by Langston Hughes
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?
I read this poem in Roger Cohen’s essay The Year Not to Defer Dreams, New York Times, December 27, 2017. He looks out of his window in Brooklyn Heights at the Staten Island Ferry, which he has never taken, as it is “crisscrossing the water.” He advises us to wander aimlessly, pay attention to detail, and re-examine the familiar.
At the end of his essay, Cohen finally “boarded the ferry, not to go anywhere, just to be transported.”
In closing, he writes, “In 2018, take the time, dear reader, to gaze at the familiar, board the ferry to nowhere—and do not, at risk of an explosion, defer your dreams.
Don’t defer your dreams seem an admonishment to those of us who are growing older. I hadn’t thought that many, regardless of age, might not acknowledge dreams we harbor silently in our hearts.
I wrote in my last post that I had never planned to write a book. Say what? Why did I take classes, attend seminars, write about my patients, and focus most of all on the stories surrounding a single experience of becoming a coordinator of a new clinic in Chicago in the 80s? Not write a book?
My friend, Helen (not her real name), called me a few weeks ago. Without salutation she said, “I am in love.” I knew she was taking about Tom, a friend of more than 30 years.
Helen and her husband, and Tom and his wife, were friends back in California. After Helen and her husband moved to North Carolina, both couples began sending Christmas letters over the years. Tom and Helen were the scribes. Helen called to give her condolences after Tom’s Christmas letter noted the tragic loss of his beloved wife after a brutal battle against Alzheimer’s. Soon the two were reconnecting and updating their lives. They found they had much in common. “I’m going to tell him that I am not interested in a relationship,” she had told me. And then her phone call.
Their frequent phone calls and messages erupted into deep emotions. Tom flew from California to North Carolina for Christmas, leaving two days after the New Year. He stayed with Helen in her one-bedroom apartment. They laughed constantly. Sang familiar songs. Finished each other’s sentences. Fell into a routine as if they had co-habited for years!
And the sex was great!
Helen will visit Tom the end of this month. Both in their seventies, they are investigating on which coast they will live—together.
From my vantage point of Tom and Helen’s relationship—I am more observer than an intimate—I wonder if each had had the dream of finding a kindred spirit. Tom having a wife who was becoming more of a stranger to him probably left him grieving more than thinking of a new wife to replace her. Helen, who often spoke of her deceased husband as the “love of my life,” was not planning to get remarried. Yet when they met each other and felt the warmth of this new love and recognized the potential of a happy life together, the dream was born. And I believe that both Helen and Tom will not defer their dream now that it has materialized.
I wish them happiness.