Yesterday I taught a story by Sherman Alexie called "This is What They Mean When They Say Phoenix, Arizona". One phrase in the story particularly affected the class. The protagonist, a Native American, states that most of the people on the reservation only have a bottle of alcohol and broken dreams. We had a discussion in which we defined the term "broken dreams." One of the students recalled Langston Hughes" poem "What Happens to a Dream Deferred?" For those of you who may not be familiar with this which so tersely and eloquently depicts the frustrations of those who realize their dreams are two inches beyond their farthest grasp I quote it here:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
So many of us hope our dreams will not be deferred. My students are in college because they have dreams. I teach them because I want them to accomplish their dreams. I love to see them experience epiphanies. It is marvelous to see the glow in their eyes when they achieve a great goal, grasp a new idea, or learn the difference between fact and opinion and begin to think critically.
What happens, however, when dreams of individuals, groups, cultures, and nations go unrealized? So many athletes at the Olympic Games have dreamed for years of winning a medal and only three will. I have watched those who win silver cry in disappointment on the podium. I see buildings go up in flames because citizens are disappointed with their governments, presidents kill their citizens because they must maintain their dream of power, and states endure endless wars over shattered dreams.
Can a person, a culture, a nation be defined by his or her or its dreams? Or to rephrase the question, "What makes us happy?" Dreams are perhaps the conscious or unconscious expression of our deepest desires. If we stop dreaming, do we stop existing? What is the difference between a dream and a nightmare?
I use this line from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream:
Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream
It shall be called Bottom's Dream because it has no bottom.
as the epigram for my novel The Conspiracies of Dreams since Bottom was transformed into an ass from the waist up while the manly part of him was was on the lowest rung of the social ladder. Yet the part of him that was human dreamed of achieving the highest heights and for one wonderful night he did.
Every character in my novel, even the donkey (seems nicer to call her a donkey instead of an ass) has a dream. Each is a dream shared by all humans for eternity: reciprocal love, respect, a safe homeland, and a search for that which gives spiritual meaning to one's life.
And I have a dream that everyone will keep on dreaming dreams that will fulfill him or her.