Several years ago I worked in Downtown Denver on the 16th Street Mall. The Mall is an eclectic place, where people feel comfortable expressing themselves. You will see teenagers with spiky hair and leather clothing on the Mall shuttle, side by side with businessmen in suits. Musicians perform on the corners for donations, and lawyers and clerks hurry through the streets, anxious to get to court.
But, in the midst of this diverse gathering, there was one mall resident that nobody could quite believe. He was a large man, tall and about 250 lbs, and he spent every lunch hour roller skating through the Mall…in a tank top and tutu. Quite a spectacle, but this man didn’t seem to even notice the commotion he was causing. He skated blissfully on, beaming, lost in his fantasy.
I still think of that man/ballerina sometimes. I don’t know what his life was like. I don’t know what his “day job” was, if he had a home, or a family. But I do know that for a short time, each day, in his mind, he was a beautiful ballerina on skates. And that’s exactly what he wanted to be.
Imagination and fantasy can play an important role in achieving the things we fear. Children know this very well. Fred Epstein, in his book “If I Make It To Five” tells the story of Matthew, a four-year-old boy with a tumor in his spinal cord. He endured several surgeries and a whole lot of pain by mastering his imagination.
Matthew loved to pretend, and he particularly loved costumes. Many people found it strange that Matthew preferred to dress as Zorro, Spiderman, or in any of the many other superhero costumes he owned, but Dr. Epstein explained that it was actually a brilliant way for his young mind to handle the terrifying and painful life he led.
Dr. Epstein went on to tell the story of Matthew’s third trip to the operating room for spinal surgery. Matthew was terribly afraid the night before they were scheduled to return to the hospital. “Maybe I could go as Batman”, he whispered to his mom. Although she had avoided purchasing the expensive costume, she relented, and the next day Matthew ‘arrayed himself in a cocoon of superhuman strength’, as he, now the powerful Batman, swaggered through the hospital halls, coolly raising his hand in acknowledgement to the people greeting him along the way. And Matthew, girded with the strength of his fantasy, successfully made it through the surgery.
The power of imagination need not be reserved for the children and the eccentric among us. We all have the power to use our fantasies to attempt things we never thought possible, to endure things that seem unendurable, and to go places we never believed we could. Motivational speakers call it “imagery”. Psychologists call it “self-actualization”. I prefer Walt Disney’s interpretation: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you go out and purchase roller skates and a tutu, or dress as a superhero for your next job interview (although I’ve always wanted a couple of those magic Wonder Woman bracelets). But, next time you are tested in a way that seems insurmountable, imagine what it would take to overcome it. Become the person you need to become to triumph over your challenge – and do it in your mind first.
You may be surprised at how fantasizing about a victorious conclusion will very often give you the strength and the resources you need to make it come true. Walt Disney further reminds us “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” So, let your imagination run wild, and dare to dream! It can happen to you!
— Copyright © 2003 Sue Dickson