Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wishing You Were Somewhere Else

I’ve always lived much of the time thinking about being in another place than I actually am. While driving through the desert, I dream longingly of being in a townhouse in England with rain pouring down outside. While wandering through wetlands, I wish for a pine forest and its relative flora and birdsong.

I am a great reader. Not a great reader in the sense that I read necessarily well or quickly, but great in the volume of books I consume in my normal appetite. Graduating from college a few years ago put to flight all the things that used to take up my time from reading, and now I read four or five books a month.

But a book isn’t just a story, though it is that, as well as a cause for laughter, a reason for reflection, and a necessary, light-minded entertainment that doesn’t so much break me away from my life as help me to face it better. A book is also grounds for wishing I was somewhere else doing something else.

Writing is like this too. It is a way for me to dream up other versions of humanity, other situations, other financial and emotional positions, other occupations, other cultures, other locations. Through writing, I am constantly escaping into another world to do other things. I’m trying out different scenarios. I’m wondering “what if?” and seeing how different types of people react to different tragedies and joys.

In the early and middle stages of my writing career, this tripped me up a bit. How could I justify an occupation that was constantly taking me out of myself when the point of a life is to live your own?

The more I pour myself passionately into the things in life, the more my writing grows and becomes stronger. I have more to say on life when I’ve lived some of it first. And that’s precisely a book’s deeper intention: not whole-heart escapism and reading-to-forget, but escapism from the immediate into the parallel for the purpose of reflection and repurposing. Writing is about life to make life better. No one has ever said anything without having anything to say—even if, unfortunately, their point was simply that there’s not a lot worth saying and life is miserable and pointless. That’s still a point.

But despite this escape-to-come-back stuff, I still end up living other lives for a good portion of my day when I’m writing or reading. Is that even a good thing?

You already know what I’m going to say: I think it’s just fine. I used to wonder if being a writer would make me a recluse, unable to relate, observing and never interacting; but I’ve come to realize that wishing for something more in life is a part of being human.

The fact is that there is always something better. We can always be better; life can always get better; and our relationships can always get deeper. It’s not wrong to long for this. In fact, it’s good for us. Contentment is good, but sitting and wishing life would always be this way has a staling effect on relationships. Life will change; the question is what kind of changes we are aiming for. When we are excited by the possibilities of the future, we are more likely to seek to be better, live better, and relate better.

There are both bad and good ways of wishing, of course. Take The Great Gatsby as a counterexample to good wishes. Gatsby has two true but depressing facts to declare: you can try to achieve your goals in harmful ways that end up ruining the dream; and you can be inflexible with your wishes and desire them one certain way instead of recognizing that as we grow, our desires will and must change too. We must be willing to let go as much as to take up.

Having no desire for something better will inevitably leave us hopeless and without goals to pursue. We must have something to pursue. As humans, we are made for working toward an end goal. We must have dreams about how life could be so we can set down to work on it.

But we must be careful not to pursue those dreams too staunchly. There is much to enjoy right now. Dreams must constantly change to fit the unexpected and uncontrollable winds of life. Flexibility, contentment, and excitement, all at once: that’s what we’re aiming for. And the more I read good books, the better I get at it.

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Desire for something more runs even deeper than simply adjusting to the winds of change and developing a good character. Every one of us was made with the innate knowledge that we used to be perfect and that we are still hard-wired for a perfect scenario. Of course, then the hard truth comes knocking about our heads that there are no perfect scenarios on earth. But that won’t stop us. We were made for perfection. And through Jesus Christ, a perfect world, healed and made new and green and alive, with people who are just and merciful, having a heart that is bold and innocent, relating and befriending without hate or misunderstanding or broken hearts—is fully possible. The perfection we were made for is still the ultimate design plan.

That’s why it’s okay to keep dreaming. When I dream of green hills flocked with sheep where it rains every day, I am trying in my small human way to understand heaven. I am dreaming of what fills me with utmost contentment. Of course, living there in my mind isn’t going to change anything, and it’s not what I’m here for. But it keeps me motivated in my calling to take care of the earth and to love those around me, knowing one day our relationships will be perfect and problem-free. Reading a book that makes me laugh, with people who I wish I could get to know—it helps me hunger for heaven. At the end of the day, I put down the pen or the book, put away my mental rehashing of the plot, and come back to the real world, full of hope, ready to effect some change.