A holiday of a lifetime has brought us to Hollywood, the land of dreams, according to some. It is according to the happy man at the end of ‘Pretty Woman’: ‘What’s your dream?’ he asks. ‘Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t, but keep on dreaming.’
As I sit with my husband and children outside Hollywood’s Griffith Observatory, one of the locations in the film ‘La La Land’, we look across to the Hollywood sign set high in the mountains on the horizon. I wonder why something that was originally a real estate advertisement has become such an iconic landmark. Why did celebrities in the 1970’s club together $250,000 to refurbish nine deteriorating letters made of sheet metal?
I picture the actors, producers and directors who must have arrived in this town, brimming with hope and expectation at the sight of those letters. It’s contagious and I catch myself feeling some of their excitement.
It seems the Hollywood sign is a collective representation of our hopes and dreams, even for those of us who aren’t part of the film industry. It’s become a symbol of those ideas many of us have when we retreat into our own version of La La Land- our own private fantasies.
I imagine most of us have a dream. We’re aiming for something beyond our existence, something more or different to elevate our lives. I saw this pillar in a Bahraini cafe recently and it made me wonder what I want more of in my life. Definitely more sleep, more time with my husband, more time generally, more shoes, more patience, a diamond tennis bangle like my friend’s (it’s my 40th soon so take note if you’re reading this, Jack). My other, bigger dreams are too personal to share but I definitely have a list longer than the one in the cafe.
I surprised myself when I realised I didn’t want to share my list. I’ll tell people most things about myself, probably far more than they ever want to know, but when it comes to my La La Land, I’m shutting up shop.
I wondered why and I realised it’s because, for me anyway, it’s a place of vulnerability. What if none of these things come true, what if I aim too high and I fail? Maybe others fear the same thing.
Or maybe we had a dream which did come true and something spoilt it. An astroid, like the ones we learnt about at the observatory, face planted itself into our plans, ricocheting through them and causing devastation. An injury that ruined a sports’ career, a windfall that got swallowed up by some unforeseen event, a redundancy that robbed us of a dream job.
Or maybe the dream almost came true. There was a promotion we nearly got or a sale we almost made. A love we nearly married. An investment we sold too early, the value of which went stratospheric once it had slipped through our fingers.
I wonder if others feel vulnerable talking about these things, if conversations on this theme leave them also feeling exposed. It can be touchy stuff.
A depiction in jewellery of the stars at the Griffith Observatory
Dreams are important, individually and collectively. History shows us how great things can be achieved when someone has a dream. Different visionaries may come to mind. An obvious one is Martin Luther King and his famous dream, currently in the spotlight due to the 50th anniversary of his assassination today.
But can our dreams ever fulfil us? I suspect that none of my dreams would satisfy me completely, even if they were to come true. No person or thing can do that because everyone and everything is flawed or breaks or can spoil or be lost. Even a husband bearing a diamond bangle…
Hollywood was a reminder of that. Home to the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, it’s vibrant and fun but it’s also tired and faded in places. Some of the stars on the paving slabs were damaged, there were signs of poverty and neglect.
I couldn’t quite picture something as grand as the Academy Awards’ ceremony being staged there. I looked up old photos of the Oscars to see how Hollywood Boulevard is transformed for the big night and it was almost unrecognisable, the reality temporarily covered over with red carpet, screens and curtains to make it a worthy setting for it’s celebrities.
The surrounding neighbourhood may be packed with the fabulously luxurious homes of the rich and famous but for most of the year, the place that made them stars is less glamorous. Hollywood may launch some into a life of riches but it’s streets aren’t paved with gold for all its hopeful visitors. It can lead many to disappointment, like the actress Peg Entwistle, who tragically jumped from the Hollywood sign when her acting dream didn’t work out. I imagine more dreams are broken here than are realised.
Maybe Hollywood is a bit like our dreams. If we are lucky enough to have them come true, we may find that what they deliver isn’t as shiny as we expected. The author, Jack Higgins, was once asked what he wished someone had told him when he was a boy. He replied: ‘That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.’
If any of this is true, it needn’t leave us feeling depressed. The fact that peace and joy don’t require all the stars to be perfectly aligned and a sprinkling of fairy dust and a dose of luck is actually good news.
Martin Luther King seemed to have found peace even though he didn’t get to witness the full realisation of his dream. The day before he was killed he said, during his final speech:
“I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land.
“I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.
“And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Here Martin Luther King was referencing Moses, a man called by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, where they had been slaves for hundreds of years. After helping his people to escape oppression, Moses led them towards Canaan, the land which God had promised to Abraham.
After 40 years of searching in the wilderness, when they had almost reached their long awaited destination, Moses climbed Mount Nebo in Moab and from there, God showed him Canaan laid out ahead of him. God explained that Moses himself would not cross over into it. And as it turned out, Moses died in Moab before the Israelites entered the Promised Land.
It seems, from what Martin Luther King said, that he had a similar experience of seeing his dream laid out before him, even if he didn’t get to enjoy it in person. God didn’t let Moses or Martin Luther King die without giving them a taste of the promised land. Whilst neither man got to enter it in this lifetime, they died with the promise that their dreams would be fulfilled in the next. And perhaps, more importantly, they both knew God’s peace.
The blessing God gave Moses to share with his people in Numbers 6:24-26
On my better days, when I don’t let life steal my joy, I know I can also have peace, even if my wish list isn’t about to come true.
The talk below tackles the question of whether there is more to life than this or whether we just need to keep on dreaming…