By Sierra Beilby
I rise every morning at 5:30 before the sun has its coffee. I drive down 694 to student teach at Minnetonka High School. I brake and turn and merge in unison with every other nameless car on the road, yet I am encapsulated in my own space. Everyone is consumed with their individual destinations and prerogatives. This is working America — the sound of rubber against tar in the morning, maybe a car horn, maybe the droning voice of a radio talk show, maybe silence. My car is always filled with Hozier, Bon Iver, and Jon Bellion; they’re songs I’ve heard so many times that I hardly hear them anymore. I have a job to do everyday — to teach and to learn — yet, somehow on this drive, I feel purposeless.
The concept of the American Dream is embedded into our language and ambitions. Every morning during second hour, all of Minnetonka High School stands for the Pledge of Allegiance. Every Sunday afternoon my mom sits down to watch the Vikings and yell at the screen as if the players can hear her. The influence of this dream is monetary, cultural, social and interpersonal — the long fingers of capitalism, materialism and individualism can reach us in ways we aren’t actively conceptualizing. It’s every pastor who tells me that God has a plan for my life, every family photo I ever took in matching sweaters and every penny I ever dropped in my hot pink piggy bank.
I am often fearful about life after Bethel. I’m afraid to be young and broke and single and trapped in monotony. I’m worried that becoming a teacher is too mundane, that I will never amount to much, or that I will never find that delicate balance between striving for success and living for happiness. I find my mind wandering to dreams for someday — of big travels, big weddings and big houses. But is that what I want? I have become used to superimposing an “American Dream” over my own life in efforts to comfort myself when uncertainty about the future creeps up my spine like a shiver. This constructed dream is self-focused, self-righteous and self-serving. The images of a highly curated future limits my vision of success to mere production value; I am only worth what I am able to do, own and make. America itself persists to be defined by similar external factors: its wealth, its material goods, its successful faces. Is this what lives and breathes in us all? Maybe this is what keeps me driving half-asleep to school each morning, but this concept also demands I continue putting myself into boxes that are contingent on what I can produce.
I’ve been trying to cookie-cut my life in order to define myself by what I think the world wants from me. I’m a student, I’m a writer, I’m a creator, I’m a teacher — so what? These things matter, but do I just check off the boxes so that someday I can have enough money to sit on the couch and yell at NFL players who are making more money than I can even conceptualize? Is this the dream?
Let us not dream these faulty dreams anymore. I have been socialized to view my value in terms of numbers and products. I have allowed my future to be filtered through the lens of “American” ideals. Let me no longer ask myself how much I am worth, but instead who I am.
I am tired of the weight of economic expectations. I am tired of losing my sense of purpose in early morning traffic simply because I feel like a machine cog — only important in relation to the larger system I help to run. I don’t have to compare my future to any American Dreams. They are intangible, undefinable and more often used to uphold corrupt systems than to inspire people toward good. I need to grip the steering wheel a little tighter and feel my own human flesh against the plastic. I need to remind myself that I have space for mistakes, growth, rebellion, awkward silences, community and breakfast for dinner. I let Bon Iver flood my ears again.
At Minnetonka High School I get out of my car and close the door. The sound echoes through the empty parking lot on a chilly October day. The cold air reawakens me. The sun is rising and I sling my backpack over my shoulder, thinking that, perhaps, all these dreams have done is distract me from the moment, from reality. I walk into school, and remind myself — I am a sister, I am a daughter, I am a learner, I am a friend.