Saturday, October 10, 2015

Good Essay: Our Dreams and Hope Still Live On

When I Grow too Old to Dream
By Jaime O'Neill

An Essay for the Day After John Lennon's Birthday

Back when I was a teenage boy, ardently seeking the shedding of my hapless status as a skinny kid unacquainted with the mystery of sexual congress, I took a job as a grocery delivery boy. I was 16, I had a new driver's license, and a head full of fanciful stories about things that happened in the world of grown ups. One such story was that grocery delivery boys were commonly met at the door by lovely bored housewives wearing negligees. Lacking any handy cash, these women were said to quite frequently offer sex in lieu of a tip.

I didn't like that job much. The owner of the store was grouchy, and he liked to take out his frustrations on the lowliest of his employees. That was me. And the pay wasn't good, nor were the monetary tips very generous. As for the more carnal tips, they just never materialized. After one summer, I gave up my quest for those horny housewives. Perhaps if I'd made a career of being a grocery delivery boy, I might have realized that dream by now, but I kinda doubt it.

A similar dream, the dream of inheriting a fortune from a distant relative I didn't know I had, also failed to materialize, and I didn't abandon that fantasy until a couple of years ago.

Ditto the dream of winning the lottery, Irish or otherwise.

Once in awhile, I envisioned myself on a TV game show, winning the kind of prize that would set a record for such prizes. And I often dreamt of an unbeatable run at baccarat in Monte Carlo, or a similarly stupendous night on the craps table in Vegas. I've been to Monte Carlo and to Vegas, played baccarat and craps on more than a few occasions, but that big unbeatable run never happened, and time for it to come true is about up.

I might also include the dream I once had of living in a castle, smoking a pipe by a fire in my beautiful book-lined library, with the wind outside howling across the heath. Though I have a lot of books, my abode is nothing like a castle, and the view out my window is not a stormy, moon-kissed heath, but a drought-stricken forest in California. It ain't bad, but it's not exactly a dream.

Though I don't play a music instrument, I used to dream of being asked to sit in with guys like Miles Davis or the Rolling Stones, and being rewarded with the looks of astonishment on their faces when I began to play.

Though I don't speak a foreign language, I often dreamed of being addressed in Mandarin Chinese, or Farsi, and startling the person who had spoken to me by answering, quite eloquently, in their language.

Though I was a blond kid, I dreamt that when I got to be the age I am now, I would have the head of hair I'd seen on my Italian barber, dark, lush, and full, with just a dash of distinguished gray at the temples. That dream has not been fulfilled in the fullness of time.

And there were times, lots of them, when I dreamed more broadly and less selfishly, times when I dreamt of a two-party system of governing in America where one side didn't so frequently seem weak and uncommitted, and the other side didn't so frequently seem venal and/or insane. I dreamt of a Democratic Party populated by politicians and operatives with less fungible values, with more courage, and with less willingness to pander to the same sources of money that caused their Republican opponents to go down on their knees to the rich and powerful, the oligarchs who seemed unconcerned about nearly everything except profit and the elusive attempt to satisfy their insatiable greed.

There were other dreams, too, probably more than I'll ever recall. But once, a long time ago, I took my little girl to see the Moscow Circus. It was at the height of the Cold War, and when the circus performers entered, they were led by two men on two flanking elephants, one carrying an American flag, and one carrying the flag of the Soviet Union. With my daughter beside me, I teared up. My dream of peace was symbolized by the flags preceding that processional, and I was moved, both by the dream, and by how far it always was from being realized. The dream of the reconciliation between these two countries seemed essential to the future of the smiling and innocent little girl who sat beside me.

And now that little girl has grown to middle age. The Soviet Union is no more. But still her future is imperiled by tensions now arising between Russia and the U.S. in the tinderbox that is Syria.

And now I don't know what kind of dream I should dream that will quiet the fears and the horrors being generated from that place. I don't know what flags I can envision, marching side by side.

I once dreamt, too, of an America where the racial rift was healed, where the races—black, white, brown, red, and yellow—all lived in proximity, in harmony, with mutual respect and even affection, in equality under the law.

I dreamt that I would grow old in a nation where poverty had become a thing of the past, with a populace governed by politicians who served the good of all, rather than the profits of a select few.

I dreamt of living in a nation where at least as much was spent on things like education and pubic works as on the military.

I dreamt of a less fearful place to live, where being armed was not a prerequisite for walking the streets, or going to the store, or getting on the bus to go school, or setting out to worship in a church, a synagogue, or a mosque.

As a boy, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was sowing fear, hate, and division, I dreamt of a time when our politicians inspired the best in us, rather than the worst. Alas, Joe McCarthy would seem moderate in today's loony bin.

No, I don't live in the America I so often dreamt my generation would create back when some of us were marching against the war in Viet Nam, or leafletting on behalf of farm workers, or campaigning in the American south for voting rights for blacks.

Like generations of dreamers before me, the nightmare overwhelmed the dream, and now new dreamers must begin dreaming anew. I dream they will make more headway than my generation made, that they will stay focused, will be infused with the passion they will need to sustain them, and will produce leaders who are up to the increasingly daunting challenges they face.

I've always been a dreamer.

But I'm not the only one.