Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Weight of Our Dreams

I’ve been listening to Robin Thicke’s latest CD (titled “Something Else”). It’s the soulful follow-up to his “Evolution”. Every song is excellent, but his “Dreamworld” is hauntingly beautiful and touches me in a space that is at the same time hopeful but scary. It’s the space in which dreams are born and hope is truly the thing with feathers. Thicke (photo below from his website) croons…

I would tell Van Gogh that he was loved, there's no need to cry
I would say Marvin Gaye your father didn't want you to die
There would be no black or white, the world would just treat my wife right
We could walk down in Mississippi and no one would look at us twice

That's my dreamworld, that's my dreamworld
It's more than a dream

My dreamworld, that's my dreamworld

And I wanna live in the dream

I sometimes find it very hard to remain focused on my own dreams and wishes. I find that I am always aware of the surrounding realities that limit them. I strive and pursue like few others, but I am never surprised when reality reaches up and slaps me in the face, reminding me that not everything is under my singular control. That there are factors over which I have no control and which, in this country, will always influence how far I can go and how much I will achieve.

It’s so much easier then to deposit our dreams and hopes in others. Let them carry out our wishes. Let us feel the pride in their achievement, knowing that it came at tremendous cost and that they had the strength to fulfill it.

But some people crumble under the weight of other people’s dreams. This has long been my view of the Williams’ sisters. They became the repository of dreams and hopes in a way that James Blake never had to and Donald Young never will. And when they lose, there seems to be an extra layer of painfulness that is simply not there for say a Patty Schnyder or an Elena Dementieva.

After having worked so hard to become the #1 player in the world, Serena Williams elected to disappear after the US Open, leaving the field wide open for anyone named Jelena Jankovic who wanted to overtake her. Serena returned at the Porsche Grand Prix this week but seemed unusually vulnerable. She won the first set against China’s Na Li. In fact, she made Na Li swallow a bagel. And then she squandered it by losing the next two sets – and tumbled heavily from her #1 berth.

Then last night I watched Venus lose to Jelena Jonkovic, who is once again the #1 player in the world. Anyone could have predicted Venus’ loss last night – Jankovic is playing that well. In fact, I truly believe that if Serena had lost the second set in the finals of the US Open, Jankovic would have won the trophy. Jankovic is oozing a level of self-confidence that is remarkable to watch. Always able to hold on to her laughter at the tensest of moments, she has the remarkable ability to shrug off losing a first set and then act as if the match actually just got started.

But unlike her countryman Novak Djokovic, Jankovic does not seem to be carrying the burden of Serbian dreams. Sure she has her vocal supporters, but it is Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic who seemed to be the anointed ones who were expected to deliver. Jankovic was always the less attractive also-ran, the retriever that I and many like me dismissed as nothing but. Unlike Jankovic, Venus and Serena Williams have never been freed from having to carry the burden of expectation, the weight of the dreams of Black folk.

I find it remarkable that Barack Obama has written two books in which the words “dream” and “hope” feature prominently in the titles. This suggests to me that he totally gets it. And that he actually may not mind carrying people's hopes and dreams.

I first heard about Barack Obama from a 70-year-old white woman, a California psychologist who started peppering my inbox with news about him starting some two years ago. I now know many other women like her, white women who volunteered to make calls and help raise funds for his campaign. Barack Obama has become the repository of hope for people of all colors who dare to dream of a racially unified USA.

But I can’t help but worry about the utter mess he seems about to inherit. You know the details. I don’t have to tell you. In fact, I explained before that this is precisely why I did not want him to win. And while I do appreciate the timing of George Bush’s implosion – which I assume was supposed to occur after Obama had assumed power so that he and the Democrats could carry the full weight of blame – there is a great deal about this that is unfortunate.

It is unfortunate that Barack Obama may have the difficult task of telling the American people that we have actually been living in a dreamworld. The party is clearly over. The business of living on a hypothetical economy is no longer working. It’s time to face the reality that the rest of the world either hates or mocks us, that poverty in this country comes in all shades and hues, and that the only way forward is through unity. That is my dream.

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