In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.
“Sweet dreams Mark E,” says Pamela as she flips the off switch for my bedroom light. A Stillness at Appomattox, a bookmark near its middle, sits on the nightstand beside my bed. It has been Pamela and my pre-bedtime reading this past week.
My bedroom is on the second floor of the old Victorian style parsonage in Corydon, Iowa that my family calls home. It has oak floors, high ceilings, two windows, and is big—a perfect space for reenacting scenes from the books Pamela and I read. A toy soldier, somewhat deformed, sits next to the book on the nightstand. He was part of my reenactment of the Civil War’s ending at Appomattox until Pamela stepped on him earlier this evening.
Nestled in bed and blanketed by darkness, a summer breeze comes to me through a slight opening in the window whispering, “Sleep Mark Edward, sleep.” A moonbeam, shining through the dust-covered windowpane, beckons me to dreamland. Eyelids closed, body at rest, breath steady—I give myself to sleep.
Asleep, I go, in my mind, to the attic directly above my bedroom. This is the place I come to dream. A Civil War sentry stands guard. His union blue uniform, with brass buttons, is well worn. His cap is slightly askew. Rifle by his side, bayonet fixed, his eyes are alert. As I pass him, he gives me an all-is-safe nod. I know from my many previous encounters with him that this means an extra special dream awaits me.
Tonight the dream I dream is about my Little League game tomorrow—Corydon versus Allerton. In it I hear the whack of a massive home run, feel the schlap of a deft catch made, and listen to the cheers of a hard-fought victory won. Companionship, community, and competition, oh what joy I feel. I love this dream…
“Mark Edward,” whispers the breeze. “Dream bigger Mark Edward.” Heeding her admonition, I imagine a career with the Red Sox—pennants, World Series championships, all-star games, and a spot in the hall of fame. As I imagine these things, she says, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Game won, cheers done, teammates gone, field lights turned off, I put bat to shoulder and head for home. At the edge of the field, I see a mother pushing a wheelchair. In it sits her son. I have seen them around Corydon before, but we have not met. He is about my age. A ball cap like the one I am wearing is on his head. When I offer to push the wheelchair, his mom smiles a grateful smile.
Her son, twisted and palsied, is very excited—excited about the game, baseball in general, and me specifically. With great difficulty he offers congratulations on Corydon’s victory and my play. He recounts the hits I had, swings I took, and putouts I made. The effort he puts forth to say these words and the contortions he must endure as he does far exceed the energy I expended during the entire game he just watched me play. “Your ball games mean a great deal to him,” says his mother. “They’re the highlight of his week.” The boy’s animated excitement makes this evident.
Watching the boy, I think: I play baseball, but it does not excite me. He cannot play baseball, but it excites him. I am, however, strangely excited that he is excited about baseball. As we approach his mother’s car, I ask if he would like to come to the next game with me. Then say, “I’ll ask the coach if you can sit with me in the dugout.” The tears in his eyes tell me that if he could jump for joy he would. At that moment, the tears and his joy mean more to me than a career with the Red Sox.
Startled, I wake up. What is the meaning of this dream about baseball and the boy in the wheelchair? Pondering this question, peering at the dusty window the twinkle of the North Star encourages me to “go deeper.” I think about how life brings teammates to me. Some of them are big, strong, and fast, others twisted, palsied, and confined. I must not choose sides. Rather, I must accept each person who enters my life, standing with them as I stand together with my teammates on the ball field. The best victories and biggest homeruns of my life will come from the excitement and joy I bring to those with whom I stand. This I will dream, this I will do.
As the dream winds down, I sit with it. Absorbing its rich meaning. Done, I leave it where I left all my previous dreams, in the care of the guardian of my dreams.
The memory that greets me on this trip to Heartland is a poignant reminder that I am and always have been a dreamer. How early on I learned to protect, analyze, and regularly reflect on my dreams. Not only the ones I dream at night, but also the dreams I dream of achieving in life. Some of my dreams are small, others life-long and enduring. Many hold messages that I must heed, as was the case with the boy in the wheelchair—my true calling. Dreams, such as that one, that stick and disturb, have special significance.
Going deeper, I now see that all dreams require protection. Often from the Civil War that rages within each of us that we reenact on our internal battlefields of doubt, insecurity, and desire. I was fortunate to have a guardian who protected my dreams and watched over my attic dreamland. He taught me how to nurture my dreams, giving them space and time to flourish and thrive. From him, I learned to treat my dreams as sacred, work towards them, and ultimately not to give up on them, thus ending the war. My dreams, in turn, taught me that their best and most vigilant guardian is I.
Note: This is the 15th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.