What Do You Wish For?

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) seeds blowing in the wind

If you were given three wishes this New Year of 2023, what would you wish for?  The most common wishes that people think of are for health or money.  Beware though, the saying “Be careful of what you wish for, you may get it” has very often been true with sad effects.  Do you know the story of the Monkey’s Paw?  It goes like this:

Once upon a time there was an elderly couple.  The man’s name was Joshua and his wife’s name was Marie.  They had been poor all their lives and each day was a struggle to find food, heat, and the other necessities of life.  The only joy in their lives besides each other, was their son.  However, the son had recently been drafted to fight in still another ongoing never-ending war. 

evgeniya-egorova-witchOne day, when the old man was out walking, he saw a woman who had been beaten and thrown into a ditch.  Around her neck, was hung a sign which said “Beware, Witch.”  Without even a slight hesitation, the old man ran to the ditch to see how he could help the woman.  He gave her some water and bread that he had on him for lunch and tried to bind up some of her wounds by ripping up his cloak.  She looked at the old man with compassion and said “No one is ever kind to me, but you have been.  I have this monkey’s paw that I would like you to have.  It will grant you three wishes.  However, be careful.  Be very careful.  Wishes can often result in things that you do not really want.”  The woman handed him a gnarled dried up old paw and bidding a farewell, walked on down the road.  He put the paw in his pocket and walked on to his home.

The_lady_of_the_barge_(1902)_(14769861755)When the old man arrived home, he told his wife what had happened.  She immediately asked to see the paw.  Upon, looking at it, Marie said “Shall we try it.” The old man laughed and said, “You don’t really believe in such magic, do you?”  “What do we have to lose,” said his wife.  So they both picked up the paw and together made the following wish: “We wish we had enough money to never have to worry about food or clothes or other necessities for the rest of our lives.”  They waited and waited and suddenly both began to laugh.  Such foolishness and they were silly enough to think that it might be real.

Later that day as they sat down to eat their little supper, there was a knock on the door.  Upon, opening the door, there was a messenger there.  He told them that they were the beneficiaries of a fifty-thousand-dollar insurance policy.  Upon asking, who had left them the money, they were distraught to hear that their son had been killed in a battle but before he left, he had taken out an insurance policy in their names. 

“Oh God, what will we do” said Joshua to Marie.  We don’t want this money both agreed, we want our son back.  “It was the paw; it gave us the money, but we were not careful, and we got our son killed.”  Marie hesitated and then suggested.  “Let’s wish for our son back.  Yes, we can wish for our son back.”  Taking the monkey’s paw up again, they both said, “Please give us our son back.”  It was the second wish and again, they waited and waited and nothing happened.

monkeys-pawThey went to bed feeling sad, miserable, and as unhappy as any two human beings could be.  Later that night, they heard a scuffling coming up the path to their door.  It sounded like something was being dragged.  A knock sounded on their door, but they were both too afraid to move.  A voice cried out “Mom, dad, it is Eli your son.  I have come back.  I am alive.”  Almost too happy to describe, they bolted for the door.  Upon opening it to let Eli in, they recoiled in horror.  Eli did not look human.  His skin was in tatters.  His legs and arms were mere bones.  His face was a skull with bits of skin and dried blood hanging off it.  “Let me in, I have come back from the grave.  You have summoned me.  Let me in.”

“Oh no, what have we done,” cried the old man.  Grabbing the monkey’s paw, he shouted out their third wish, “We wish you to go back to where you came from.  Please go back.”  Their son turned around and walked off back into the darkness from whence he came.  Three wishes had been granted and three wishes had been used.  The next day, Joshua and Marie went down to the riverbank and tossed the monkey’s paw into the river.  They both prayed that it would never be found again. 

—- Above is my adaptation of the original story “The Monkey’s Paw” by English author W. W. Jacobs.  It first appeared in Harper’s Monthly in 1902

I would bet that this story would not deter you from accepting three wishes or even making a wish.  There are many venues for wish making without waiting to find a monkey’s paw or an Aladdin’s Lamp.   Thousands of people every year use one of the more convenient methods.  Let’s look at a few of these methods just to see how fruitful they are.

