Chasing the Dream

“”If you will it, it is no dream.”
—Theodore Herzl

Dear America,

I know we haven’t had much contact since I left you five years ago, but I’ve had a lot of time to think. I have a lot of things I want to say to you.  It’s taken me a long time to realize this, but I feel like there is something I have to tell you:

I love you.

Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate how great something is until you’ve spent some time living without it. Since I left in 2006, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what it means to know you.  For five years now, I’ve been surrounded by people who speak differently than you do, who dress and act differently than you do… It’s hard to explain… but as a stranger in a strange land, I often think about the things that make me feel different from everybody else.  I think about what it is about you that makes you different from everybody else.

Sometimes I wonder how I would feel if I dyed my hair blue, or if I got that great face tattoo I’ve always wanted, like our friend Mike. Would this change how I am perceived by other people? Would the change in the way these people perceive me change the way I perceive myself?

My hair isn’t blue and I don’t have any tattoos yet, but I have spent a lot of time surrounded by people who speak with different accents and different backgrounds than you.  Lately I’ve caught myself thinking “I am different” more and more often.  Would I feel different if I was back in your arms?  Would I feel “less different” if I was with you again? The few times I’ve seen you since I left, I’ve felt uncomfortable.  Like my time away from you made me somehow not welcome.  But at least when I am with you we speak the same language.  I don’t need to call my favorite sport “American football” when I’m talking to you.  But sometimes, when something confuses me, I think, “do I think that way because I grew up with her?” It’s like a there is a layer of you that grew over my skin while we were together, a cultural shell that developed from all the movies we saw, all the books we read, everything we did together.  Sometimes I feel like this shell separates me from the people elsewhere.

I have met a lot of great people since I left. It seems like a lot of people here have either met you or know a lot about you.  I know you have always had a lot of visitors, and every time I turn on the TV over here, there’s always something of yours on.  I guess you’ve been doing a lot of work in Hollywood — good or bad, it’s popular over here.  It seems like people know a lot about you (or think they know a lot) because you’re on TV so much.

I’ve met some people that had relationships with you in the past, but for one reason or another they ended up back here. Talking with these people often gives me a new way of looking at you.  It seems like a lot of people like to point out how loud you are, how much you like fast food, or how fat you are.  I hope you’re not mad that I usually tell them that they are right.  Don’t worry, I tell them I am loud and I love fast food too, but luckily I haven’t gotten fat yet.

Some people have told me of beautiful memories with you.  Cheese and football in Green Bay, the leaves in New England in November, and the neon lights and perfect C chord tones of the slot machines in Vegas.  At first I was a little jealous hearing other people talk about these things, but in the end it just made me miss you and realize how beautiful you are.

As each year passed, I found myself thinking more and more about what makes you different, what makes you special.  I found myself comparing you to others, trying to define what it was about our time together that felt different.   Was it different over here because I had changed and I was different, or was it different because I wasn’t with you anymore?

Over time, I started to see patterns in the things people said about you.  Eventually, I started thinking about these patterns and started to see things that I missed about you.  Things that we had that disappeared when I left you. The collection of these missing things helps me understand what makes you different, what makes me love you.

There are way too many memories to list here, but I’ll give you a few so you know what I’m talking about:

Pop Warner Football and Little League Baseball.   Bluegrass.  Fantasy Sports.  The Super Bowl.  $100 million dollar movies and $10 million dollar commercials. Michael Jordan.  The Wheel of Fortune slot machine.  Craps.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed trying to understand who “you” really are.  There are so many parts to you and you’re always changing, so I’m not sure if my image of you is even close to reality.  The time we spent in Los Angeles was completely different than the time we spent in Connecticut.  Is there is something that bonds these two places together or were you and I different people on the East Coast than we were on the West Coast?

Eventually I gave up on trying to explain the things that made you unique.  But I found that I was able to identify things that seemed to “belong” to you and things that didn’t.  I was able to pick out people who were wearing your clothes and who walked like you, even if I only saw them for a second and they never opened their mouth.  Somehow they looked different than everybody else here, and to my eyes, they stood out.  My friends and I sometimes bet if a stranger has ever met you or not — it’s pretty funny how good we’ve gotten at that game.  The skinny jeans were a dead giveaway that the guy wearing them hadn’t met you, but that seems to be changing these days.

But the thing that I miss most about you, the thing that it took me a long time to realize what made me love you so much is this: you are a dreamer.  You are a gambler, willing to risk everything in order to achieve your goals and the freedom that you can’t live without.  You were never afraid of hard work, or the suffering that comes with it.  You always had faith that if you put in the effort, you would succeed, and that success would bring you happiness.  And if you were wrong… if your dream didn’t come true but you tried your best to achieve that dream… at least you could look in the mirror and live with dignity knowing that you tried.

A lot of people like to call you an “entrepreneur”.   You’re certainly not the only entrepreneur in the world. But the willingness to gamble, to risk, to suffer for success… this drive to be anything other than mediocre… the audacity to imagine yourself achieving something that no one has ever achieved before… these are the things that make you unique.  Some people see ambition as a negative, as something dangerous, but I guess I always liked when you said, “Shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you will still be among the stars.”.

When we were young, we used to talk about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  You always said that everybody had an opportunity to achieve their dreams, to be successful.  Our parents always told us we could be whatever we wanted to be, even the President.  And we believed them — we had faith that hard work would pave the road to our dreams.

That wasn’t the only thing we were taught… we always talked about other ways of achieving success than hard work.  We went through our fair share of “get rich quick” schemes when we were kids, but after a while we figured out that these games didn’t really end well for anybody.  I remember when one of our friends said, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I was about to get mad, but you convinced me that both knowledge and “knowing the right people” were both paths to success.  Another one that made me mad was, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” You helped me see that it was best to be both lucky and good. There was always plenty of discussion of the importance of genetics, “Nature vs. Nurture,” but I won’t get into it here because this is supposed to be a love letter.   My point is that you always kept your faith in the simple idea that “hard work pays off,” and I have come to agree with you.  “No pain, no gain,” right?

You aren’t the only one who believes in the value of hard work.  The difference is that your idea of hard work is different than most.  “Hard work” to you means working 16 hours a day for years and years.  2 or 3 jobs sometimes. Hard work is dedication to achieving a goal, no matter how tired you feel or what obstacles are in your way.  Maybe hard work is not the right word, because there are people working hard all over the world… maybe “dedication” is more accurate.  The desire to succeed against all odds and all obstacles.

We both have dreams that we failed to achieve, and gambles we lost.  For every dream that we have achieved, there are so many that fail.  Is dreaming really worth it?  It is worth the risk?  Where is the happiness and liberty for those who don’t achieve their dreams?   Wouldn’t we be better off punching the clock in the morning and at night and forgetting about these dreams that cause so much suffering?

And what about those who succeed by lying, cheating, and stealing? There is a heavy price to pay for those of us who don’t achieve their dreams, and for those who get crushed underneath those who will do anything to give themselves a greater chance at success.

These are things that I’ve been thinking about since I left you.  I don’t know if you are a better person for all of your dreaming. But from my experience, the faith in hard work that you taught me has helped to make my life happier and more interesting.  I will always appreciate the courage you’ve given me to make my own path by working hard.

Then again, we were together for so long I have a hard time figuring out where you end and I begin.  Either way, I really miss you.

See you soon.


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