I Want my Dream…It Just Doesn’t Want Me Back

I am dedicating this piece to my friend, who is battling cancer right now.

She was in despair when she made this remark, “Would it not have been so much easier if we hadn’t hoped in the first place? Tell me, what did we benefit from hoping other than reaping one heartbreak after another?” As she unleashed her fury against the act of hoping, expecting, yearning, I listened to her quietly. I knew exactly what she was feeling. Just like her, I too have been tempted to seek permanent residence in the land of despondency, believing that perhaps losing hope is the only way in which I can shield myself from further disappointments. If you are a human being, you, too, can fully identify with this gut-wrenching pain. The pain that dawns after what you hoped and believed for turns to ashes. Poof. Gone. Without any apology or even an explanation. Like a dog who retreats into her cage at the sight of potential danger, a series of disappointments can also cause our hearts to grow weary from hoping, dreaming, and stretching to no avail, or so it feels. Stringed with multiple rejections from every major publisher, the author of the memoir What We carry, Maya Lang, wrote, “I do know what I want, of course. I want my dream. It just doesn’t want me back.”

Desiring is humbling. Each time our hearts reach for something, we are, in fact, setting ourselves up for pain or victory or something in between. Whether what we are seeking is restored health, a promotion, or unconditional love and approval from our people, there is probably nothing that makes us as vulnerable as wanting. It is perhaps for this reason that some of us go through at least some portion of our lives without setting our eyes or our hearts on anything; the cost of betrayal by the object of our own desire can be too much. We do our best to dodge the question, “What do you want?”

On the one hand, our yearnings can be considered as blessings. They direct and energize us. They give our lives meaning and urge us to stretch into the unknown. They are the engine behind our strivings, the backbone of our perseverance and ultimate triumphs. Expectedly, dashed hopes also give rise to immeasurable pain. When our desires fail to materialize, it feels like being pregnant with a child that just refuses to be born. No, I wouldn’t equate that experience to giving birth to a still child. Certain yearnings are persistent and stubborn enough that they don’t capitulate easily; they tend to linger long enough that their stay sometimes feels torturous.

As a counselor, part of my job is to walk alongside my clients as they baby-step toward what they want. Sometimes the process involves giving voice to what we want with some specificity and nuance. Other times, it entails untangling what we truly want from what society or culture conditions us to want. Equally important, my job also involves helping clients bear the pain that comes from utter exhaustion — when our efforts yield no tangible results.

The irony of life is that getting what you want is also not a guarantee against heartbreak or disappointment, for gain and loss are two sides of the same coin. I know from my experience that every time my heart swells with love and gratitude for what I consider to be the blessings in my life, such as my loved ones, in the deepest part of my heart, there is also a portion that simultaneously swells with anticipatory sorrow.

Here is the uncomfortable truth. Yes, it is true that an unquenched desire breeds unimaginable pain. However, denying our hearts from ever desiring, hoping, and reaching equally produces a different type of pain — it causes our hearts to become oxidized. The fortress we build around our heart to keep it safe from getting hurt will end up imprisoning it from ever seeing the light of day. This is one of those situations in which you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Both are hard. Perhaps, the answer is to pick the right hard.