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Chicken Wishbone Method:

I have been doing this one since I was a kid.  Harder to do today as chicken nuggets, chicken bits and chicken filets don’t usually have a wishbone.  However, in days gone by, whole chickens would be roasted in the oven and you did not have to go to Costco to get a cooked one.  Somewhere in the chicken, you would find the wishbone after enough meat had been eaten.  You could then rinse the bone off and let it dry.  After drying, you would find a partner and each of you would grasp one end of the wishbone.  Pull and it would break.  The person holding the longer end gets to make a wish. 

I think I might have made twenty or so wishes using this method.  To date, I am zero for twenty.  I am not tall, dark, or handsome.  I am not rich, famous, and sought after by mobs of ardent followers.  I have never been elected to political office and I have no superpowers or even noteworthy talents that I could make a living on.  As near as I can see, I have been stuck with those genes that I received at birth and none of my wishes has altered my DNA. 

Nevertheless, I hear that some people will swear by (as well as wish by) the Chicken Wishbone Method. 

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Fountains Wishing Method:

Fountains are where you can make a wish, but it will cost you money.  You toss a coin in a fountain (a well or in an emergency, any kind puddle will do) and you make a wish.  I have been told that the more money you throw in, the more likely your wish will come true.  Any size fountain will do.  A fountain in your back yard has the  advantage that you can always take your money back out and use it again for another wish or to buy a McDonald burger when your wish does not come true.

Several years ago, Karen and I went to Rome.  No visit to Rome would be complete without a visit to the most famous fountain in the world.  It is called the Trevi Fountain.  The Trevi Fountain is an 18th-century fountain in the Trevi district in Rome, Italy, designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini and several others.  Standing 26.3 meters (86 ft) high and 49.15 meters (161.3 ft) wide.  It is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome.

The fountain has appeared in several films, including Roman Holiday (1953); Three Coins in the Fountain (1954); Federico Fellini’s classic, La Dolce Vita (1960); Sabrina Goes to Rome (1998); and The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003).

There is a trick though to getting your wish in this fountain.  You need a coin, but it does not have to be an Italian.  However, you must bend over backwards and throw the coin over your shoulder.  If you are not careful, you will miss the fountain and hit one of the million tourists also throwing coins.  Each year, dozens of tourists end up in Roman hospitals after being hit by coins (That is a lie, but I thought it sounded reasonable). 

child wishing

Star Wishing Method:

This is one of the easiest venues for getting your wishes made.  There are literally billions of stars.  Do you know that the Sun is a star and a rather small one at that.  Last week, Karen and I went to a planetarium show at the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium.  It was a narrated show that talked about our solar system, our galaxy, and the millions of other galaxies out there in the universe.   Many of the exhibits at the Center portrayed a physical perspective on the relative size of our sun compared to other stars in the universe.   I was surprised that it was so dinky in comparison.  I wondered if the size of the star mattered when you make a wish

My first knowledge of the wonderful world of Star Wishing came when I was a little kid, and I went to see my first Disney movie.  It was Pinocchio and it was about a little puppet that became a human.  Pinocchio is a 1940 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and based on the 1883 Italian children’s novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi.  It was sometime around the early 1950’s when I went to see the movie. 

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A wood carver named Geppetto wanted a son of his own and carved Pinocchio out of a block of wood.  Through a wish by Geppetto, (Pinocchio as the puppet was named) becomes human.  The movie is about the trials and tribulations Pinocchio learning to be human and to embrace a set of morals and ethics.   The Disney adaption of the book included the now famous song:

“When You Wish Upon a Star.” 

When you wish upon a star

Makes no difference who you are

Anything your heart desires

Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream

No request is too extreme

When you wish upon a star

As dreamers do

Like a bolt out of the blue

Fate steps in and sees you through

When you wish upon a star

Your dreams come true

Songwriters: Ned Washington / Leigh Harline

For a little boy growing up in Brooklyn, NY where we could hardly see any stars at night, this was too good to be true.  I did not need any coins, no fountains, no fried chickens.  All I needed was a dream.  It did not matter that my father was only a mail man or that I was the grandson of Italian immigrants.  It did not matter that I had no money.  All I needed was a dream. 

Unfortunately, dreams were in short supply for poor Italian kids in Brooklyn, NY in 1955.  To this day, I am fascinated by those kids that had dreams that became reality.  I am not sure how they managed to dream or to find stars to wish upon but there is no denying reality.  Many poor kids from the Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, and Hells Kitchen managed to find success and happiness by dreaming, wishing and putting the effort in to make their dreams and wishes come true.

