Ghost ships and haunted dreams

October 3, 2016

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about broken dreams. How dreaming and wishing and wanting so often is a vain attempt at controlling a life that too often also proves to be completely uncontrollable. How I’ve looked to longingly at my life’s ghost ships.

I sometimes miss my naive days of believing that the things I wanted, the ways I planned for my life to be, would probably come to fruition. Maybe this is the bitter ramblings of a childless, career-less 30-something. But, I often have these conversations with many people in my life.

I recently came across an advice column that helped me view this so differently. In it, Cheryl Strayed brings up the analogy that helped me profusely and struck something deep. She writes:

Every life, Tranströmer writes, “has a sister ship,” one that follows “quite another route” than the one we ended up taking. We want it to be otherwise, but it cannot be: the people we might have been live a different, phantom life than the people we are.

I have so longly looked after the phantom ghost ships of the lives I so desperately wanted to have that I far too often neglect the ship that I’m on, the life set before me. Sometimes I wonder if I know how to fully live in my present place. Be accepting of all the dreams and wishes I had. Have I just become comfortable and at home in the longing?

Why have I allowed myself to be so ruled by fear?

After thoroughly beating myself up a bit for wasting so much time on the longing, I think Ms. Strayed makes a beautiful point:

We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.

It was important. It was beautiful. But it’s not mine. I can’t wish it into being. I think we far too often don’t allow ourselves to admire the beauty of the broken dreams, or the dreams that never came into being. I just tell myself that I want something different. That the life I have is what I have to accept. I don’t allow myself the room to acknowledge that it is important, it’s a part of me, that it’s still a beautiful thing. That ghost life, the decisions I didn’t and did make. The house, husband, career that I thought I’d have or would be different that what I do have. It’s important to make a little quiet place to acknowledge the beauty of those things. The importance of what they are to my life, and then quietly walk away from them. To not grieve them too often. To not push them away and pretend they shouldn’t be important to me, because they are. To not pretend that I didn’t want them or desired something else. To take time to silently salute and wave whenever the little part of me longs for something differently. To heal the battered bruises and self-inflicted harm, the struggle to get to the other boat, has caused.

What would the other Ashley be like? Would she be stronger, or prettier or happier? Would she be worse off? I’ll never really know. I can only steer the ship I’m on.

Are we tired of ship analogies yet? I’ll leave you with a bit of Jane’s advice that’s helped me realize that I’ll never know the full truth of this life anyways:

Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.

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