When we write our stories to future generations, we are tempted to tell stories of our successes. It's how we want to be seen and remembered, as successful, talented, and wise.
Though it may go against the grain, it may be more useful, more human, to tell stories in which we portray ourselves as we are when we're disappointed in ourselves, when we experience our assumptions, expectations, and our ideals as errors, when we discover that our long-held dreams are untrue, and our stories end yes, with some learning, but also with our disappointment and concomitant sadness and grief.
A wise woman recently told me that when our idealism is broken the danger is to fall from idealism to cynicism. More productive is to see more realistically. Adolescent idealism transformed to more mature realism can result in seeing more clearly what is real, who we really are, who the other is, what the real situation is... Yes, realism is an "ism," but a less opaque one than either idealism or cynicism.
A friend told me about the Japanese tradition of kintsukuroi, the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken -- a metaphor might be how a young beauty becomes even more radiant when lines of experience and age adorn her face.
Ted Bowman, friend and wise counselor, wrote "Loss of Dreams: A Special Kind of Grief" in 1994. Ted observed that when we experience a loss of a dream about how life would be, the loss can be as devastating as the loss of a beloved person, and needs to be acknowledged and grieved before we can move forward.
One of my lost dreams goes back to adolescence. Remember the '50s when the movies taught a whole generation of us how love and marriage were supposed to be? An impressionable teen with raging hormones, I swallowed the Doris Day image whole, and mistakenly chose a mate I was unsuited for. Hannah Arendt wrote of a similar blindness in her love for Martin Heidigger, describing him as "a supreme being in a world drowning in mediocrity." Wendy Steiner reviewing Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidigger in the NY Times Book Review 9/24/95 wrote: "What combination could be more durable than a totally self-absorbed man and a woman who needed to think well of him for the sake of her own self-respect?"
Steiner's words opened my eyes. I saw how I'd spent many years trying to make my ideal dream real, and kept at it as long as I did because it was welded to my own self image. What a devastating realization. After much grieving, I could see that clinging to my dream had been a major component in the failure of my marriage.
That is now long past history, and I have discovered a new blind ideal and dream just this year:
I recently read Ari Shavit's 2013 My Promised Land, about the birth of Zionism and the birth of the modern nation of Israel. It is a powerful book that awakened me to the reality that Israel is far from perfect. Neither I nor the Jews fleeing Europe wanted to see or could see that to seize our homeland, we would have to displace the people who'd inhabited the land of milk and honey for generations. That blindness and the powerful ideal of Zionism (watch out for "isms") led Israelis over decades, no matter how well-meaning, innovative, creative, or brilliant -- to believe that occupying land belonging to another people was an okay thing to do. It was not.
(Not different than in the Book of Joshua, when the slaves of Egypt wandered for 40 years in the desert, then crossed into the land that God had promised them. The problem then, as today 3,500 years later: There were already people living on that land.)
So too I have needed to believe that my people, so maligned for centuries, are really better than all those who have persecuted us. So I'm grieving: For the loss of my dream that Jews, after the Holocaust of the 20th century, would be safe, respected, even loved by humankind. So far, I've only slipped into pessimism for short periods of time, being by nature an optimist. As I grieve, I continue to hope that Israelis will find a way beyond their amnesia to peace. Now that my eyes are open, I hope I can rebuild my ground realistically, understanding that Israelis are like all humankind, capable of great miracles, as well as horrific deeds, blinded as all humans are by unexamined needs and dreams.
Suggestions for Action:
1. Reflect about lost dreams in your life, a time when your story was about realizing that life turned out differently than what you'd dreamed it to be... a time of seeing that your dream was not real and maybe never had been.
2. Write about your loss, your grief, your disappointment, and how you were repaired/healed.
3. Write a legacy letter to those you love. Have the courage to tell a story illustrating your false ideals, your blindness, your mistakes, your grief, in order that your loved ones can know who you really are -- how beautiful, how human you are.
May you be blessed
with the courage
to see things as they are
and to share your
humanity with those you love,
NEW "Your Legacy Matters" is now available everywhere. 2012 editions also available of "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations", "The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman", "Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient", and "The Heartmates Journal". (All legacy books are available as pdf's on www.life-legacies.com.) Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and provides programs, workshops, and training with financial, health, and religious organizations focused on legacy principles and practices. She has seven grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minn.