When I was a kid growing up in Cleveland, my mother used to say I had my head perpetually in the clouds.
“You better watch out, or you’ll dream your life away,” she’d warn, shaking her head with a half smile. She had a point. I spent much of my time making up stories in my head instead of listening when someone was talking to me. I was a regular Walter Mitty.
I met a lot of dreamers at the Midwest Writers Conference. There was a young farmer’s wife whose youngest son, Lucas, was born with a brain anomaly that caused him to have twenty to thirty seizures a day. As her day-to-day existence centered on keeping him safe and clean and as healthy as possible, she dreamed of him getting better, of getting past that crippling illness.
She did more than dream. When he was three she spent an entire summer potty training him. His successful potty ventures were rocked out by Queen at top volume and he got to the point he could graduate to underpants—even during his seizures. As a nurse, I would likely have told you that wasn’t possible.
After failing his ninth medicine, she took him to the Cleveland Clinic for a second opinion and they recommended a radical surgery that would remove half his brain. Her husband—practical, patient, taking things in stride—said that they just needed to love Lucas as he was. But she wanted something more for him, and for their family. Lucas had the surgery. That was seven years ago. He hasn’t had a seizure since. He laughs and walks and talks and reads and has a life. Because she dreamed.
There were so many other dreamers I met. Some had lived through nightmares—sexual abuse, a corrections officer who witnessed the rape of an inmate and was punished when she reported it. A woman living graciously with intractable pain, speaking with a soft voice and liquid blue eyes, as if she was afraid of jarring her nerve endings. They all wanted to tell their stories, make sense of them, heal themselves and others like them. There was a woman who traced her family back to Lithuania and was writing about the family members who never left their homeland and lived under the brutality of the Stalin regime. Of course, there were many others who just had stories in their heads that they believed were worth telling.
It isn’t just a dream when you start the discipline of writing, of researching, of building places and characters so that they are as real as your hometown and your next door neighbor. It is so much more when you take classes to hone your art, when you network and pitch agents and write a book proposal. Some of the people I met—I think a whole lot of them—will get to tell those stories, will get to see them in print.
This week I read that the chance that someone will successfully lose weight and keep it off more than three years is somewhere around 5%. https://slate.com/technology/2015/03/diets-do-not-work-the-thin-evidence-that-losing-weight-makes-you-healthier.html
The article looked at the lack of evidence that diet and exercise work, and questioned if doctors keep encouraging folks to lose weight just so they can add a diagnosis code of obesity and get paid more. It looked at the multi-billion dollar diet industry and the bariatric surgery, and concluded that the best thing for an individual is likely just to stay overweight.
I think there is something to be said for that, particularly if someone is simply in the “overweight” category. I don’t think it’s true for someone who is at an extreme weight and I also don’t think it’s true when someone’s weight has impacted her emotions and self-image.
Almost three years ago, I dreamed of being able to be at a normal weight. That dream was followed by some of the hardest work I’ve ever done—starting an exercise regime when I hated every aspect of exercise, for instance. Digging into my negative emotions and rewriting what my brain was telling me.
I don’t care what the statistics say. I am an individual, not a statistic. So are you. It turns out that dreams can give you fertile soil to grow something into reality if you put in the time and the work.
Dreaming isn’t enough, but being realistic isn’t enough either. Dreaming gives us wonderful possibilities, like becoming a published author, or finding a healthy and fit way to live. We just have to do whatever needs to be done to make that dream the new real.
I’m going to remember Lucas’s Mom, a woman with dreams and hopes in her eyes who simply wouldn’t give up on finding a better life for her little boy. She had incredible courage.