I recently received an email from an old friend of mine who is enjoying a new chapter in her life: Pregnancy. My friend described what the future may hold for their new family as she and her husband try to make decisions around issues like where to live once their baby is born. They currently live in a small cottage on the water in Rhode Island but they are thinking of moving and living on a boat. Yes, you read that right: They want to live on a boat. Both of them live for the water, and sailing is their passion (in fact, it’s how they met, and my friend’s husband has even built his own boat!). My friend went on in her email to say that when she mentioned what she and her hubby were thinking of doing people had all kinds of opinions about it, mostly that she was “crazy” for thinking that she could take care of a little baby while living aboard what I gather would be a pretty small boat (compared to a house). What she seemed to be saying was that making any decision like this is scary, but I got the feeling that it’s not just because it would be a big change, but also because people have told her that it’s “impossible” to have a child aboard a boat when they’re that young. She’s going against the grain and feels like even to the most well-intentioned friend she has to justify her hopes and dreams.
This got me thinking that we’ve all felt as though we’ve had to justify a hope or dream at some point in our life, haven’t we? And why? Since when was it anybody else’s place to tell us what we can and cannot do, let alone that what we wish for is wrong, or impossible? How did people get to be so judgemental? (And I’m not taking myself out of that equation since I’ve had my share of judgemental moments as well with everybody from my best friend to a complete stranger). And how much does this affect the decisions that we make in our own personal lives? How difficult it is, I now realize, to stay true to yourself when you can’t block out the noise of others, especially when that noise reflects the uncertainty that perhaps we feel in our own heads and hearts.
Have you ever wondered why somebody tells another that what they want to do, whether it be start their own business, try their hand at acting, adopt a child, write a book, or sell their house and travel the world with two small children, is impossible? Crazy? Silly? Unrealistic? Is it because they’re jealous? Because THEY’RE not doing something so brave themselves? Is it because they believe that their path is the right way, the best way? That because it’s working for them, or hell because they can’t even fathom doing it any other way, it must be the “right” path for everybody else as well?
This same friend who is now trying to justify her dream of living on a boat is also the friend who desperately wanted to get a dog about 3 years ago when she and her now husband were dating. She tells me that everybody then also had their opinions and when she would discuss her hope for owning a pooch was told “It’s so much work.” As if she didn’t know. As if she asked for their opinion! As if she hadn’t had dogs growing up, wasn’t 32 years old and totally competent, and needed to hear others tell her that it was a bad idea, instead of just saying “That’s awesome. A dog is so much fun and such a great companion to have.” I hope I said it, but even I can’t be sure. The point? Whether you’re having a baby, living on a boat, adopting a dog, changing a career, ending a relationship, anything… Everybody has an opinion about it and everybody, somehow, feels the need to pass it on… Even if you didn’t ask.
But my friend has another reason for wanting to live out her dream on a boat now, in the present, and not wait until later in life. It’s because, about a month after she got married, she was diagnosed with MS (she started having symptoms shortly before her wedding last September). Thankfully there is a chance that she may not have any other symptoms for years to come, and also another possibility that she may never have another symptom, but we just don’t know what will happen in the future. All the more reason to live for the moment. My friend realizes how difficult it would be to live on a boat if g-d forbid her symptoms ever became full-blown. Not something that most people our age have to think about, but she does.
And I too have been in that moment. Not with MS, but with cancer, and I have to say that until you’ve had a defining moment where you think that your life is going to be forever changed and you face your own mortality, you can’t really fathom what flashes right before your eyes. For me first it was: Will I go blind? Will I lose an eye? Will I die? And then it was facing the fear of never getting married, having kids, writing a book, or going on safari in Africa. Things like that put your life into perspective and help to drown out of the noise of others. (Sad that it takes something so life-altering to be able to block out that noise). I can’t do something? Or I shouldn’t do something? I just survived (fill in the blank)… No way are others going to dictate how the rest of my life unfolds.
I for one so admire my friend and her husband. Yes, living on a boat with a baby seems like it would be difficult, no doubt. But so are a lot of things in life. So is having a baby. So is picking up and moving from one city to another. So is going back to school. So is getting married. But we do them, because we want to experience life, not always sit on the sidelines. Because we want to be challenged. Because without risk there isn’t always a reward. And then it occurs to me: I do these things, sometimes. Things that scare me. Things that are hard. And so does my friend who goes against the grain and lives her truth. The realization? That doesn’t mean that everybody does, and maybe the naysayers are the ones who aren’t even in touch with their greatest dreams. Or the ones who would never dare to try for fear of being laughed at or judged. (And this realiziation will maybe make it a bit easier to swallow the next time you meet a naysayer). Who can’t relate to that fear?
So my friends have dreams of their own, and who am I to persuade them that because I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do it, they shouldn’t do it? People are quick to point out the negative, to wonder if you will fail, to almost hope for it sometimes it seems. I say, scared as I am and you may be too– Blaze your own trail. I say go for it. I say, be happy. Yes, HAPPY. Be true to yourself. Live the life you’ve imagined and not the one you think you’re “supposed” to have. Dust off that doubt and dive in. You may swim. You may sink. But at least your dream will be your own and nobody else’s. At least you can one day look at your children and say, “It’s OK to think big. Make it happen. Try things. Let go of the noise of others and listen to what you have to say. Make mistakes. Knock it out of the park.” I know it’s not easy or I wouldn’t even be writing this post, but at least if you try you’ll have a better shot of living by your own blueprint. And what more could you hope to give your children, hell what more could you hope to give yourself, than the ability to live your truth and to pursue even your greatest dreams?