all of the selves we Have ever been
“Don’t wish your life away.”
You might recall that was one of my mother’s famous sayings.
I caused her to utter those words often due to my incessant wishing: “I wish it was summer.” “I wish school would start.” “I wish the school year was over.” “I wish it was Friday.” “I wish it was Christmas.” “I wish I was in high school.” “I wish I was in college.” “I wish I had my own apartment.” I wish…I wish…I wish…
Weary of what I had, and tired of waiting, I was always eager for what was to come.
I have to admit, despite my mother’s repeated advice, I continue trying to speed things up by wishing, particularly now. Dare I say it? I wish this pandemic was over. I know that I am not the only one, but it doesn’t seem to matter that billions of people are making the same wish. The pandemic is on its own schedule just like the school year and the seasons of my childhood.
My mom isn’t here to say, “Don’t wish your life away.” Today, people don’t use that expression. Instead, they say, “Be present,” or “Live in the moment.” So, I will try.
I review the recent months of sheltering in place and social distancing. To my surprise, many of my other wishes have been granted.
I’ve made peace with my thinning, greying hair. That scraggly, striped COVID style gave me perspective. Months of staying home and saving time on hair care has made me a freer woman. I’ve also grown comfortable leaving the house without make-up. I may continue wearing a mask even when it is no longer mandated!
After years filled with hectic days and regret at losing touch with old friends, I now speak to them at least once a week, sometimes daily! We never run out of things to talk about, not even in a pandemic.
I’ve read more books, and not just nonfiction to keep up with my professional work. I enjoy novels, and discussions about novels, and trading novels the way I once shared Nancy Drew books with my girlfriends.
For the first time since childhood, I’ve slept in a time or two. And, like a princess, I eat my breakfast in bed every morning. When I was a child, I had to be sick to enjoy such a pleasure. Now, I am completely healthy and in no hurry.
I’ve prayed more, and my prayers have been answered. All my needs have been met. I have learned to live on less because I have needed less. And I am grateful.
I’ve walked more and spent more time admiring nature. When I walk, my mind is free. I am not thinking about the paperwork that needs to be turned in by midnight or the dinner in the crockpot. I listen to the call of the birds and notice the beautiful leaves that look like a ring of candy corn around the edges of the parking lot.
I now recognize my neighbors, even the new ones, and we speak when we pass. I see children playing outdoors again and zipping past me on their bicycles.
I treasure every phone call, every piece of snail mail, every email, and every text message. I am even happy to hear from Big Lots and Bob Evans Restaurant.
I have fallen in love with our national treasure, PBS, and I have been enlightened in unexpected ways by the beautiful storytelling, lively music, and insightful reporting.
Via email, I trade links to favorite songs with a new friend who lives far away. It is better than trading baseball cards or stock market tips! Once again, music fills me up the way it did when I was a teenager and music was food.
My mother said, “Don’t wish your life away.” She also said, “Be careful what you wish for,” suggesting that wishing is complicated and potentially dangerous.
Well, Mom, I have finished high school and college, and I did get my own apartment. That all worked out.
I have lived to see my children finish high school and college. They now live in their own apartments. Despite a pandemic, many other wishes have been granted. So far, the odds have been in my favor.
Dare I make another wish?
Wishing can be dangerous.
As a child, when I dared to voice a wish out loud, expressing the magical thinking of youth, my mother would say, “Don’t wish your life away,” or “Be careful what you wish for.” Of course, she had the perspective of age. She knew the risks of wishing. Mom was the daughter of hard-working immigrant parents, and she was a military spouse. By the time I was old enough to voice wishes, my mother had long outgrown the gentle garden of make-believe and was firmly rooted in the hard soil of reality.
In spite of her many warnings, as 2020 drags on, I find my wish list growing.
Among my big wishes: I wish this pandemic were over. In the meantime, I wish people would stop fighting about masks and start wearing them. I wish there were justice for everyone and peace on our streets. I wish the temperature would cool down. I wish the election were over. I wish I could hug my children. I wish I could get back to work I love.
I wish for smaller things to keep me going: an email, a phone call from a friend, a letter in the mailbox, a cool breeze, a good book, and strength for a long walk.
I think of all of the things I’ve wished for over the years chief among them, I wished for more time away from work, more time for myself…dangerous wishes indeed! I should have been more careful.
I listen as older people confide in me, “Is this it? Is this how my life will end--bored, alone, and socially distant from everyone and everything I love?” They feel the clock ticking and a growing fear that there will not be enough time to get everything they want. There is regret at the years wished away while in a hurry to get to somewhere else. I hear these voices and feel the shift inside myself, the move from the garden of make-believe to the hard soil of reality, the mound of dirt my mother spoke from when I was young.
I reflect on my knowledge of wishing. I learned to wish on birthday candles. Blow out the small flames. Don’t ever tell anyone your birthday wishes or they will be lost. There was the Thanksgiving turkey wishbone-wishing and wishing on stars. There was the “what would you wish for” from the genie in a bottle. The first time I heard someone say their first wish would be for more wishes, I realized then that I was not slick enough for this wishing game. I accepted my three wishes and tried to make wise choices. It made me a loser in the wishing game. Wishing is tricky business and not for everyone.
The lesson that a person can destroy her wishes by sharing them seems harsh and lonely. Wishing for endless wishes seems greedy. Wishes are gifts given by magic, no effort required. Perhaps that is the big difference between wishes and prayers--something else I am more prone to in the current circumstances.
When does a wish become a prayer?
A prayer is more than a shopping list of unobtainable items. Unlike wishes, a prayer must be stated and shared. It requires effort and humility. It acknowledges fear, weakness, and weariness. It is asking for help not magic. A prayer is an acknowledgement that action is required. On the most difficult days, I borrow a prayer from Sarah Ban Breathnach, “Help me, Lord. And help me until you help me.”
We won’t get out of 2020 by wishing, but if a genie does pop out of a bottle, I am ready with my three wishes. Give me radical faith in goodness, stubborn joy in moments of discouragement, and the will for thoughtful, deliberate action. With the Lord’s help, I can take it from there.