Dreams Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

- Langston Hughes

Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria.

That’s the opening line from Eleven Minutes, an old novel by Paulo Coelho. I remember picking it up at the airport a few years ago and giving it a brisk read which I thought was mediocre at best. My expectations were soiled because of my deep love for The Alchemist. I’m an incurable believer in the universe and its conspiring ways – that everything happens for a reason – and he expressed that message beautifully through the journey of Santiago, the shepherd boy. As for Eleven Minutes, there was nothing about the book worth remembering but for some odd reason Maria had been on my mind lately. Last weekend, I flicked through the book again to discover why and noticed something I had previously highlighted.

“She looked around her. People were walking along, heads down, hurrying off to work, to school, to the employment agency, to Rue de Berne, telling themselves: “I can wait a little longer. I have a dream, but there’s no need to realize it today, besides, I need to earn some money.” Of course, everyone spoke ill of her profession, but, basically, it was all a question of selling her time, like everyone else. Putting up with horrible people, like everyone else. Handing over her precious body and her precious soul in the name of a future that never arrived, like everyone else. Saying that she still didn’t have enough, like everyone else. Waiting just a little bit longer, like everyone else. Waiting so that she could earn just a little bit more, postponing the realization of her dreams; she was too busy right now, she had a great opportunity ahead of her, loyal clients who were waiting for her, who could pay between three hundred and fifty and one thousand francs a session. And for the first time in her life, despite all the good things she could buy with the money she might earn – who knows, she might only have to work another year – she decided consciously, lucidly and deliberately to let an opportunity pass her by. She knew the time had come to stop. Not many people do.”

I stopped four years ago.

I’d been working at the “Crystal Shop” (for those of you familiar with The Alchemist) and decided that the time had come to follow my heart and intuition. It was a difficult choice to depart. After all, the three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates and a monthly salary according to Nassim Taleb.

My father told me something when I reached out to him for blessings and advice: “The natural instinct of a lion is to hunt for food. But consider what would happen if we take a lion out of the jungle and place him in a cage, and feed him regularly over a span of years – he would shed that instinct. If you then release him back into the jungle, the lion will run back to you and want to be caged again. The easy life creates in a lion the disposition of a sheep. The sharpness of his paws turn soft and become strengthless. The wakeful lion is lulled to slumber. Blunted are his teeth.”

“We are the lions, Jawad” he told me. “The lion is most handsome when looking for food. Tell me, why should we choose to stay in prison when the door is so wide open?”

I was about to leave the security of success for an unknown journey no one knew anything about, not even me. But I did not resist the changes that came my way and tried not to worry that my life was about to turn upside down. I kept telling myself, what if the side that is to come is better than the one I am used to? And even if it isn’t, wouldn’t it be worth at least discovering?

Life passes us by so quickly, and in my opinion, we spend too much of it planning and pretending, causing anger and resentment as we wait in vain. Instead of being farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process, we turn fearful and lose faith. I knew that I needed more help than I can even possibly imagine to avoid running back in the cage so I acquiesced to Grace. In the words of Rumi, doesn’t the ocean take care of each wave till it gets to the shore?

So to answer the opening question: I don’t know what happens to a dream deferred, and I don’t want to either.

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