Fighting for your life

I’m aware there are people all around the world who fight for their survival on a daily basis. There are countries where ordinary citizens fall asleep each night and awaken each day with real, palpable fear. As an American living in Central Illinois, I don’t know what that kind of fear feels like.

But, as a person, I do know what it feels like to fight for my life, or at least the life that I want for myself. It’s not the same as living in parts of Syria, but it can be equally terrifying. 

In the struggle for one’s true life, I know I’m not alone. There are plenty of people tying the blindfold on and stepping out onto the plank. It’s so easy to get comfortable in a traditional 9-5 job, get a couple of raises, and quietly drift away from the dreams and goals you’ve kept in your wallet or purse like a good luck charm since high school or college. You know, the life dreams you didn’t even share with some of your closest buddies because you didn’t want them laughing at you. You got tired of hearing your parents or siblings calling you crazy for even thinking some of the things you’d blurt out at the dinner table about wanting to open a flower shop, or work at a zoo, or be a Nascar pit crew member. You still remember how embarrassed you felt sharing those dreams with your prom date after one beer because you’d seen too many John Cusack teen flicks. So, at some point, you stopped talking about wanting to be a SWAT officer, or a professional photographer, or owning a butcher shop. You went to college, or the military, or you took an entry level position selling insurance, or cars, or you started working for the city. Hey, you needed a job, it wasn’t supposed to be forever, but it got you out of your parents house, paid your rent, and handled your car note. And it didn’t get in the way of your dreams. You’d put those on hold, just a temporary pause. 

Then you fall in love and get married, and if that didn’t complicate things enough, a baby sort of, well, comes along. High school health class was correct after all. And suddenly leaving your job with the paid sick and vacation time, along with those really handy heath and dental benefits, doesn’t seem like a great idea at the moment, so you press the pause button again. No problem though – you’re still young, and there’s still time to have THAT life. The dream one. And who knows – maybe your dream life didn’t come to you until now. There’s nothing wrong with being a late bloomer.

But then comes child number two, and the house, and the comfortable, but very necessary life to support and protect your family. The pause eventually becomes stop. Being a prison guard becomes a great living. You can get that boat you’ve been wanting. You can afford your daughter’s braces and dance lessons. You can take your family to Myrtle Beach. Life is good. You’ve all but forgotten about opening the donut shop or the tattoo parlor or bowling alley. It’s just not the right time. The kids will be headed for college soon. And you’ve got your retirement to think about. There’ll be time when the kids are out of the house and on their own.

But then you suddenly have the responsibility of keeping an eye on your aging parents, and there’s that little health scare you or your spouse dodged, but set you back a couple of vacations. You stagger a bit, but you survive this round of your life, battered but not beaten. But also no closer to that forest ranger job, or doing make-up for Broadway shows. In fact, your dream life fell into a deep coma and you hardly noticed. You’re too old to be a state trooper, and you never got the educational background to  become a P.E. teacher. You’d love to be a fitness trainer, but getting out of bed is the only sit up you’ve done for years.

Any of this sound familiar? 

It might, except for the part I left out about fighting for the life you used to, or might still, dream of.

It’s never too late. Eighty year olds graduate college. Developmentally disabled adults start businesses. Oh sure, you have a full plate. You wallow in debt, your responsibilities feel overwhelming, and anything beyond the circle you’ve built and inherited over the past few decades seems so far out of reach. Seems so impossible. If you were going to run a fishing charter boat, you should have done it a long time ago, before the life you inherited swallowed you up like a ravenous shark. Maybe the example is really much more like having tiny bites taken from you by life’s piranhas. 

So, you’ve planned yet another family vacation, this one to include your first grandchild. It’ll make Myrtle Beach/Branson/Lake Tahoe seem brand new. 

But when are you planning to start fighting for your life, you know, that dream that seems to have re-awakened at your youngest child’s high school graduation, or at the death bed of your last surviving parent, or when an old friend asks about your life at the class reunion.

Dreams don’t die. But eventually we do.

We try to teach our children that they can do or be anything they set their minds to. They just have to work hard and not give up on their dreams. I don’t remember ever hearing about a time limit for that pursuit.

Do as we say, not as we do, right? 

And if you’re already worried about failing, don’t. You’re already failing by not even trying; something we should teach our kids, but too often don’t.

Okay, well, I could go on and on, but I still have a dream life to fight for. Right now. And every day until I draw my last breath. 

Feel free to join your own battle.

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