In our first house as a married couple, BF and I lived next door to the sweetest family with toddler boys that we just adored. One summer night, we were all moving between the two front yards, talking, playing, laughing. Soon, day gave way to dusk, and the fireflies came out in full-force. Little Rhett, the younger of the two toddlers, stood transfixed while his mama explained to him what they were. She caught one for him, opening her palm slowly to reveal the bug’s bright yellow light. Another firefly buzzed by us, and Rhett locked on to it. His little feet scampered towards the firefly, eager to have one in his hand, too. For a minute, there was the dance. The firefly darting, the boy chasing. And then the dance ended, as Rhett’s fingers curved around the firefly, its light blinking. When he opened his palm in triumph, the firefly was squished, extinguished by a young boy’s excitement, his too-tight hold.
“What happenened?” He asked his mama.
“Why’s it not blinking?” He wondered
Oh, honey, I remember thinking in that moment. That’s just the first time you’ll see that holding something too tight doesn’t mean you get to keep it. Holding something too tight doesn’t keep it safe. It just means you smother, extinguish, suffocate it.
Last week, I posted this quote on Facebook from Kelly Corrgian (the author of The Middle Place and Lift): “You have to speak your dream out loud.”
Then, I offered this challenge, “Go ahead, tell someone what you are dreaming today or say it out loud to yourself. Heck, share it here!”
Not long after that challenge went up, Kip responded, “Oh… That’s scary! Isn’t that temping fate? Kind of like stating your wish before you blow out the birthday cake candles? Not sure I’m that brave?”
And though my response to Kip was “no, no, no. Speaking it is claiming it”, the truth is that I know exactly how Kip feels. I’ve been there- was just recently there again- reveling in keeping my dreams secret, as protection just in case they didn’t become real. Except here’s what I’ve slowly figured out. Our wildest dreams can’t become real through our own inertia. They have to be called out to so that they can answer- they need to be coaxed into reality with a call and response. Keeping silent keeps them buried. Keeping them buried, keeps them impossible.
When I was in my mid-20s, my roommate, Heather, and I went to buy our other roommate, Jenny, a birthday gift. We chose a fun store that we hadn’t shopped in much and, there, we ran into BF. A guy that neither of us had seen since he had graduated from college a year ahead of us. We chatted with him- he was also there buying a birthday gift for someone- and then went our separate ways.
In the car, I said, “see, that’s totally the type of guy I’d like to date.” And then I went on living my life. BF and I lived in different areas, had different friends and interests, had no reason to run into each other again. And a sentence like that- “see, that’s totally the type of guy I’d like to date”- is not a sentence that probably ever came out of my mouth at another time in those years. And yet, months later, I would randomly run into BF again. Another few months later, another crossing. Soon enough, we were dating.
Did what I say in the car that day to Heather put things in motion? Who knows. I do know they certainly didn’t stop the motion. They didn’t paralyze anything. They didn’t tempt fate away from us.
Over the past year, I’ve been thinking about streamling my professional and even personal efforts to ensure that what I am doing is really in my sweet spot and fueled by what I feel my purpose is. But for a long time, the ideas I had were my secrets because I wanted to figure out if it was all possible- in my head- before saying a word. Except you can’t figure much out in your head alone- or I have found that I can’t. I need to ask questions, discuss, weigh the pros and cons, figure out the roadblocks, take a dare. But for a long time, I didn’t speak the dream. I didn’t dare give it words. Because if I claimed it, it might dismiss me and break my heart. And because I was in denial of the dream, I was distractable. I wasn’t truly discerning. I was huddled into a protective pose of disempowerment.
Except the pose wasn’t so protective after all. It was the vice-like grip of Rhett’s fingers around the firefly. I was protecting it into no longer being. I was talking myself out of it by not talking about it at all.
And so I told some friends what I was considering. They asked good questions, they followed up, they gave me some gumption. I took a leap of faith that is only really now beginning. But, already, I like where it’s all going. I am energized by what could be possible; I am owning my creation, rather than hoping someone will hand me all that I ever imagined. The ideas could flop, it might not work, but, at the very least, I’ll know they don’t work for a reason and not because I didn’t try. I’m holding them in my palms, yes, but giving them room to breathe, to flap their wings, to glow.
Won’t you do the same for your own fireflies?
* And one more note, inspired by yesterday’s Then Came You blog post. Had we never told our friends at lunch that we were ready to adopt, had they not heard those words, our baby boy may not have ever become our baby boy. If ever there was a testimony to the power of voicing your dreams, it might well be Happy coming into our life just an hour after we shared our dream.