Week #6 – WISHES
So, I’m 51. As of yesterday, in fact. I had written an unrelated, non-birthday post for this week (a meandering that started with the word infidelity), but it all went out the window when my dear friend, Jill, sent me a celebratory text yesterday morning that ended with the imperative Wish Big! I welled up for a few seconds, taking in those two tiny words that held such beautiful, unencumbered potential, and realized that, in my whole life, I’ve never really wished for something big. Something untouchable, straight from the heart, vast and unrestrained, a desire bigger than my brain . . . bigger than me.
My parents were modest people. Immigrants from Latvia. My mother, the ward of an orphanage for many years, emigrated to Canada before the war; my father followed years later as a refugee. In 1941, Germany occupied Latvia (a tiny, newly independent country historically tossed about by bullies), and at 16 he was illegally conscripted into the Nazi army, forced to march for a monstrous cause where he saw friends and entire troops obliterated. He ended up a POW in the British quadrant of Germany at the end of the war, but was now a displaced person as Latvia had been absorbed by communist Russia. He had no family, no country, and no future, until Canada stepped up and offered him a way out: freedom (and eventually citizenship) in exchange for a year of hard labor building their national railway. Given my parents’ histories, I imagine that they both wished big, for things I will never understand, and that every wish that followed paled in comparison.
I never asked my father about his dreams prior to the war. He appeared grateful to live a simple, predictable life. Like so many immigrants, his work ethic was extraordinary. He went to night school and became a mechanical engineer. He bought a small house and supported his family of six, always carrying a second job on the side. He planted a big vegetable garden and never threw away a scrap of food. He insisted we all work hard, follow the rules, assimilate. His biggest concern for his children was that his daughters find good husbands to take care of them, and that his sons provide for their families and learn how to work with their hands. In other words, he wanted us to follow in his footsteps and live safe, ordinary lives with little-to-no uncertainty. Wishes were never really talked about, certainly not encouraged, and big wishes . . . well, those existed in movies and novels, not in our small, methodical world.
But now, at 51, having just been given full permission to reach for the moon, I put my past aside and prepared myself for the candle that I would inevitably blow out later that day. First, I jotted down some thoughts, all run-of-the-mill goals, familiar, tangible . . . definitely nothing big. Then I created a few what if statements to really get the juices flowing, but that effort quickly turned morose. Which led to me wondering, could a wish be a need, or did it have to be an unadulterated desire? And if it was a need, didn’t that make it a prayer? Surely a prayer was different from a desire, because there’s no way I wanted God weighing in on the nature of my wish, and whether or not it deserved granting. Geez, this was harder than I thought. So, I went for a long walk, and then a long lunch with a friend. I unwrapped presents and opened cards. And still, after an entire day, I couldn’t come up with anything big –not a Pulitzer prize, not a cure for cancer, not even 60 acres on California’s central coast. If there was a giant wish inside of me, it was so weighed down by censorship and inhibition and fear, that it simply could not rise to the surface.
At dinner that night, feeling rather defeated, I asked my kids, and my dear friend’s daughter who was with us, if they had one big wish, what would it be. I’m happy to announce that there were no canned Miss America responses wanting for world peace or an end to global hunger. Instead, they longed –unapologetically and emphatically– for piles of money, and big, beautiful houses, to travel the world and become YouTube stars. And what I loved so much in listening to them was that they had no hesitation in asking for the moon, for things enormous and vast, for things bigger than themselves. And in that moment I closed my eyes, and I wished for them to continue dreaming big and not censoring their desires, so that one day, when they’re older, when they really do want for world peace and an end to global hunger, they’ll be capable of wishing big enough to do something about it.