by Alice Woodrome
When I was a child I don't remember dreaming about the future much or wishing for any particular thing for myself, beyond being happy. I assumed I would marry and have a family; most girls back then took that for granted. I do remember thinking how lovely it would be to be an artist. I always painted, even as a child, but making a living with my art was a dream I didn't dare own. The only artist I knew who made money was a commercial sign painter, and that didn't appeal to me.
As I anticipated, I did get married and have two children when I was still pretty young. Then, as parents will, I began to dream for them. Not that they would make me proud by becoming rich or famous. I was never quite that shallow. But that they would grow up to be good people, independent, and vital. That they would find happiness and success in the work they enjoyed. That they would find life mates that brought them joy. They were delightful intelligent children, and I had every expectation that my dreams for them would be realized.
During those years, the dream I didn't dare dream as a child became a reality, too. For many years I made my living as an artist, selling my work at festivals all over the United States. I was happy. I felt pretty smug during those years, imagining that I was responsible for the good things in my life. I was the "master of my fate and the captain of my soul."
Then life taught me a couple of big lessons about control. My only son died tragically at age 22 and my daughter fell victim to mental illness a few years later. Schizophrenia was the diagnosis and the prognosis was grim. All the wishes and dreams for my life and my children were gone.
It took me years to gather the will and the grace to accept what had happened in our family. Acceptance and resignation seemed like the closest thing to dreaming that was left for me. Just a year ago, my biggest hope was that I would live long enough to care for my daughter as long as she needed me. But dreams are beginning to steal into my heart again. Despite an occasional bump in the road, my daughter has made such progress in the last three years since her last hospitalization that I find myself dreaming that she may someday have something approaching a normal life.
But I'm not waiting for that day before I allow myself to enjoy what is my reality today. I wouldn't wish heartbreak on others, and if I could go back and prevent them in my life, I certainly would. But I have learned a lot about life and what is important and what is not because of the tragedies in my life. I'm finding happiness in the small things of life available to me -- like a wild flower, a perfect lily, a sunrise, or a beautiful day. I'm learning to not squander time waiting for something different, something better. Today is what we are given, and to not enjoy what beauty there is in this day is such a waste.