I was standing in the middle of Champs Elysées, thinking, “What am I doing here?” It was a tropical day and the crowds of passer-byes were becoming oppressive. I was thirsty. My chronic pain flared up. And, the worst of it all: I was discovering that Paris was a city, not a dream. There were buildings, and shops, and people, and a road full of car traffic, just like everywhere else… even if at the end of the road stood the Arc de Triomphe. I somehow never imagined cars on Champs Elysées. When I was dreaming of Paris, I never imagined any of this.
I had a hazy image in my mind — an impression of the Eiffel Tower, majestic in the springtime; of charming little cafés lining the streets, of flowers and sweet croissants and breathtaking views… of something profoundly enchanted and romantic. More a feeling than a place. Something fleeting. Something beautiful.
Somehow, I never imagined it being a real place, something from the ordinary life and not from a fairy tale. And yet, it was. Real, solid, filled with people and noise, and sometimes rubbish and smell, like any other city under the sun.
In your dreams, nothing is quite real.
There is a parable of two childhood friends who both dreamed of becoming a captain of their own ship. Only one of them was able to fulfill that dream. The other one became a shoemaker instead. Day after day, he sat down on his stool to repair shoes — and dreamt of the sea. He imagined his beautiful, sleek ship, floating majestically on the waves, the smell of salt in the air, the wind in his hair… And he was happy.
The first friend worked hard and eventually became a captain. One day, he was standing on the board of his ship, contemplating the sweat on his face, the rough swearing of the sailors, the frightening storms that threaten to drown you, the exhaustion… And he thought to himself “So… this is it. This is what I dreamt of. This is what it feels like. Was it really worth it?”
The question that follows is: Which one of these two friends would you rather be? There is no right or wrong answer, only food for thought.
When you dream of something, you naturally imagine only the pleasant parts. After all, why would you dream of something that makes you uncomfortable? But when your dream becomes reality, you never get to live only the good parts. The reality is never so black and white. It’s much more complex. In everything you love, there are always things you don’t like.
There is the boring practice before you can play your beloved piano like you dreamed you would. There is that one annoying colleague in your dream job. And the endless meetings. And bad coffee. There are the blisters on your feet and the snoring roommates during your sacred pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
There is a dash of the mundane in everything dreamlike. Whatever you set out to achieve, there may even be a disappointment. And you, too, will find yourselves asking the question “What am I doing here? Is this really what I wanted?” That’s a price you pay for your dreams coming true.
But is it worth it? Is it worth losing your daydreams of standing beneath the Eiffel Tower amidst the gentle cherry blossoms in spring, kissing your true love in this oh-so-romantic setting, to the reality of crowds and bustle and noise? Is it worth losing your daydreams about how climbing the Tower will feel like? You are finally here, you are sweating under the blazing sun, your legs are aching from standing in the queue, you need to pee RIGHT NOW, and there is an endless queue for the only bathroom as well… Your painkillers had worn off and you have trouble walking. Or just standing upright. And your true love is looking just as tired as you feel, and a romantic kiss is the last thing on both of your minds.
Is this what you really wanted? To me, the answer is yes. After all, the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is magnificent. And even if I was in a great deal of pain by the time I got there, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Things will never be exactly like in your dreams — and that’s okay. You forever lose that dream picture in your mind of how things could be… But you get to live through how they are.
It has been a few years and I’m still in quiet awe that I carry Paris inside of me… The oppressive heat and the exhilarating boat rides on the Seine. The beggars dressed in rugs and the small band of musicians that barged in our metro carriage, performed an impromptu song and left on the next station. The hustlers that try to sell you trinkets on every corner and the warm evenings spent dancing on the riverbank under the Notre Dame to live music, among strangers. The rain that drenched us on the way to the Louvre and the picnic on a sunny day in the Jardin du Luxembourg. That moment when I sang ‘Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Paris’ to the evening lights of the city and cried because we had to leave.
I have the memories of the real Paris inside of me, and no one can take them away. I will carry them in my soul until the day I die. And my life is so much richer for this experience. I’m happy to have met the City of Lights in its fullness.
No, I don’t regret losing that dream to reality. I would like to be that captain who got to see the ocean after all.