The death of the dream could be the birth of unprecedented possibility

Sage CohenProductive writing, The life poetic25 Comments

I’ve tried to write about four different posts today. Because I don’t have the heart for any of them, they dragged. I dragged. The posts were boring and I was bored. Why all of this slow-poking around? Because I’ve been avoiding bringing to this page what is true for me today. And I because I know all too well that resisting what wants to be written can short-circuit the entire writing machinery, I will resist no longer. Instead, I will practice what I preach. And tell you the story that is insisting on being told.

A year ago today, in the bathroom of my chiropractor’s office, a little blue plus sign quietly confirmed what my body had been trumpeting: I was pregnant with my second child. From her very first cell division, this child was a huge presence in me. I felt occupied by not just a new life, but by LIFE itself. I was hardwired for the ideal of “family of four” and felt so grateful to be moving toward this lifelong desire, even at this “advanced maternal age.” I was euphoric and exhausted––a hormonal cocktail I knew all too well.

Exactly six weeks later, the child occupying me completed its journey and departed. It was a long and agonizing departure that took three plus months––exactly how long it took my husband to find a new home and relocate there. By mid-September, both exits were complete. And with them, two of my most primary dreams evaporated.

Grieving dreams is complicated business. Often, they’ve spent a lifetime taking hold. And we have all kinds of projections about how each of our Happily Ever Afters might play out that have little bearing on reality––and often even have a meager capacity to actually create happiness. When Prince Charming turns out to be as uncomfortable a fit as a glass slipper and the castle reveals itself to be a fortress, we are left to sort out what remains in the rubble of a fantasy taken to its logical conclusion.

Every one of us has a fantasy-meets-reality story––or more likely, dozens of such stories––about our writing lives. I hear these almost daily from friends, colleagues, students and blog community members. We all have ideas of how it might feel to accomplish a certain goal, and we idealize getting there as a kind of arrival. A conclusion. When we get there, we expect euphoria, perhaps and are surprised to find ourselves feeling something else. Or, we simply discover there is no end, no arriving in the writing life. Only the next mountain to climb. The next book or story or poem or article to write. Or, we don’t get there. Which leads to further agonizing and imagining about the promised land of “there and when?” that lurks mysteriously behind the veil of “here and now.”

What I have found to be true in every case––in my personal life and my writing life––is that the death of the dream creates the space for what is actually intended to come through: what is, in the end, a better fit than we ever could have imagined. And often, it is so wildly off the mark from what we imagined, that it can take a long time to settle in with the strange bedfellows––or writingfellows––reality presents us with. Will this be a comfortable recalibration? Probably not. Will it be a worthwhile one? I’d bet all the chai tea lattes in the world on it.

A year after my miscarriage took with it my marriage, I am having unprecedented discoveries about who I am, what I expect from my life, and how I intend to live, write and love. In this intimate, new configuration of a family of two, I am as happy as I thought being a family of four could make me. In fact, I’d venture to say that I’m even happier. And I’m overcome with gratitude that the man I loved took the leap with me into marriage when we believed that was our destiny, and the leap out of marriage when it was clear our story as partners was complete. When the dream let go of us, we respectfully let it go. This, I have found, is where grace waits for us.

If you find yourself in a clash of what you’d imagined your writing life to be and what is actually becoming possible, all is not lost. Or, more accurately, what needs to be lost has become lost to make the space for what will soon be found. I’d suggest that you honor the dream that isn’t taking shape (at least right now) in the way that you intended by grieving it completely. And then, get ready to be shaken open into a new paradigm of Happily Ever After. It may not happen tomorrow, or the day or the week after. But it’s out there, waiting for your dreams to be dashed, in order for something more true, more wildly possible, to be revealed.

