There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire; the other is to get it.”

Amid the great rush of life and the race for getting the things we need and the things we want, we could pause for a moment and take in this observation made by George Bernard Shaw.  The first part is simple enough — not getting what the heart wants, having to settle for whatever life doles out to you even after fighting for it till the end… who could deny the pain? Whether it is love, an ambition or a fight for your ideals, the pain of being denied fulfilment is the stuff that all tragedies — be they literary or cinematic or plain old real life — are made of. But the last part of the statement is what baffles us most. Why would it be a tragedy if you get your heart’s desire? 

There are several ways of looking at this statement. Like any work of art, the interpretation is always in the mind of the reader/beholder. Dreams and desires —deep, nagging, entrenched ones — consume the heart they occupy. We live with them and we live for them. Naturally, idealisation of a person or an idea gives it a larger-than-life existence, creating an illusion — a beautiful but unrealistic one. In real life, every dream comes with a rider, and no image, however beautiful, is free from blemishes. 

So when the time comes that you do achieve what you set out for, reality falls short of the illusion. The actual object very often cannot live up to the image and concept of it. In such a scenario, everything that you wanted and hoped for gets lessened by the very act of attaining it— you see the clay feet of your golden idol.  It’s easier to get through life chasing a dream, because the pull of the unattainable spurs you on — it gives you a reason to keep walking ahead. What is infinitely tougher is to see your dreams lose their rosy tint, and to see the object of your longing brought down from its lofty pedestal to the mundaneness of everyday life. 

In getting what you want, you lose the illusion. This explains a lot of things we experience in the world. It explains why childhood is the most cherished phase of our lives — a child’s world is one big illusion of shiny, star-filled universes and magic that comes alive. Childhood is the realm where everything is real and yet filled with untarnished beauty.  It explains why youth is so idealistic and filled with a determined frenzy to change the world. The young heart is filled with dreams and utopian ideas, has the passion and the strength to take them to fruition. But most of all, the zest never grows dim because youth’s illusions are intact; it has yet to see so much of what is real. That is the reason why dreams sag with age and experience — reality catches up with us. 

What then is the way out? Can we keep our dreams without courting tragedy? 

Perhaps the true triumph of the spirit is to dream on youth-like with the experience of age, experience that says dreams will be blemished but are worth the effort anyway. To know that true beauty will never be perfect, and that true pleasure is in never ceasing to dream. Because when our memories outweigh our dreams, we have grown old. So here’s to eternal youth, and dreams that never die.

Columnist: 
Zehra Naqvi