In our series of letters from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Sharmila Tagore looks at the power of dreams


I think about time a lot. I don’t often stop to consider whether I have
three or four hours to do, or just one. It’s like I have a life, and I’m
allowed to dream while I live it. In a real life, nothing would be simple. I
would have to work to survive.

One day, at the coffee shop, while I was thinking about time, I heard a

“Is there anything you have to do before you go to bed tonight?”

I knew I had to do something, especially after getting home – my feet were
cold, but I still had to go to the bathroom, so I looked through the list of
things I had to do that night and saw that I didn’t have much to do. I had to
make it to the grocery store, I had to figure out what to wear, I had to walk
home. The list was short, but it was still enough to make me feel I had to
get everything done.

But then an otherworldly force whispered in my ear:

“You may need more than this. You will never know how to do even a fraction
of what you have to do. Do what you can. Do what you need to do to get by.”

It’s the same when you have a deadline. You can’t think about what you need
to do. You can’t think about how to get there. You can only think about the
idea of you doing it, because it’s the thing that pushes your forward.

Your life should be like this, when you dream. You should be filled with a
sense of duty, of purpose and meaning. You should have enough to do, that
you don’t feel overwhelmed. You should find something you love. When you do
this, you’ll never have to worry about time again.

You can do the same thing with your dreams. There’s a lot to do, so make
sure that each day you’re doing things that add up to the total. And when you
have all you can do, then you may need to think about how to spend it.

You see, dreams are a little like time. Sometimes you need more time to do a
particular piece of work, but you don’t have to worry about how much time you
have, because the whole time is yours.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but that’s the gist of it.

I used to wake up in the middle of the night, every night. I would lie in bed,
in the dark, in bed, in the dark. Now I just open my eyes and sit up in bed,
looking at the ceiling while I drink coffee. I’m not sure how to explain it
any better.

But this is how it works: I know the hours. I know how to divide them. I know
how many minutes. I know how to time for every meal. I know when to get up,
when to shower, when to go to bed.

You can do the same thing with dreams. You can divide the hours that
lie ahead of you, to do your part. When they get ahead of you, they tell you,
“You have to hurry up!” They demand that you keep going. There’s that
sense of urgency to them, the need to complete, to get it all finished. It
makes your heart beat faster, and then you can get up and do it.

And then you wake up, refreshed, and with the same sense of purpose and
meaning that you had when you went to bed.

So today when you wake up, when you decide what your to-do list looks like, set
yourself apart from others. Make it your own. Do one thing every day that
adds up to three, or five, or ten. Don’t think about how many hours, or
minutes, you have to spend getting there. Don’t worry about how many tasks you
have to do or finish. Just do them. Get in your groove. Get moving.

And when you accomplish your goals and are ready to go out and have fun, all
that time you need will be yours.

As I sit here, writing this, there are birds out the window and the wind is
chilly. It’s a cold, clear day in late January and I see the blue sky, and the
lava flowing from my fingertips when I make tea. I think about time. I’m here in
my little house in Toronto, and it’s quiet.

I’m on the phone with my Dad while I sleep. He’s working nights so I can
come home to visit for two days and I’m thinking about some things we’ve been
talking about. We’ve talked about my life, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. We’re
talking about me, and a time of my life, and a place I left, and the reason I
feel I can’t leave.

I know what time it is. I know when to come home in the morning. I know when
to drive around the city. I know when to walk on the beach, or in the city, or
all the way to the border of the lake. There’s only so much you can see of each
place. I know when it will rain, when it will be sunny, when it’ll be cold,
what kind of people are around. It’s enough to live.

My dad says that time is like a river, that it all flows through it, so there’s
no real beginning or end. It just keeps flowing, because if you go back too
far, it goes over the same place again. He says that you shouldn’t ask for more
than you need, that you don’t have to save up for a rainy day. He says that you
can enjoy what is given to you. He says that when you realize you’ve already
wasted, you try to use it to the best of your ability. Everything is a gift,
not a right. What you put away is what you get.

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