Almost four years ago, I went to Washington DC for the first time. Rick Steves rightly said that when an American goes to Washington DC, they are going on a kind of secular pilgrimage. One thing I really wanted to see when I was there is the Library of Congress. It is the largest library in the United States, and I was really hoping I could live out the Beauty and the Beast experience.
Unfortunately, as I learned in my guidebook before going to DC, the Library isn’t laid out that way. In fact, when people go to the library, one of the first things they say is, “Where are all the books?” I walked around the main building of the Library of Congress, but I did not see a huge room with huge bookshelves, the way Belle does. I’m glad I knew this going in, because I would have been bitterly disappointed.
To me, this is sort of allegorical of the problem of dreams vs. reality.
In America, we celebrate dreams. We even named a dream after our country. Langston Hughes famously urges us
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow
But what happens when the dream isn’t quite what we think?
What happens when a fantasy keeps us from pursuing reality? I could have been happy with the Beauty and the Beast fantasy, and that contentment could have kept me from going to DC a few years ago.
At the same time, I could have been really disheartened when I found out that the Library of Congress looks more like this.
But I was not disappointed. The Library of Congress is a gorgeous building. I saw a Gutenberg Bible and an exhibit of old maps, showing the history of exploration of the US and marveled at the wonderful architecture. All in all, great fun.
I don’t have any conclusions about this subject. I just find myself thinking about the benefits and the drawbacks of dreams and fantasies vs. reality.