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American dreaming

POSTED October 6, 2009 7:49 p.m.
I had a dream last night. I was famous, a super star. Everyone knew who I was.
I don’t remember the reason. Maybe I had cured cancer, or maybe I had rescued a man from a burning building. Perhaps I was a famous author.
But the reason doesn’t matter compared to the feeling, compared to the knowledge that I had done something incredible. That I had earned the respect of my fellow man.
It was great. It was amazing. It was almost like my American Dream had come true. It was validation that a life of greatness is worth fighting for, despite all the pitfalls that might accompany its pursuit.
At last — at long last in my 20-something mind — I had achieved that life we all secretly dream of. A life where we’re recognized for the remarkable things we’ve done.
That’s what the American Dream has always meant to me. To be respected for your talents and rewarded accordingly.
James Truslow Adams, who coined the term “The American Dream,” largely agreed with me before the Dream was corrupted by marketers and politicians.
“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement,” Adams wrote. “… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
I never bought into the conceits of cars, houses, and money that Adams refers to. Things are things; they’re nice but they don’t make you happy.
But I wonder if buying into my own version of the American Dream has made my life more difficult than that of those who simply want a spouse, house, and children.
Growing up in the boom times of the 80s and 90s, simply being “recognized,” as Adams wrote, was never my goal. It always seemed like there was something bigger, something better.
And who is to say what one is innately capable of? No one truly knows a man except for himself, and we are seldom the best judges of our own capabilities.
Everyone deserves to be famous – in our own minds – for one thing or another. Everyone has some moment of greatness to cling to, be it catching the winning touchdown in a football game, throwing that pass, or even making the block that gave the quarterback the chance to throw the pass.
All of these people deserve fame and congratulations for their actions, but there’s only so much mindshare available. By the time we get down the ladder to the offensive linemen in that amazing football play, we’ve simply run out of the public’s attention span.
The almost guaranteed lack of recognition doesn’t stop the lineman, though. He works as hard as he can, every day in practice. He struggles for countless hours on the field, hoping that someone will see how important he is.
And that’s really where the American Dream leads us. We all, because we believe we have the opportunity for greatness, throw ourselves headlong into quixotic pursuits.
Even at the National Football League level, how many linemen can you name? Perhaps five? And they’re all paid less than the wide receivers – and more inclined to permanent mental disability, if you believe recent studies.
We’re almost all doomed, like that lineman, to a life lived in the shadows, even if we should make it to the largest stage.
But yet we keep struggling, we keep fighting. We hold on to our American Dream that we are the exceptions, not the rule. That we will be the one recognized for our talents, despite the fact that we’re never quite sure how talented we really are.
The fact that we won’t settle is one of the things that makes our country great. But it’s also one of the things that keeps our nation’s psychologists employed.
In a world where we’re taught we can achieve anything, how are we supposed to know what good enough is? By settling, aren’t we foregoing the dream we believed in from the time we were born, the chance for something better?
And what’s life without dreams? What’s life with nothing to hope for?
I still believe that America is a land of opportunity. It’s not a place where everyone will get what he or she deserves, but some will.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be the sort of person that I was in my dream last night – nor do I know if I deserve it – but I look forward to finding out.
To contact Alex Cantatore for autograph requests, send gushing fan mail to acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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