23. The Dream of a Shepherd

The late high-wire artist Karl Wallenda famously said, “Being on the tightrope is living. Everything else is waiting.”

Instead of “waiting,” he could have said “dreaming.”

There is such a big difference between dreaming and doing. Dreaming about doing something has its satisfactions. But dreaming is just simulation, without real-world experience. It’s a safety net when we don’t even walk a tightrope. It’s not real.

Take heart: we all do it, live in dreams or – its equivalent – live through others in TV shows, movies, streamed shows, do-it-yourself videos, celebrities, “reality” shows, even porn. But while we indulge in these things, our lives and the realization of our dreams are on hold.

As those of you who have read these posts know, I had some difficulties growing up as a child with disabilities in Southern Italy years ago. In addition, my family was not well-off.

Yet, when I was small, I did not dream of making lots of money. I did not dream of becoming famous (except as a soccer star). I had two main dreams. The first was to drive a big freight truck all over Europe and beyond. I could feel the wind blowing my hair through the open cab window and I could see the countryside glide into view and slide past. To cross borders freely, to drive past farm after farm, or up and down mountain roads, to meet all kinds of people – what a thrill!

My favorite dream was of being a shepherd. No puny flock of a hundred for me, no, it would have to be thousands of sheep, so that I could look out onto a sea of bleating, quivering white. I could feel the thick patch of grass beneath me, my hands cushioning my head as I gazed up at the nighttime sky of bright stars and I breathed in the fresh cool air.

Nothing ever marred my fantasies. No visions of rain-slicked or icy roads or trails. No bone-chilling temperatures or blazing hot sunshine. No broken-down oily engines, sickly sheep, or hungry, determined wolves. Certainly no insurance payments or government licensing requirements. Or veterinarian check-ups and animal vaccinations.

Doing involves disappointment, exasperation, the hard work of learning a skill and overcoming obstacles. Frankly, all of that can be off-putting. But, by not striving to achieve something that has meaning for us, we deprive ourselves of the satisfaction of, at best, attaining it, and, at worst, knowing that we gave the effort 100 percent. With effort, we at least get closer to our goals and we taste the actual experience.

Take me, for example. I never did become a shepherd or a trucker. I outgrew those dreams. But, if my wife is right, after nearly two decades I have become a reliable, caring husband (always with room for improvement), and I know for sure that I’m a pretty good cook.

The current pandemic has thrown the whole world and our expectations from life upside down. We are facing challenges like never before, and we know that things will not return to the “normal” we used to take for granted.

As we go about picking up the pieces of our lives and deciding what to do with them, we should remember this: we don’t have to be perfect and we don’t have to pick the perfect path. The only sure satisfaction from life comes from trying to be the best we can, while keeping a sense of humor.

And let’s be kind to each other.

Kykuit – Mt. Pleasant, NY courtesy of “Anton”

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