I used to be a vivid dreamer. I don’t know what a psychoanalyst would say about this, but I had a constant companion in my nighttime capers – a penguin named Pingy. He wore his hat backwards and always had on sunglasses hiding bloodshot eyes. He was a bad seed, that Pingy. One of those affable, fun-loving friends who always seems to get you into trouble. Half of my dream life was spent rescuing him… often from the law. It has been a long time since he has visited me. Life has a way of clouding out frivolous dreams with its deadlines and demands.
When I was a boy, I dreamed of being a third baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. Somehow, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion, although in their forties, would still be All-Stars and welcome this rookie into the fold. Together we would form a dynamic team – The Big Red Machine, Part II. Fame, riches, women… they would all be mine. At that age, I likely had no idea what the women were for, but I understood better as I got older.
For the record, a vivid dreamer who is also a sleep-talker can be a dangerous combination for a newlywed. Yes, we are still married despite this.
In all my dreams, I never dreamed it would be like this.
For so long, I had it good – The American Dream. A good job, nice house, two cars, lovely wife, and an endless stream of kids we couldn’t seem to figure out how to stop. We’ve never been rich by U.S. standards but I’ve had the privilege to serve outside the country in some poverty-stricken nations. There I found that middle class in the U.S. is a king’s life in most places.
Life seems to speed up every day with the bustling of family. Schedules and to-do lists become endless tomes that prevent sleep. And when you finally enter that deep REM sleep where a friend like Pingy peeks into your frazzled mind, a curly-headed ragamuffin jostles your arm and whispers, “Daddy, there’s a monster under my bed.”
Even through the hectic weeks, you often realize that you are living a dream – and it’s a good one. That although the major leagues never came calling, things have been set up pretty nicely and bonus – you don’t have to deal with any pesky rotator cuff pain. You understand that you have more love and beauty in your life than any man deserves. Four little sets of eyes look up in awe and reverence and call you daddy. They color pictures of you with a stick body and oversized googly eyes. For a time, they even wait excitedly for you to come home and mob you when you finally arrive.
It was a good dream. But just like any, you have to wake up.
But I never dreamed it would be like this.
I never dreamed tears would become a part of my everyday life – whether I see them, wipe them, cry them myself, or stifle them.
I never dreamed I would see my little girl in such pain, hear the word cancer, and watch her carted away for surgery after surgery.
I never dreamed I would be so helpless.
I never dreamed my beautiful daughter would be bald.
I never dreamed that childhood cancer is sometimes incurable. I assumed sick kids got better.
I never dreamed I would plead and bargain with God only to receive a resounding ‘No’ as I knelt beside the bed of my sick daughter on her last day on earth.
I never dreamed she would die, even when I heard the odds and knew it was likely. I never dreamed…
I never dreamed I’d be such a loser – because this is losing. I lost regardless of whether I had any ability to affect the outcome.
I never dreamed I would walk down a corridor and receive so many looks of sympathy.
I never dreamed sleep would be so hard to come by… that I would become afraid to dream because dreams are either fading images of the former good or nightmares of the current emptiness.
I never dreamed one of my children would be relegated to photographs and memories.
I never dreamed life was this fragile.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer is a rabid thief. It steals many dreams. It stole Kylie’s dreams of performing on Broadway, painting a masterpiece, driving a car, falling in love, and having her own family. It stole our dream of watching her blossom. While vast sums are spent by the United States Government and the American Cancer Society on cancer research, very little goes toward childhood cancer. There is a common misconception that adult drug therapies will trickle down and work for children. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. In the past twenty years only three drugs have been approved by the FDA specifically to fight childhood cancer. This has to change. We need safer and more effective treatment for our children and that will only happen if we join together and demand it.
My dream is now for your children.
Hold closely your dreams. I pray you don’t wake to my reality.