Mapping The Dotted Lines of Life

Brooklyn 1949
1949 Brooklyn by NuVue Studio

There’s a map of Brooklyn (and the greater NYC vicinity) on a wall in my apartment.  At first glance this map is ordinary with one exception: it’s old and from 1949.

Someone might glance over this map and say “oh, it’s interesting” not giving it a second glance, letting it fall into the background of an otherwise typical Brooklyn apartment.

And yet everyday I find myself enamored by this map.

Not only does the historic nature capture my mind but the details that the map contains keep me coming back to it day after day.

If you’re familiar in any way with Brooklyn and New York City you see all the familiar points of reference – Coney Island, Prospect Park, Atlantic Avenue, Borough Hall, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, the airports and the like – everything that would be on a map of New York City today.

But if you look closely you’ll see differences that only come with the passage of 60 years:

  • Some neighborhoods have disappeared, been renamed, or engulfed by others.
  • Street names are slightly different – some completely unfamiliar.
  • Train lines are present but you realize that there are no subway lines noted.
  • The famed JFK airport is known simply as N.Y. International Airport.
  • Floyd Bennett Field is a large focal point on Brooklyn’s southern exposure.

The most telling difference, though, is found in the City’s highway system.  Parkways reigned in 1949, even within the city limits, and the Eisenhower Interstate System had yet to take shape (both locally and nationally).  Most of the major highways as we know them were still being dreamed of throughout New York City.

On the map there are a series of dotted lines with these notations:

  • ‘Tunnel Under Construction’
  • ‘Proposed Connecting Highway’

The Battery Tunnel didn’t fully exist when this map was made.  The BQE – a now critical artery – was but a proposed idea in a city planner’s mind.  Other major roads are not even noted because they weren’t even conceived of at that early point in 1949.

Many features that shape our City’s landscape were thought of as mere dotted lines in 1949.

But yet now we can’t imagine a map without these critical transit components.

I realize everyday looking at this map of 1949 Brooklyn/NYC that it largely reflects my life as it is but not how I necessarily view it.

I have an imprint of what my life is in my mind.  I know what the past was because I’ve endured and experienced it.  And I have separate, sometimes grandiose ideas of the future that sort of guide me.  But these internalized maps are separated from one another, the dotted lines of proposed features in my life are vague when transposed on the map of my reality.

Not that I don’t have dreams and hopes for the future – I very much do – but there’s a part of my mind that doesn’t connect the future with the present.

The maps of our lives include three rigid views: the past, the present, and the future.  Very few of us, I believe, know how to live with dotted lines to connect our present with our future while retaining an honest and helpful vision of our past.  Unlike the city planner and mapmaker from 1949, we’ve lost the ability to preserve the present and still dream big dramatic changes to our current landscapes with realism and action.

Perhaps this is because dotted lines are tentative – they aren’t real.  They represent a best guess at what’s possible in the future.

2014 is not a time in which we easily or readily accept the intangible nature of dotted lines.

Dotted lines can change.  But dotted lines help us be dreamers of a future that isn’t yet realized.  They help us put on the map of the present not only what is currently changing but they help us make sense of a new landscape to come.

The truth is that in 10-20-30 years the map of my life won’t look the same as it is today.  Truth be told, even more, my idea now of the future won’t ever be the utopian desire I have in my mind.

It will be something better – something real – something that blends past, present and future.

What would it look like if we started putting dotted lines on our current map and we throw away the rigid map of a completely altered future?

Maybe we put these dotted lines down where our faith gets a little shaky and we start to understand what it means to be led blindly.

Maybe we put these lines down for our hopes and dreams – giving them a sense of purpose now instead of waiting for them to come down the road.

Maybe we document the changing landscape of our lives if only to show our future selves where we came from (the good and the bad) and where we have the potential to go.

Make a stake on the future with the full reality of the present.

Things will change as they always do and there’s no way to account for the unknown but maybe, just maybe, the dotted lines of our dreams that we build on today’s foundation will become a roadmap to our future reality.

Time will tell as we adjust our maps based on the ever changing present reality but let’s make a stake on our current lives and our current circumstances for the future.

Let’s be dreamers and walk together on the dotted lines of life.