It seems to me that as they move through their lives many folks have a tendency to scale back, to reel in, to be cautious. Such actions are certainly warranted where matters of, say, finance are concerned, but not when it comes to things more intangible. Too often people scale back, reel in, and behave cautiously when it comes to the things they dream of. Something in me says this is not how things should be. We should not deny our dreams.
Why do you think we pull up? Why do we shorten the length of our reach, decrease the breadth of our striving? Why do we choose (for surely a choice is made) to deny ourselves the things we know will bring us the most happiness, the greatest peace?
Too many people I speak with are defined by their life stories. That is to say, they believe the things that have happened to them during their lives are what makes up their identities. “I am the child of a broken home,” they say, “I am a divorcee, I am a victim.”
Not I was.
Perhaps we might say, “These things happened to me once upon a time, and this is who I have become because of them. These things shaped who I have become, but they do not define who I am. They are not my identity.”
We sometimes let the things that happened to us become who we believe we are.
I have my own ghosts, my own skeletons, and they exist alongside me, they impressed upon me, but they are not who I am. Illness, sorrow, loss, and spectacular failures shaped who I now am in the same way loving family, fantastic friends, awesome opportunities, and outstanding successes did. The dark times have had a hand in it all, but their power fizzled. They had their time, but the days of light remain.
The battles we have fought – whether won or lost – no longer exist in the present tense. Rather, they speak in the past tense. Whether we have fought relationship battles or repression battles, battles of prejudice or battles against disease, the impact on our lives can be seen and even measured. But it is within our power to limit those effects, to say ‘No,’ to say, ‘You have taken this much, but you can take no more.’
We give over our successes, our loves, our dreams – and then grieve for them. We take on roles that are dependent on other people’s importance – I am a hockey dad, I am a soccer mum, I am a military husband, I am a physician’s wife. Do we say I am a musician? A believer? A fisherman? Do we say I am a dreamer?
Not often enough.
Not long ago, a friend of mine gave me four 19th century postcards. One, mailed more than a century ago from Paris, bears a loving note from Uncle Vicente to his niece and nephew. It was sent to them in care of their grandfather, a man by the name of Rodolfo Barthold. The genealogist in me was intrigued, and I embarked upon a search for Vicente, Rodolfo, and their family.
I suspect it is safe to say that so many years after the postcard was mailed, even the young niece and nephew are no longer living, but their story – rather, their mystery – is one that intrigues and fascinates me. In searching them out, I have grown to admire the Barthold family, to respect them. Indeed, I have become quite fond of them. These strangers who lived 125 years ago have left traces of themselves in the world. Echoes. Fine threads. It has been an honour to gather the few threads I have found and weave them together again into the stories that were their lives. In my research I have learned of weddings, and of births, I have learned of devastating fires, of society functions, of business transactions, of real estate sales, of charitable works. I have learned of passions, I have learned of tragic losses. With each new morsel of information, the family of Vicente and Rodolfo becomes more real, more substantial. With each discovery, I learn of the Barthold family’s passion for life. Each discovery underscores their remarkable ability to limit what the dark times could take from them, and I learn who they became because of it all.
I wish such things for you over a century from now. I wish for you the meditations of those who come after you, that they should think on you, consider your lives, feel a longing to have known you. I wish for you the strength to walk with grace through this life, leaving traces, creating echoes, dropping threads. I wish you love. I wish you peace.
Reach. Strive. Dream.
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