One of the hardest things to deal with in times of loss and grief, is the attendant loss of that which never was. It’s an issue when someone in our lives dies, in the breakdown of relationship, the loss of a home, a job, or any aspect of your way of life. All the things you imagined would be, all the dreams you wove around that thing have to now be dismantled, or rebuilt somewhere else. It’s a hard process, made more so by being invisible and difficult to explain. The more disproportionately you have invested in relation to what was actually there, the more it hurts, and the more silly you get to feel along the way.
I’m getting fond of blog posts with soundtracks, and for me this song encapsulates something about the secret grief that is a dead dream.
Life is not kind to dreams, and often we are not culturally kind to dreamers, either. To be a daydreamer is to be out of touch with reality, to be a fool, unrealistic and doomed to be disappointed. And yet, without dreams, without wild hopes and aspirations, without the triumph of optimism over experience, life would be thin and pale. It’s the willingness to dream that sets us on the path of new romances, takes us to new jobs, founds new organisations and groups, gets up and tries. You have to dream before you’ll make anything new. Some of those dreams are stillborn, or die young. It is part of the nature of dreams.
When pets and people die, it is obvious, and we have some idea how to grieve that. Dreams die slowly and quietly, slipping away without telling you. No one else sees their passing, there are no funerals for dreams, although plenty of poets will write them elegies. But poets are dreamers themselves, and wider culture doesn’t have much truck with that either.
There is deep, hidden personal tragedy in the death of a dream. It does not matter how large the dream was. Small dreams of days off, a little good, a small joy, are painful in their demise as well. It does not matter how crazy the dream was, all those abandoned ideas of fame, fortune, creativity and a life less ordinary. It does not matter whether you fed it with action, or cherished it as an idle thought, its death will still diminish you and take a little colour out of the world.
When enough dreams have died, it becomes easy to give up on them entirely. Dreams are foolish and ephemeral things, as the song says, ‘they just let you down’. So perhaps you stop dreaming them. Perhaps you stop hoping, daring and imagining. You don’t hold them anymore and you stop feeding the ones you were trying to make real. It is a bitter road to walk, wherever it takes you.
Afterwards, when you have buried the dream and grieved its death, the trick is to start over, to dream something new, to make hope out of whatever threads are left. So I’ll leave you with a second song, one that reliably makes me cry.
Don’t be misled by the first verse, this is not *just* a song about a ship. This is a song about not quitting, about love and determination, and refusing to give up on dreams and passions… though your heart it be broken and life about to end… no matter what you’ve lost, be it a home a love a friend, like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.