Someone came by my office today and commented about how morbid and depressing of a place it is. He was right. It’s dark, buried in the basement of the campus science building, and it’s full of broken machines, old bottles of chemicals, preserved specimens, and bones. It’s basically a graveyard. I’ve thought before that the job of a grave keeper – the kind in a big Catholic cemetery full of gothic memorials and endless, long-forgotten isles of graves – would be cool.
So why begin this blog with such an uplifting topic? It’s because of dreams and aspirations. Earlier this week, I attended a business seminar, and the speaker listed some things that are fundamental to building a successful business. One of those things was a dream, a vision of what you want to build. Although he was speaking strictly about business, I recognized that having a dream is fundamental to pretty much everything in life. I drove home late that night somewhat vexed by that thought. Why? Because I realize how little I dream anymore.
When I was young, I would happily spend hours in thought about what I could be and how I could be a good influence on those around me, sometimes even daydreaming that I could change the world. I could see the gifts that God had bestowed upon me, and I could imagine the day when people would follow me and look up to me as a strong leader. I remember once, when I was young, of even imagining the possibility of entering politics and leading the country… Haha
So what happened? Life happened. The time I spent in youthful dreams fell to the need for survival. Making money, paying bills, forming/maintenancing/breaking relationships with the people around me – the good ol’ American dream happened. I once dreamed because I had a wide open future in which I could be anything I wanted. But now I’m in that future. The other night as I drove home, I realized that I no longer have a future in which to dream. My future is now, yet I find myself living from day to day, fulfilling my daily tasks in a routine that doesn’t mean much of anything. Thinking about that on my way home vexed me greatly.
It probably was no coincidence that as I was musing on my failed life that I received a message from a friend. For now, I will call her ‘Lisa.’ So who is this Lisa? I have known her for several years. I first met her when I was a student. She was the university ballroom dance instructor. After I took her class for credit, I returned as her assistant instructor every remaining semester until my graduation. During that time, I heard students make fun of her, disrespect her, and treat her as some kind of reject from the 1940’s. Admittedly, she is a bit odd sometimes, and sometimes she is just plain scatterbrained. Often, she is cluless to terms and words used in modern communication, and I’ve heard her say things in front of a class that have very crude meanings in today’s street lingo.
As I came to know Lisa, I began to realize how sweet and precious a soul she really is. Her naivity and innocence are so refreshing. Watching her laugh along with the students who were laughing at her was sad, but deep down, I knew that she had so much more than those who mocked her.
Lisa and I have been friends for several years now. One thing that I’ve always come to expect from her is a glowing smile that never seems to leave her face. To look at her and be around her, one would never know her story. She doesn’t speak much of her life before her divorce, and when she does, it’s usually with a tear. From what I know, her husband walked out on her in mid-life for another woman, leaving her with a teenage daughter. Since that time, Lisa has led a life of holding two to three jobs at any given time just so she and her daughter could survive. Lisa is now in her early 50’s, and her daughter ‘Leah’ is a grown woman, not much younger than myself. Leah is a rebel who has little respect for her mother. The few times I’ve been around them together, Leah plays off of her mother’s naivity just out of spite, and she often gives me glances that say, ‘She’s so embarrassing!’
Lisa goes to a very large church in Little Rock. Once, she invited me to come, telling me how great the church is and how nice the people there are. She told me about what she was learning in Sunday School and was excited about learning more. Knowing how innocently she sees the world, I began questioning her as to what her typical Sunday experiences were like. I learned that she enters the sancuary of the massive church, sits near the back, shakes hands with a couple of people who sit near her, listens to the sermon, and then gets up and goes home to her dog. She is a forgotten shadow in one of the back pews. In a church of thousands, one couple has made an effort to befriend her. They are good people, often driving from their home in Pine Bluff (about 30 miles from Lisa’s home) to take her out to eat and get her out of her routine. She thinks highly of them, but she knows how much of an inconvenience she is on them, which weighs heavily upon her.
Lisa was fired from UCA because her education level was not high enough for the ‘requirements’ (i.e., the reputation) of the new UCA KPed department policies. She is now teaching the evening ballroom class at Hendrix College here in town as one of her jobs. Her daughter has recently left the country on an expedition to South America, leaving her alone. That is when she messaged me.
She has been driving herself the 30 miles of interstate work traffic to Hendrix on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to teach an hour long dance class. Before class, she goes to the school cafeteria and eats her dinner alone. She teaches the students, then drives back home in the dark to an empty house.
So what was her message to me? She wanted me to come to the dance class so she could see me and have a friend there. She even offered to pay the $5 guest fee so I could come. Last evening, she offered to buy food for me if I would come and eat dinner with her some evening. Yet with all of that, she beams with a smile that covers it all.
Of course, I go to the dance class as often as I can. And I now plan to join her for dinner when possible. But last night as I lay in my usual unrest, I realized that I matter to her.
Perhaps I am a gravekeeper who can no longer dream. Perhaps I will never change the world as I once thought I would. But last evening, I changed one life for the better. It is better to not look at changing the world when doing so at the expense of individuals like Lisa. Perhaps she is changing me for the better as well.