Harriet Tubman once wrote: Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
Dreams that changes the world - what an astonishing idea that is! And yet we see dramatic examples of such dreams arising in the most unlikely places. You’ll remember Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year old schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban, who felt threatened by her strong advocacy of girls’ education. After the shooting, Malala was flown to the UK for treatment, where she made a remarkable recovery.
Some months later, she gave a speech at the UN to more than 500 young people aged 12-25 from around the world, speaking with grace and compassion about her dream for universal primary education for children around the world.
"Let us pick up our books and pens," Malala summed up. "They are our most powerful weapons.”
Another person with a magnificent dream is Stephen Lewis, who was appointed the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa in June 2001. On his visits to Africa, he was inspired by the courage of African grandmothers who were bringing up their grandchildren orphaned by AIDS. His dream was to create connections between these African women and the Canadian grandmothers, in a grassroots initiative that would create links of caring across the world. And that dream inspired thousands of Canadian grandmothers to form groups to raise money to support their African sisters – a dream that just keeps growing.
But dreams come in so many forms, shaped by people’s strengths and talents as well as by their suffering and their wounds. Years ago I had a patient who came from a terribly abusive background in which both parents had serious addiction problems. He grew up in poverty and chaos. By his teen years, he was smoking and using drugs, and had joined a gang. He dropped out of school at 16, and within the next few years he was in and out of jail on a variety of charges.
On our first meeting, he slouched in the chair before me, staring at me cynically. He told me that he disliked doctors - they're all full of BS, he said. He would often challenge me like that, waiting and perhaps almost hoping for another rejection. But we slowly began to establish a relationship of trust. He began to talk a little more about his past, and the difficulties of his turbulent childhood. One day, in a rare moment of connection, I asked him if he had any special dreams for his life. He was silent for a long time. Finally he said- "Yes, I have a dream. I would like to own a little house in East Hamilton, with a yard surrounded by a white picket fence..."
It seemed like a modest dream to me, but for him it carried all the power and mystery of something he had never experienced, of something that seemed virtually unattainable.
It seemed like a modest dream to me, but for him it carried all the power and mystery of something he had never experienced, of something that seemed virtually unattainable. I've often thought about that image of the white picket fence - what did it mean to him? Perhaps a sense of being on the inside, rather than outside? Perhaps a sense of order and regularity? Perhaps the white picket fence evoked a longed-for sense of respectability in the eyes of the world.
Another patient of mine struggled with severe bipolar disorder, and had endured many long hospitalizations. Her marriage dissolved and she lost custody of her daughter. She agonized over these struggles. And yet, when she came to see me, what she often wanted to talk about was her dreams for the future. initially they were big dreams - becoming a well-known artist, marrying someone rich and famous, living in a house in the country. But as her condition slowly worsened, her dreams became more modest - she just wanted a little place of her own, a piano, a quiet spot where she could do her artwork.
One day she said, "Do you think I'm foolish to keep talking about my dreams? But you see, my dreams help me to endure the present. Without my dreams, I am nothing."
I remember some beautiful words written by the American poet Langston Hughes, who wrote: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly…”
Perhaps those words can inspire each of us to continue to pursue our dreams, even in the face of difficulty and disillusionment.