The difference between dreams that die and dreams that live on
There is a line in Hamilton that isn’t on the cast album, where a letter is read explaining Laurens’ death, proclaiming that his dreams also die with him. That was the first moment I cried when I saw the show on Broadway.
I was in the middle of writing a book about dreams, where I’d interviewed 120 people about a dream come true. More accurately, I was experiencing writers block for the first time — or what Shonda Rhimes so brilliantly calls an “incubation period.” She said the best thing to do during this time is work on something else.
So I did. I started Creative Teacup. I interviewed artists, like ones on the Hamilton stage.
I was trying to step away from my book for a little while. I was doing a good job. Until that line about dreams dying punched me in the face.
The next day, I tried to keep running away from it. Work on something else. Do something else.
Since I was already in NYC (and Sara Bareilles is a genius), I decided to also see the musical Waitress. Then there is a song about dreams coming and going. And then one where the main character grieves over a crushed dream.
I remember thinking at the time, What am I doing writing a book about dreams? In this musical (spoiler alert), this woman’s initial dream is crushed through no fault of her own; it’s taken from her by an abusive husband. She sings the most beautiful grief-filled song I’ve ever heard.
If dreams cause such grief, how could I write about them? What was the point? Who wants to hear about other people’s dreams come true when dreams die every day? (Fun fact: for about a year I would half-jokingly declare to my husband that those four words were the current working title of my book.)
Why am I still going for these stupid dreams when things are so horrible in the world, and when so many people’s dreams are crushed by cruelty outside of their control?
What am I doing?
Why don’t I just give up already?
But every time those voices came, I would think of another dreamer, one whose dream lived on in ways he’ll never know.
His name was Scott, and he was a radio host I heard my whole life growing up in Orlando, Florida. While some hosts could be a bit raunchy and rude, Scott was kind, deeply caring, and exuded a childlike wonder and joy about the world that was contagious.
The first time I ever gave keynote speech, a year out of college, Scott was in the audience. He and his sweet wife Fran came up to me afterwards to tell me how wonderful they thought my speech was. I had never spoken at a big public event like that before — I’d been terrified. But here, this hero of mine, really the first celebrity I ever met, was telling me I was good.
I kept in touch with Fran and Scott and their amazing daughter for years. They quickly became my favorite people on Facebook — they embodied a joy that at the time I’d rarely seen in people older than me. They’d post about the things they loved in life, like their inside jokes or the way they felt when their daughter came home from college that one night and they all stayed up until 2am laughing and talking, like best friends.
Then Scott got sick.
He got treatment. He still was on the radio; sometimes off for a while, but then back on. Sometimes they’d even set up equipment for him to host from other locations while he was recovering. I’m sure they encouraged him to take time off, but Scott loved his job so much. He didn’t want to stop. He loved it in a way that made you believe maybe it really could be possible to love waking up every morning to go to work.
He seemed to be getting better.
And then worse.
Until one day he wrote a blog post on the radio’s website about what it felt like to have hospice at your house, knowing it was there for you.
But he ended his note in a way I didn’t expect: with a dream.
He said that his dream was to return to that room with the microphones where he spent his mornings talking with his friends and bringing joy to the people of Central Florida.
But like Laurens in Hamilton, that dream died with Scott.
Or did it?
Scott was not able to make that last dream come true, but I don’t think he expected that he would; his writing of that dream however would become one of the most influential pieces of writing of my entire life.
What he did in that moment changed the way I thought about dreams forever, and kept me working towards my own at times I very well may have stopped.
Scott kept dreaming until the very end. Literally, on his death bed he was still dreaming. He forever changed what it meant to me to never give up.
To this day, when I feel worn down or crushed I put myself through a test; I call it The Scott Test. It requires the answer to only one question. If the answer is ‘No’ I’m allowed to give up. But if the answer is ‘Yes,’ I have to keep going.
It helps when I’m not sure if I should keep doing something I really care about or if it’s truly time to stop.
The one question test?
1. Am I still breathing?
If the answer is ‘Yes,’ I keep going. Because, in my mind, to do any less would be an insult to Scott. Wouldn’t he like to keep dreaming? To stay up until 2am tonight laughing with his wife and daughter?
For a while I thought about not even writing my book because of the grief that dreams can cause.
Scott kept me going.
Because he reminded me that while grief is often the result of horrible injustice or sickness or plethora of things beyond our control, the answer is not to step back from life.
Life is not the cause of grief; the loss of life is. It’s easy to get the two confused, difficult to untangle when life and grief seem to be so fused together. But they’re not the same thing.
Life is the goal.
Grief is not evidence that you should stop loving a person who is sick because they might be gone tomorrow.
Grief is not evidence that you should stop dreaming, even when hospice is in your room.
Grief is evidence of something profoundly good.
Like what we lost when Scott’s voice left the Orlando air; that cannot be replaced.
Scott’s dream of returning to host his radio show one more time will never be, but his act of courage in dreaming another dream and sharing it online left behind more than he’ll ever know.
Dreams are stubborn little things, you see. Once you speak them out or take a step, they often burrow into into hearts and create magic, even if it’s a magic you never get to see.