, 2018

Collective Dreams

The secret to making dreams come true is to have lots of dreams. The more dreams you have, the greater the likelihood that at least one of them, in some form or another, will make it into your reality. This, at least, has been my conviction about human dreams for a good part of my adult life. Naturally, I can look back over my history of hopes about the future and see many that have not yet come to pass -- I'm not, for instance, living in a desert island utopia created by my fellow castaways and me -- but when I consider my present, I'm living my dream.

This is not to say that life is perfect, it's simply to say that I'm living a life of which I once dreamt, not necessarily in the particulars, but in essence. I'm respected in my work; I am a writer with readers and a speaker with listeners; I'm happily married with a wife and child who are out in the world pursuing their own dreams; I'm a teacher; I spend my days amongst great minds; and, you know, in a way, our little Woodland Park Cooperative School community represents all the essential elements of castaways working together to form a more perfect community.

All of these things existed for me as dreams well before they were real. I didn't plot or scheme for my dreams. I didn't write them down. I never workshopped them or vision-quested or otherwise formally anchored them to reality by committing them prematurely to the immovable concreteness of the world. You can sometimes do that with success regarding hidebound things like personal finances or career ladders, but real dreams must be allowed to fly on their own wings, to land in their own time, because the moment we force them to the ground of current reality, they become part of the task and toil, and cease being dreams forever.

The most remarkable thing about man's dreams is that they all come true; this has always been the case though no one would care to admit it. And a peculiarity of man's behavior is that he is not in the least surprised when his dreams do come true; it is as if he has expected nothing else. The goal to be reached and the determination to reach it are brother and sister, and slumber both in the same heart. ~Halldor Laxness

I've been reflecting upon this assertion from the Icelandic author's masterpiece, Independent People, a Nobel Prize winning novel that I picked up during a recent trip. At first pass, it seems obviously untrue. Certainly, all our dreams don't come true. Taking it to an extreme, it would be impossible to argue, for instance, that any of the dreams came true for children who died in concentration camps. No, the only way that Laxness' statement could be universally true is if Laxness is writing about man's dreams in a collective sense and that he's including nightmares among our dreams. Indeed, this assertion is made near the end of a novel that itself paints a reality that is grim, becomes more grim, and then ends on a down note.

Bjartur of Summerhouse, the book's protagonist is a proudly independent man, grindingly poor, yet nevertheless proud that he and his family exist without relying upon others, accepting no charity, no governmental assistance, not even the helping hand of a neighbor. He maintains his independence right up to the very end at the cost of the happiness, the health, and even the lives of his wives, children, and livestock. He pays an impossibly steep price for his precious, and ultimately valueless "independence," a myth derived directly from the every-man-for-himself ethos of capitalism. So the dreams of Bjartur, despite the pain and suffering, do indeed come true, yet the only ones who won't call him a "victim" of the collective dream of capitalism are the wealthy (who tell him despite the evidence that he lives an enviable "nobel, peasant" life) and Bjartur himself.

I am a white, middle-aged, middle-class American male. It's relatively easy for my own dreams to come true. I'd love to be able to boast that it was my hard work and individual brilliance alone that made my dreams come true, but the world is set up for the dreams of people like me. I don't have to look far to see that our collective dream, this dream that always comes true, places the dreams of many of my fellow citizens out of reach.

As a preschool teacher, I care very little about what are labeled "academic" skills. No, our focus at the Woodland Park Cooperative School is first and foremost on the community of families we are creating together day-after-day. Of course, we come together as a collection of individual dreams, but the real work of preschool is to learn to dream together, to dream the dream of who we are together. We spend our time together not just dreaming for ourselves, but on behalf of these other people with whom we are building our lives. These are the dreams that always come true, the dreams that we make for one another.

And what is community if not our collective dreams. There are no independent people: we are interdependent, and so too are our dreams if they are going to be worth a damn.

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