Thoughts on the Oscars, Nyong'o and dreams

Originally published Monday, 03 March 2014.

A year ago none of your friends knew her name. On Sunday night, Lupita Nyong’o, accepted an Oscar for best supporting actress in a blue gown that any little girl, who ever dreamed of being a princess, would have loved to wear.

Born in Mexico while her Kenyan father was teaching there, Nyong’o grew up in Kenya and went to college in America. I can imagine her as a small child in Kenya role-playing the day when she would stand on a stage with an Oscar in her hand – that was no small dream. It would have been a dream that felt as far out-of-reach as building a snowman on a hot African afternoon.

Yet she stood on the Academy Awards stage and after thanking the people who contributed to the film, 12 years a slave, she let these words pour out:

“As I look down at this little golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from your dreams are valid.”

She walked off stage but her words were lodged in my heart.

They swirled around with thoughts of my husband. Of the road he walked from a poor community in a small town of South Africa to work in his dream job in the international sporting community. A man, who as a child believed that his dreams were possible, that the future he imagined could be the reality he lived in.

The world needs more people like Lupita Nyong’o, more people like my husband, who are not held back by circumstances or heritage or their past.

Her speech also reminded me of the biblical character Joseph. Another person, who as a child dreamt his ten older brothers, would one day be begging him for help. His brothers mocked him when they heard him speak about his dreams. They found his dreams so annoying they sold him into slavery. Still, Joseph didn’t stop dreaming, he never stopped working towards the dream that he believed God had given him.

Years later, Joseph is put into a position of immense power in the new country where he lives. He is in charge of storing food during the bumper crop years and distributing during famine years. One day while working his brothers come from the neighboring country and beg for food, unknowingly enacting the very dream they had mocked.

There must have been many times in the intervening years when Joseph’s dreams as a child felt like something that would never happen, many times when his dreams felt unreasonable or irrational. I heard people say mean things about my husband when he set out to pursue a dream they thought was impossible. I’m sure that there were many people around Nyong’o who laughed when they heard a little Kenyan girl dream of holding a little golden statue.

In my own life there have been times when my dreams have felt crazy. I don’t have the kind of dreams that people write stories about. My dreams are small. They involve a career as a writer, a house with a beautiful view and people around me who love me. My dreams might be ordinary but sometimes they still seem impossible, they still seem irrational.

Somehow as Ngong’o spoke of dreams in a flowing blue dress with an Oscar in her hand the part of my soul that had begun to doubt if God could bring life to the dreams I have was reminded that no dream is too small, too crazy or too irrational for God. If God wants you there, he’ll take you there.

God can take a little girl from Kenya and put her on the world-stage with an Oscar in hand.

God can take a boy from a small town in South Africa to a career in international sports.

God can take the son of shepherd from the inside of prison to the highest office in the country.

And God can take the dreams of people like me, and you, and do the unimaginable.