It’s Christmastime. I’m at home in the house where I grew up. One evening, I decided to enjoy a little downtime by fixing a fire in our mammoth, stone fireplace and snuggling up on the nearby couch with a cozy blanket and a good book.
As I settle in with my Celtic Legends read, I pause to enjoy the whisping flames of the cracking fire. I look around at the ginormous living room and gaze up to marvel at the 12-foot-tall ceilings. I consider the patience and strength it look to lay the boulders for the floor-to-ceiling fireplace, and I recollect memories of days gone by – an old floor-model TV in the corner, horse show ribbons hung on the wall opposite deer heads exhibiting trophy-sized racks.
“How lucky am I?” I thought as I took in the expansive rock hearth big enough to hold three Christmas trees.
Then, I remembered where this gift came from – my mother and father.
Neither were here this holiday season to enjoy this blessing. My mother saw it some when she was on a break from caring for my Granny, who is suffering with dementia, but my father is across the country in Arizona. After many trying years, the two split when I was around 15, and my father left his dream home.
My sister remembers when my parents built our house. I wasn’t born at the time, but I’ve seen pictures of the massive project.
Our house isn’t a mansion or anything, but neither is it a little cottage. I would guess its around 2,500 square feet (or more) with three bedrooms, two baths, a TV room, large kitchen and dining room, and a huge basement complete with an impressive den. which is where I sit now.
When my parents broke ground on this structure, they were fulfilling a dream of their marriage. More specifically, a dream of my father’s.
When the project started in the 70’s, my parent’s house site sat on a hill over looking the mountainous expanse of my father’s Stephenson family land, which has been passed down through generations. It was my dad’s dream to settle here and run a cattle operation, which he did for many years.
However, the stress of the business, an eventual failing marriage, and other hurdles and demons I’m sure I know nothing about took over. Whether it was stress, anxiety, depression, or a combination of all, my father’s happiness began to waver and turmoil began to spread throughout his marriage, our family business, and our family.
The details that followed aren’t important, nor is passing guilt or blame. What is important is, my dad is not able to enjoy his once dream-come-true.
I remember sitting in this living room when I was a kid listing to Marty Robbins tapes while Dad smoked a cigarette and looked at his old pictures from Montana hunting trips.
This is where my father built his dreams. At least, his dreams for that part of his life.
When things became unbearable, my father moved out. For whatever reason that I don’t judge, he couldn’t do it anymore. Soon after, my parents divorced, and he left those dreams behind including the stone fireplace I sit in front of.
The rocks placed to create this work of art came from our family’s land, the land he loved so much, the land he worked hard on for many years to provide for our family, and the land he has very little tie to anymore. He sacrificed mentally, emotionally, and physically.
His nose is now a purple-ish color from the cold, raw winds he endured while raising money to support his family and his dream, a dream that in the end, seemed to let him down. A dream that I am blessed enough to enjoy in the present.
Today, My father and I don’t have the closest relationship, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. For a while, we were building a solid foundation for growth, but as with any hard-headed, closed-hearted people, the sustainability is not always possible.
He has been hurt by past happenings, so he retired to his own corner of the world. Though it was hard for me as a teenager to understand his decisions, I’ve learned he did what was best for him. And sometimes in the depths of trying to figure out tough situations, that’s all a person can do. (And sometimes, that’s what’s best for everyone else, too.)
God has helped me see a portion of my father’s struggle through struggles of my own. I get it. I’ve never quite been to the edge my dad was, but I’ve been hurt enough to understand.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but sometimes dreams just don’t work out. And it’s heartbreaking.
Or maybe they work out for a short chapter in your life? If that’s the case, you’ve got to relish them in the present instead of always looking towards the future. After all, a lot of good things do tend to come to an end. That’s science – time passes, and the only control we have is to make the most of it while its here.
When my dad and mom were still together, there were horrible times, but there were good times, too. I wonder if my dad recognized the good times when he was in them? The same way I try to now recognize the journey towards a goal is just as valuable as achieving the goal itself. Especially, and unfortunately, when you sometimes don’t or can’t achieve the goal after all.
I wish my dad could be here to enjoy the fruits of his labors. I wish he could’ve enjoyed all the things that came from his sacrifices. I hope he did take everything in while he was here, and I hope somewhere out there, if there are parallel universes, our family is happy and grew into what he dreamed of.
But I also know just because that chapter of his life ended in a way he may have never expected, he is enjoying a completely different chapter now. I’m sure his demons knock on his door every now and again and I know there are things his misses about his past life, but I also believe he’s now experiencing another dream he thought he may never have – living and experiencing the great, mysterious southwest.
When life chapters end in a blindsiding way, its devastating. A house fire causes a family to lose all their belongings. A person whose had a sharp mind all their life begins to recognize early-onset dementia. A young promising race horse with the Triple Crown in its sites breaks a leg.
But even when dreams end or never happen, there is always another chapter, another dream, another experience, on the horizon. (Initially, you may be too hurt to see it, but its there.)
You will likely carry the ghosts of your past with you, but they don’t have to haunt you everyday. That house fire may turn into a bigger and better dream home. That person with dementia may discover a new talent in art, and that race horse may sire the most dominating Triple Crown winner in history.
No one knows, and truly no one has control. The only thing we can do is live each day knowing what a blessing it is and recognize the smallest things in the present for the gifts they truly are, even if they seem so primitive in the moment. And when things don’t go according to plan, sometimes we do just have to roll with the punches.
We may never reach some goals we are working towards, but the work towards those goals is still an accomplishment. Or oppositely, we may complete a long-time goal and be left with our shoulders shrugged thinking “Now what?” Truly, when one door closes another one opens. You just have be at peace with closing one door, accepting enough to open the next, and make amends with the ghosts of your past.