all of the selves we Have ever been
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.