Every year my dad had a Christmas ritual. After all the hoopla was over, presents opened, dinner consumed, he would go around the circle of assembled family members and ask each one to share their hopes and dreams for the coming year. At least I THINK that’s how it went. I only remember going once, hating the forced intimacy of sharing my fondest wishes with family members—some of whom I did not know well, others of whom I did not like much—and vowing never to return. And I didn’t. My husband and I would go to my parents on Christmas Eve instead, which worked well because otherwise they would’ve been alone. Then we would wake up Christmas morning and drive to my in-laws for Christmas Day. Perfect. No more public display of hopes and dreams for me!
But I was in the minority. In fact, I think I was a lone wolf. Everybody else LOVED the Hopes and Dreams segment of the program and the grandkids especially cherished their tiny slice of the spotlight in an otherwise adult dominated gathering. Some of them still wax sentimental about it today, as middle-aged adults. My dad was a goal-oriented guy. He set them for himself and if you didn’t grab the bull by the horns and make your own list he would make one for you. I would often find a folded newspaper around the house with columns of numbers in the margins. He was always calculating something with his black Bic ballpoint—what the income versus outflow was for the month, how the church budget was progressing, how many weddings he would have to perform to send us all to college. I am like him in so very many ways, including this. Whenever I feel jittery, my self-soothing go-to is to work up a list of numbers—how many students I teach, what their tuition will generate, what my current expenses are, how long it will take to pay off my Visa card, how long my 401k will last, etc. If numbers don’t do the trick I can always fall back on a good old-fashioned TO-DO list which always makes me happy. My youngest refuses to ever write down anything– her own personal antidote to all the list-making going on around here. More’s the pity because the girl could benefit from a few lists!
But it turns out I do have hopes and dreams and today on my bike ride I started making my list. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
- I hope I will always live someplace that has leaves changing color in the fall. The splendor of our very late leaf changes in Michigan this fall has been breathtaking. I hope to always be able to experience wonder and marvel at that annual extravaganza.
- I hope my kids will remember to say at my funeral that I was genuinely grateful to each of my three husbands for the gifts they gave me. From Bill: the borrowed courage to take risks, especially to go into debt to buy a little piece of Lake Michigan property when we were just starting out and had not a pot to pee in. It changed my life and that of my family in wonderful multi-generational ways. From Ken: two beautiful, smart, funny, talented daughters who have enriched my life and given me the great good fortune to get to be a mom. From Tom: the bliss of finally understanding what love between a man and woman was all about. He taught me by example, by loving me so deeply and so well.
- I hope in my old age I will live someplace like the senior center where my piano students played today—airy and bright, full of smiling seniors who are either very active and fit or grateful just to still be moving with the help of a walker. I hope there will be a piano I can play and maybe some young kids like my students to come and give concerts. I hope there will be games galore—Bingo and Euchre and Cribbage and Scrabble and maybe Bridge. I want to play them all. And I will look forward to bitching about the food with my table mates as that seems to be an obligatory pastime. I will not be the goody two shoes who says “Oh it’s not so bad. At least we don’t have to cook.” No-I will complain at the top of my lungs! I hope I’m not one of the old women chasing after the 1 man per 50 females, but I’m not ruling it out.
- I hope I get to be a grandma, but if not I hope I will go to a school and read to kids or take them in the hall and help them with school work that confounds them. I hope it will be easy enough that it doesn’t confound me too! I hope there will be somebody in my family or neighborhood that will happily relinquish their kids for an afternoon so I can take them to the circus or the beach or a cheesy kid movie.
- I hope I will always want to try new things because I think that’s what keeps you young and interested in life. Also interesting.
- When I am old I hope I still want to write. I hope I can learn to paint. I hope I can be in a choir. And do yoga. Even if it’s from a chair.
- I hope both my body and mind stay fit. I hope I have the discipline to facilitate that with exercise and healthy eating.
- I hope I get to see some more of the world. I have Asia and Africa in my sights and Australia and another trip around the Greek Isles and maybe Iceland with Alyssa and Rome with Franny and Cuba with John and a return to Italy with Annie.
- I hope I will teach only as long as it is still a joy and then find a different way to be useful. Teach English in Africa, offer free piano lessons in the inner city, help in a school, help the hungry and the homeless with more than a check. We are on this planet together. I have had a blessed life. I want to share what I can.
- I hope my kids will still like me when I’m old and want to spend some time with me, but even more I hope that my life is so rich and full and happy that I am not sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring or pestering them to visit. I hope I am the cool kind of old lady that people actually want to be around.
- I hope when the end comes it is fast and painless. Surely everybody hopes that. If not, I hope somebody gives me a whole lot of drugs in a big hurry! I hope Tommy will be the one waiting for me when I get there. I hope the vision I had so long ago, during meditation, back when he was dying, comes true—the two of us dancing through eternity. That would be worth missing Fall Colors for.
Maybe you like to make lists. Maybe you want to write down your Hopes and Dreams. Maybe you want to take on my dad’s annual tradition of letting the whole family weigh in. I think it’s good to dream, helpful to hope. It keeps us looking forward instead of back. It makes us want to hop out of bed instead of drag ourselves into the light of a new day.
However you do it, I hope you keep dreaming.