Friday, December 27, 2019

That Older Me Is A Real Jerk

As a boy, I dreamt of being a super hero, Batman in particular. I suppose I would have rather been Superman with his flying and extraordinary strength, but I understood enough about reality to know that those powers were impossible, whereas the more mortal abilities of Batman actually seemed attainable. Children dream all kinds of things, but even then, even as I planned my future as a costumed crusader, I limited myself according to what I knew about how the world worked. It would be several years before I came to realize that even the abilities of Batman were beyond mere mortals.

I wonder sometimes if that dream of being a force for good in the world didn't in some way inform my choice to become a teacher. I mean, after all, I'm still the same human being who wanted to be Batman, just older and wiser. Of course, that boy me might look at things quite differently. If he were able to see the man I've become, he might well feel that I've sold out my younger self. Not only am I not Batman, but I'm not a professional baseball player, I'm not a hippie living in a free love back-to-nature commune, and I'm not my generation's greatest novelist, all of which were aspirations of younger versions of me; all of which are dreams that I've let die in order to become this rather ordinary middle-aged man, at least as I imagine I would have viewed myself through the various lenses of my youth.

This version of me, the one sitting here in my living room, writing these words, is not disappointed with myself. Indeed, I'm proud of myself, but there is room for improvement, of course. I still have dreams, dreams that my even older self may well look back on with the sort of tolerant chuckle we world-wise adults bestow upon the dreams of children. And right now, as I sit here, I can't help but think of that older me is a real jerk.

Who is he to poo-poo my dreams? And who am I to chuckle about anyone's dreams of becoming Batman? I'm just some old man who doesn't even exist without those impossible dreams of youth, a man who has settled and compromised and sold out. And I've killed dreams. I am, we all are, from the perspective of our younger selves, dream killers. But what are we to do? Are we to ignore reality? Are we to blind ourselves to the fact that we don't have the requisite skills or drive to become professional baseball players? Are we to cling to our dreams of flying even in a world in which that is impossible? Are we, in the interest of not being jerks, to continue to cling to every silly dream we've ever had?

Some people did become professional baseball players. Some people do live on free love back-to-nature communes. Someone is my generation's greatest novelist. Dreams do come true, but for most of us, most of the time, growing up is a process of learning to dream new dreams, more dreams, dozens and hundreds and thousands of dreams. Indeed, human dreams are seeds that we plant throughout our lives. Some of them never sprout, some grow for a season, and some grow into something we could have never imagined. It's not the dreams themselves, but the dreaming of them that matters: it's from our dreams that the world emerges. This is our collective dream. If you don't like it, dream some more, and don't you dare, ever dismiss the dreams of others, even if those dreams were those of one of your younger selves. You are made from those dreams.

As far as I know, no one has yet managed to become Batman, but I find as I sit here this morning, a rather ordinary middle-aged man writing these words, that there is still a part of me that hasn't completely given up on that dream.

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