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How different is a goal from a dream? Are dreams and wishes woven from the same thread? I want to succeed at my job; this is certainly a pressing goal. I want to photograph a bird in flight. I want sharp lines to border hues that shine on the screen as my eyes remember them. I want to work at something I love, not because it’s necessary, but because I would be saddened were the pursuit absent from my existence.

These sorts of musings never perplexed me when I was younger. I passed through a rotating carousel of aspirations with ease. First was teacher, and I spent more than one afternoon “teaching” a row of stuffed animal in my bedroom. I toyed with the idea of secretary and cashier often, but this was mainly due to my fascination with punching receipts and pretending to answer a phone. Such were the simple pleasures of childhood imagination. Veterinarian took up residence in the dream box for several years, and led to at least one inspired Dr. Doolittle book report. This fizzled when I realized that not only did vets have to euthanize animals, but I was also more interested in having a dog than operating on one. My parents adopted Barney, our slightly crazed and entirely loveable Pointer/Beagle/Hound mix, and my dreams of veterinary-hood stalled. This is where memory fades, because I cannot recall wanting anything with much fervor after that.

It was at this time that goals surpassed dreams on my priority list. There were assignments and grades, and these provided me with sufficient markers to aim for. I had no idea what I wanted to “be” when I grew up. I chose courses and programs in order to stay on a track leading to nowhere in particular, until I found myself sitting in an empty room in Botswana with an acceptance notice to a professional program and the sharp recognition that I felt nothing close to gladness. Where was the familiar excitement and relief at having reached the latest finish line? It appeared that the race was no longer enough. Here I was, a grown up, who still did not know what or who I wanted to be. The one thing that I was sure of was where I wanted to be, which is why I’m typing this from a thatched office frequented by baby squirrels and visited occasionally by elephants. When I chose this spot I understood what those lucky souls meant when they professed to have always known what it was they wanted to do. I was happy. I am happy.

Of course it is in my nature to sabotage contentment, to the point that I wonder if I will ever function properly without worry to fill the twilight space between exhaustion and dreaming. I am highly skilled at spinning when I should be sleeping and count needless queries like sheep. Will food spending be over budget again this month? Will I remember to organize the hard-boiled eggs for Mrs. Smith’s breakfast? Will room 5 blow an air-horn if they find a spider in their mosquito net again? How many days before we run out milk? Can I milk an impala? Then the question that has always loomed reveals itself with force. What do I do next?

I don’t profess to know or believe if there is any sense in willing dreams to come true, but I remember fondly the one day reserved for falling under such fantasy. When the time came each year to make a wish over the candles of my homemade chocolate birthday cake, I closed my eyes, and asked the birthday fairies, gods, or sentient beings, to grant me the gift of flight. Yes. Once a year, far past the age when it was endearing to long for Marvel style super-powers, I wished I could fly. As you first begin to dream, you don’t worry about whether or not your dreams will come true; you just dream big. You think about what you would most love to do, or see, or be, and you wish for it.

It seems that I could use a few birthday candles now.

Children wish for the impossible without hesitation. Why is it so much more difficult to acknowledge wishes that are within reach? I’ve known for a long time exactly what I want. Maybe if I was standing over a birthday cake I’d be able to wish for it without being afraid of failing. I grew up and started writing lists and setting goals, and I think I gave up on dreaming too soon. The thing is, I detect an expiry date on this journey without destination. Life here is exactly as it should be. If I knew then what I do today, I would have wished for these past two years when I blew the candles out. Still, the other dream is waiting, and I cannot let it idle much longer.

I remain terrified as ever. It feels a little like asking to fly, and I’ve decided that this is okay. I might never capture flight in focus, but I’ll keep trying. I’ll forgo the goals and time line and finish line for something blurred and difficult to grasp, because it’s what I want more than anything. I hope that it isn’t too late to shut my eyes and steal a moment for wishing.