25 Comments on “The death of the dream could be the birth of unprecedented possibility”

  1. Sage, I was going to say I’m sorry for your losses and, of course, I am, but I am so glad that you’ve come through stronger – and happier – than ever. This is a valuable lesson indeed in writing and life – being open to change is important and sometimes the dream just wasn’t the right one. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  2. I have gone through many of the same experiences. Reading your post I could really relate and at some level understand that pain. It inspired me to write:

    Evaporating Walls

    I see firm walls.
    At first they are sturdy and comforting.
    They are protectors bringing security.
    This is what I need.
    I need these walls.
    But then I run into one and it hurts.
    Desperately needing to get to the other side,
    I run into it harder and harder, trying to break it.
    Until I am bloody and defeated.
    These walls are not protectors at all.
    They are a prison.
    The walls are attachment.
    Through clinging and grasping the walls are built.
    They tower around me.
    The prison space becoming smaller and smaller.
    Tighter and tighter, until there is no room to even breath.
    Finally realizing the walls will never crack, never crumble.
    I sit quietly, seeking answers.
    I slowly discover the walls I have created don’t exist.
    They are just my attempt at happiness.
    But they bring no happiness at all.
    I look deeply within and see a light.
    I look forward and see the light shines right through the wall stained with blood.
    It has become translucent.
    I am in awe.
    I stand and quietly walk right through the wall feeling nothing at all.
    On the other side I see you.
    I have left myself behind.

  3. Sage, you are not only as wise as your name — but courageous as well. What a brave post!
    Having left my own marriage after 32 years, I too know about a dying dream and extreme grieving. But, three years later, I’m happier than I’ve ever been — and more productive in my writing, art, and thinking.
    You’re so right: Death often does lead to birth. Thank you for sharing that intimate story.

  4. That was a powerful post. At first it broke my heart, but then your words started the healing process, and by the end, recovery was taking place. Just as yours is. Thank you for sharing. Life may not always be a bed of roses, but it can still be beautiful.

  5. Hugs.

    Yes, I don’t think there’s anything that so distorts our understanding of what happiness is, and where we’re likely find it, than these dreams that everyone tells us to follow. (As if we needed encouragement! :->)


  6. Cheers to you Sage, for honoring that space newly generated by loss, for courage to step onto new paths and for continuing so generously to encourage others along the way.

  7. oh, sage… thank you for sharing so much of yourself over these last few posts…
    this is what makes you a wonderful teacher and a true inspiration. what tremendous losses you have experienced but it is in the sharing of those losses that we all come to hope.
    thank you, dearest sage.

  8. Sage – thanks for this powerful piece…thinking of you also.
    These words are especially strong: ‘I’d suggest that you honor the dream that isn’t taking shape (at least right now) in the way that you intended by grieving it completely.’
    Very much the path of possibility.

  9. Thanks for writing this, Sage. I had to end my otherwise very happy and loving relationship this week due to his mental illness leading to abuse – right after we’d discussed getting old together and someday marrying. I have hope that we may reunite if he gets well, but still the grief over lost dreams is powerful. I’m also going through the final stages of divorce from a long marriage which makes this all that more poignant. I’m trying to take the best care of myself I can and get through things a day at a time and trust that universe will take me where I’m meant to go and let me be with him again or someone better for me in future. You are so inspiring. xx

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  11. This makes me catch my breath: “what needs to be lost has become lost to make the space for what will soon be found.” What a stunning post.

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  13. Sage,
    I came upon this blog post via Linda Formichelle’s blog. I must comment that this is one of the BEST blog entries I have ever read, period. The wisdom of your “sagely” comments and heartfelt thoughts are applicable to so many parts of our lives. Thank you! It was just what I needed to hear. And thanks to Linda for leading me here.

  14. Sage,
    Thank you for your willingness to become vulnerable enough to share the things that matter – to you, and to us. I am inspired by your courage, perseverance and recognition that good things still await you. I join you in affirming that life is good – even when are broken and learning to walk again.

  15. Such an important post, told with a gentle, compassionate repetition of the high points, the “you can get it right”-ness after sinking feelings and lost ambition. Thanks so much for words like these.

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