The Purpose of Dreaming

“I have come to believe that “coming true” is not the only purpose of a dream. Its most important purpose is to get in touch with where dreams come from, where passion comes from, where happiness comes from. Even a shattered dream can do that for you.” – Lisa Bu, “How Books Can Open Your Mind”

I got a little more out of listening to Lisa Bu than I had expected. It’s a Friday afternoon and my work day is winding down, and so around this time when I start searching for some inspiration while I hammer out the remainder of my day’s tasks. E-mailing pre-written template pitches to potential customers requires very little brain power.

But towards the end of her talk, she really caught my attention, with the line I quote above.

I had to listen to the last few minutes a few times over just to make sure I quoted her properly. The gist of her talk had to do with how books served as an avenue for understanding the world she found herself in, after having migrated from China to the U.S. She later explains how books open up our dreams.

This is a common enough notion, that books often allow for us to re-imagine our lives as we know it, or think up new lives entirely. But what struck me was what she said about dreams.

More often than not, I’m overly pre-occupied with my dreams less so because they are that interesting or exciting, and much more because I feel the need for them to come true. My sort of dreams aren’t the kind steeped in fantasy and adventure – they are shaped mainly by all these notions I have of what I’ve earned, what I then deserve, and what I desire most in order for my life to be most meaningful. They feel too real and too attainable for me to ever let them go.

I hadn’t thought about my dreams actually pointing me backward – to who I once was or where my ideas had come from. It just didn’t occur to me that they could be my mind’s way of turning its attention to the past, instead of fixing its gaze to the future.

And even the dreams that had already come to pass. Even the ones I held onto so tightly, that they broke in my hands. The ones that left shards of painful memories still embedded in my palms.

These ones, too, can take me still to where I have yet to go.


We were floored.

My wife woke me up, calling out my name, and immediately, I knew we received the news we were waiting for.

For a few agonizing weeks, that would be our routine, we’d wake up and immediately check her inbox, hoping to get a final answer on the one thing we had desperately hoped to hear back about. The waiting was starting to consume us – our conversations always punctuated with an open-ended question about our future that we never had an answer for.

Until that morning. That’s when we found out that we’re moving to Malaysia.

We’re moving because my wife was offered a position to teach an International School in Penang. We couldn’t believe it – I was screaming. It felt like the only appropriate thing to do.

In the days since, the elation has settled to a much more tempered, but hopeful feeling. We’re eager, but we’re anxious. We’re excited, and yet, we’re scared. Or at least, I am.

My wife tends to take these sort of abrupt changes in our lives in good stride. The thrill she receives from plunging forward into a sudden change – of everything- isn’t so easily extinguished. The fear of uncertainty is drowned out by her own desire to see what amazing things could possibly be ahead.

My natural response is to stay in the fear.

These sort of abrupt changes fly in the face of the certainty I relish, of the kind of control I always hope to hold onto. I hate admitting it, but it’s true, I still love “lording” over my own life –¬†all the finite details, every little thing that requires even the slightest bit of management.

The news we received has taken my control away. And at first, it felt frightening. (Maybe, subconsciously, that’s partly why I had screamed)

But it’s starting to become something else. Our conversations are still almost always bookended by something to do with our impending move, but there’s a lightness to them now, an embracing of the inevitable that is becoming more freeing than anything else.

There will be a loss, yes. Of control and certainty, for starters. But of far more important things than those. Of time with family, and friends. Of a home we’ve found in Oakland. We’ll miss seeing our friends’ bellies swell, and babies growing into toddlers, we won’t see new romances bloom and witness old ones refine with age. We’ll miss the sights and sounds of all that we’ve come to know about where we are right now and what we’ve grown to love.

But slowly, I’m starting to appreciate the gain.

Shuli and I are following this series of Malaysian-produced Youtube videos from Samsung, promoting their new phone, and we can’t help but be overcome by excitement over the ‘makan-makan’ we’ll be doing (that means to ‘eat’), the exploring of a land that seems both foreign and familiar, and the sacred stories we hope to collect, with humility and grace.

The last time anything felt truly dream-like, was our wedding. When I think about that day, I remember sitting in our sweetheart table, removed from all of our guests, watching them enjoy an incredible feast of Southeast Asian cuisine as they sat beneath four, beautifully-lit magnolia trees, and looking back at my wife, feeling so, so grateful. We couldn’t have asked for a better moment to share.

And yet, we asked, and then, we were given. There’s something out there for us, and we have little clue what it may be. All I know, is that, I’m starting to dream again.