“There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.”

— Jonas Salk

Recently, I shared someone’s words about the power of teaching people to dream, and I was taken to task by a friend who argued that dreamers never accomplish anything.  It startled me to realize that this is what we were taught to believe as children who filled the rows of desks in classrooms for a dozen years of our lives.  “Stop daydreaming, and pay attention to important things.”  I am not here to say that education has no value.  Without the opportunity to learn the lessons of history, each of us would be set adrift in a vast ocean and left alone to discover the way to survive the whims of the sea.  Each new generation of people is afforded the advantage of hearing the tales of our ancestors and the ways that they learned to survive the human condition.  Perhaps the grandfathers navigated by using the stars as a reference.  This was a fine method of navigation, and there is value in learning about it.  Then someone chose to dream; and the sextant was invented, making such tasks far more precise.  How many dreamers did it take to bring us from star-gazing to the GPS that speaks from the dashboard of our vehicle and orders us to “turn right in 500 feet?”

What is a dreamer if not a sort of visionary who carries the hope that, as good as life might be today, it could be better?  I remember growing up in the days of Jonas Salk’s discovery of the polio vaccine.  Before its discovery — its invention, before a dreamer named Jonas Salk took his crazy ideas and applied them to all the things he had learned from other people’s experiences with polio, people’s lives were altered and sometimes ended by this ruthless disease.  I remember, as a child who had not experienced a polio epidemic, being fairly unimpressed by lining up at school to be vaccinated.  For me, life always had included protection against polio; and it was hard for me to understand why the adults were so excited.  My father-in-law, a good and kind man whom I love dearly, became ill with polio as a child.  Although he has not let the outcome stand in his way, his mobility requires a custom-made shoe that lengthens his affected leg.  As he becomes older, his balance and steadiness is suffering the lasting effects of that long-ago disease.  It is in the context of his story that I truly appreciate the dreamer named Jonas Salk.  Because of his discovery, I can be assured that my children and grandchildren will escape their grandfather’s challenges.  How many times do you suppose Jonas Salk wanted to give up on his dream?  How many people do you suppose told him he was wasting his time and he should be using his talents to do something productive?

Not all dreamers are scientists, although there have been many who dream in that realm.  Scientific dreamers produce results that often are tangible and measurable.  When they persevere in dreaming long enough to bring their ideas to life, they are recognized for their efforts.  The same is true for the dreamers who produce artwork or literature that stirs the souls of their audience and teaches them new insights about their own existence.  Many of us love curling up and reading a good book.  Many of us have experienced the feeling of being drawn into a piece of artwork and realizing that somehow its message is our own.  But not all dreamers are writers or artists.

We live in an era where many dream that humanity can become more humane.  We see the hope that lies before us all and dare to dream that our vision of a kinder and more unified world is not beyond our grasp.  For some, this vision of harmony seems so close that they could reach a hand through an invisible veil and touch it.  As is usually the case with dreamers, they find themselves judged and chided by people who want them to view the vast history of human suffering and engage in the hopeless feeling that nothing will change what we have come to accept as reality.  We need dreamers who notice the bright spots in our human history — the people who refused to succumb to the darker side of human behavior.  We need to tell the stories of those who bring light to the dark world; and then we need to dream of a world where each of us could be that light for every other person we meet.  Open your eyes and see beyond the dark reality.  Remember that on the most stormy day the sun still shines — even when the clouds would have us believe that it has gone black.  Reach through the invisible veil and touch the dream; and use your sense of vision to see that it also exists, even though we may not see it today.

We must not toss aside the dreamers and say that they produce nothing worthwhile.  We must hold onto our dreams and see them as clearly as we see the world we live in; and then we must find the courage to bring those dreams to life.  Don’t ever stop dreaming.