I just realized my birthday is tomorrow. Seriously, I totally forgot. Although I’m always bad with dates, truthfully I think this is more the product of selective inattention. I know bemoaning your birthday is so cliché, but I’ve been wishing that time would slow down for, like, 8 years now.
The passage of time has been especially bothersome to me lately. I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store and out of the blue feel like the guy in front of me buying boxer briefs just turned around and punched me in the gut. Then I’ll realize it was just a jab from a little worry-troll come to remind me that I’m getting old, my kids are growing up, and someday (who knows when) I’m going to die.
I want to be clear, my anxiety doesn’t stem from a fear of wrinkles or other vanities (although I’m certainly not above them), nor is it directly related to death (although I certainly am afraid of it). What stirs me most these days is the feeling that I’m running out of time to fully become the person I want to be and to live the life I always assumed I would.
With age, I grow wearier and my load grows heavier. Decisions have to be made about what I can carry forward and what I should leave behind. Although intentions for the future, hopes, and dreams are usually worthwhile freight, at some point most will either become actualized, reach a point of futility, or become an impossibility. I understood this truth the day I gave up hope that my mother would survive cancer, and I understood it again when I had my first daughter and saw that the dream of her being cradled in her grandmother's arms was an impossibility.
Hopes and dreams get snatched away from people due to things like death, age, infertility, injury, poverty, and chronic illness all the time. Sometimes the hands people are dealt seem so random and when things have gone terribly awry, it's often easier to feel cheated, bitter, sad, or angry than it is to accept and rebuild.
The loss of hopes and dreams are true losses that need to be grieved. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and author of the book Option B, said in a letter written shortly after the unexpected death of her husband, Dave Goldberg,
“Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A.”
When I first read this statement what struck me most was the strength with which she promised to try and embrace option B. I think these words inspired many people and so I’m grateful she shared them, but I'm most interested in what she said next.
She goes onto say that she will always mourn for option A. Option A is where the sorrow lives and it carries the weight of the hopes and dreams she and her children lost when her husband died. There is bravery in her promise to “do all [she] can” to see option B through, but her words are hardly a battle cry. Her statement is humble and acknowledges she may have limitations, I suspect because dealing with the loss of option A is really damn hard.
Regardless of the scenario, the loss of hopes and dreams can be incredibly hard to accept and cope with. These losses aren’t just felt at one time in a person’s life; true to grief-form, they pop up as milestones, reminders, birthdays, important events, regrets, and emptiness forever. I think the magnitude of this can be hard to recognize when looking at it from the outside in and I think those who experience the losses are often surprised by how hard “acceptance” is.
When we care deeply about something, it can be difficult to know when to let go. Sometimes our hopes are all we have to keep us getting out of bed in the morning. People always like to say things like, “It’s never too late to follow your dreams” and many times this is true. When there’s a chance to see your dreams through or there is still joy in the journey, by all means, keep going.
The reality is, though, that some dreams will eventually be impossible and when our hopes for the future are truly futile, we have choices to make. We could hold on tight and keep carrying our hopes and dreams forward, but such a heavy and hollow load limits our capacity to find other more fulfilling alternatives. We could drop everything and walk around angry and bitter, but this distracts us from finding joy in the things we do have and leaves our arms empty. Or finally, we could find ways to grieve our losses and someday, if we’re lucky, we’ll gain enough peace and acceptance to embrace our option B.
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