Our Town: Winter dreams spin many tales

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"Dreams are like flowers, beautiful from a distance but don't get too close"

Winter is the season of dreams. We sleep more during the long dark days of winter and thus we dream. The most well-known winter tales are often about Christmas and they always include a dream.

“The Nutcracker,” written by E.T.A Hoffman in 1892 and made into a ballet by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, had a scene where a girl who falls asleep on Christmas Eve and dreams of a Christmas tree that grows through the ceiling encounters a Mouse King and is saved by a nutcracker that comes to life and saves her. Petipa and Ivanov thought they would hit it big with this ballet, but it closed within weeks. It took George Balanchine to give it new life in the 1950s.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” penned in 1843, was about Ebenezer Scrooge’s nightmare on Christmas Eve when he is visited by his partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. This novella has never gone out of print and has been adapted to film, opera and stage, but Dickens’ dream of becoming rich and famous through this story never came true. The copyrights were stolen and he made nothing.

Who does not have a big dream that is secretly nourished, wished for and worked on? It may be the dream of perfect love or the dream of drinking from “the great and glorious poisoned chalice of money and fame.”

But I wonder what would it feel like to actually obtain one’s biggest dream. Would happiness be achieved? And for how long? Would the dream seem to vanish before our eyes the moment we grabbed hold of it?

Captain Ahab dreamt of killing Moby Dick, but his dream led to his own death in the end. Don Quixote dreamt of winning the heart of Dulcinea by becoming a knight-errant, but he never received much love from her. And the Holy Grail was the principal quest of the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table and was said to satisfy the taste and needs of all who ate and drank from it. I can see why they wanted to find that treasure.

What these stories tell us is that dreams do come true. But these stories also inform us that any dream of perfection is a falsehood. There is no such thing as a grail which has a magic wafer that will nourish us forever. There is no such thing as a big white whale whose capture will make us happy. Isn’t that the moral behind Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”? He does catch that big marlin, but since it was so big he had to tie it to his boat and it was eaten by sharks long before he got to shore.

Dreams are a lot like going to the florist and ordering some beautiful cut flowers. Roses, tulips, daisies or lilies are all perfect things to see. You bring them home, arrange them in a vase and look. But soon enough they begin to wilt and die and out they go. Indeed, there is something heartfelt, poignant and sad about these beautiful flowers that must wilt and die too soon. They were real and they were beautiful but did not last too long.

I suppose it’s right for humans to dream big dreams. For a girl to dream that the nutcracker will come to life and be her protector or for a knight to dream that he will find the Holy Grail and thus obtain glory and joy. But it is also true that there may be no such thing as the golden ticket or the winning lottery ticket. My college friend John Mikals once said to me that all things in life are temporary and subject to change. He was right. And that includes any dreams that one achieves.

Research in psychology tells us that your mood is remarkably stable and that no matter what good fortune befalls us, whether it’s a raise or winning Lotto, your mood will return to its baseline within 90 days.

Many years ago I worked with a PGA tour player who won a tournament. He was on the road, received the applause, got his trophy and check, did his press interviews and went back to his hotel room to sleep. As he was eating dinner alone in his room, he started to cry and when I asked him why, he said “Is that all there is? I kill myself to train and finally win a big event and what I get to do is go back to my room and eat a meal by myself. It doesn’t seem right, does it?”

I agreed with him. Such is the nature of things when you achieve your big dream. All the wonder of it seems to vanish before your eyes. What this means is to keep your hopes in check and try to focus more on today’s little joys and not tomorrow’s big one. As the saying goes, “the secret to life is to enjoy the journey, not the destination.”

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