Life does not always go as expected. Whether a problem with our health, our career, our children, or despite how hard we planned and worked sometimes our dreams do not come true.
We may follow a healthy diet, but a genetic problem or an accident can suddenly change everything. We might plan a certain course of study but then there is no job available, or life events keep us from accepting that dream job. Our children? Well, weren’t we always told that they would become their own persons?
It is too easy to cast blame and become disgruntled and negative. What is healthier and necessary is to do the work of grieving the unattained dream. Only then comes acceptance and the realization that where we are at this moment holds potential. We are each a work in progress, the masterpiece of our life is unfinished.
My friend Marilyn was ordained in the United Church of Christ, educated during the late 50s through the 70s and mentored by civil rights and academic giants. She obtained her doctorate and became a pastoral counselor. Marilyn longed to found a retreat center. She had a fully visualized dream, obtained necessary licenses, aligned herself with the right people, amassed supplies, furniture and know-how, ran many group conferences, and yet never saw the full dream to fruition. She came close a few times. We spoke recently about how it was necessary for her to grieve this life-long dream.
It is easy for me to see all of the good that Marilyn has done throughout her life for individuals and for the communities in which she has lived. She does acknowledge some of this, but it has been important for her to grieve her original dream. She goes about this while at the same time dealing with severe, chronic pain issues, and with an adult daughter who continues to require significant support. Day by day Marilyn faces her challenges, continues to take one generative step after another, and strives to remain grateful.
Over coffee we caught up on events and made plans to tour a local botanical garden that features a “Monet Pond.” Marilyn will be 87 at the end of the summer. When I left her house she was taking a phone call from a young man seeking help with his girlfriend. I heard the tone of her voice shift to that of a caring professional. I left quietly with a smile and a wave, feeling proud and inspired. Marilyn hasn’t created the retreat center that she’d always dreamt of, but she has forever changed countless lives including my own. I hope that one day she is fulfilled by the alternate, unplanned course in her life that blessedly intersected with ours.