Wishing is only one step to forming the life that you want to live.  It is a step on a stairway of dreams, goals, actions, failures and determination that will see your dreams become your life.

So, consider carefully what you wish for.  Make your dreams a reality.  Start your New Year off with a set of wishes.  Reach for the stars. 

lamp

“There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.”  — Jonas Salk

PS: How many other wishing methods can you think of? Genies in Lamps, Dandelions, what else?

I Wonder Who’s Curious Today?

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I wonder how many great novels have started out with these two words: “I Wonder?”  Ok, I am curious, so I will find out.  “Google, how many great novels have started with the words: ‘I wonder’?”   Well, I found “Wonder” a great book about children who are different and Natalie Merchant’s beautiful song “Wonder” about the same subject, but no list of great novels.  I will try again: “Novels beginning with the words ‘I wonder’.”

Wow, now I have found a list of some interesting books.  Foremost among the list of books is “I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey: by Langston Hughes.

In I Wonder as I Wander, Langston Hughes vividly recalls the most dramatic and intimate moments of his life in the turbulent 1930s.

His wanderlust leads him to Cuba, Haiti, Russia, Soviet Central Asia, Japan, Spain (during its Civil War), through dictatorships, wars, revolutions. He meets and brings to life the famous and the humble, from Arthur Koestler to Emma, the Black Mammy of Moscow. It is the continuously amusing, wise revelation of an American writer journeying around the often strange and always exciting world he loves.

Now I am getting somewhere.  Although sadly, Mr. Hughes stole the title of my proposed next book.  But I will let it go.  I am sure I can think of another title.  But the point that I am thinking about is that wonder and curiosity is or should be the essence of our lives.  “Once upon a time” is probably the most popular starting words for many stories, but I propose that “I wonder” should be the start of any journey.  More stories need to start with “I Wonder.”

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I wonder why they do not?  I think I know.  Schools do not encourage wonder and curiosity. Schools encourage learning the right answers to pass tests.  Society does not encourage wonder and curiosity.  How many times have you heard “Curiosity killed the cat?”  Of course, the retort is “And satisfaction brought it back.”  But there is already the societal warning that curiosity can kill you.  Consider one of the most famous anti-heroines in history and her story about wonder and curiosity.

debfcabe3a329e58d451650b7bbe3120653267d4r1-299-371v2_uhqPandora was the first human woman created by Hephaestus on the instructions of Zeus.  Pandora was a curious woman.  She was given a jar or box by the conniving Zeus with all the evils of the world.   Being a woman (sexism at its earliest) she could not resist peaking in the box.  So she opened it and inadvertently allowed all the evils within lose upon the world.  The only thing that did not fly out of the box was the spirit of Hope which remained in the box when Pandora put the lid back on.  Thus to this day, our world is full of evil but balance always by the ever-present Hope that things will be better.  Nothing could be more fitting than Hope for the times we live in today.

Here is a great song to listen to about Pandora’s Box by David Francey

Now, I have been teaching since 1975, on and off. I have taught every grade from preschool, to elementary school to high school and up though grad school.  There are trends and fads in teaching like in business and society.  Many argue every year about what the “core curriculum” of a school should be.  Some say math is essential, some say English is essential.  Some want civility to be added to the curriculum and some are still fighting over the dreaded “Sex education.”

One of the most popular subjects today is “Critical Thinking Skills.”  Every single teacher in America believes that “Critical Thinking” should be part of every curriculum yet less than five percent of any curriculum is allotted to these skills. There simply is not enough time to teach everything that people want to see taught.  Particularly, when we have standardized tests to prepare for and a believe that what was good for the Greeks and Middle Ages is still valid today.

Here is a great song for the curious:  “Be Curious” with English lyrics by Humood Alkhuder

I could leave every one of these subjects behind.  It is my belief that schools should only teach one thing.  That thing would be “wonder and curiosity.”  I doubt if anyone would agree with me.  I can hear the arguments now: “Schools must prepare children for life.”  “Schools must prepare children for jobs.”  “Schools must prepare children for society.”

Young Child looking through Magnifying Glass

Just think for a second.  What if schools actually did teach children to be more curious?  What if they taught children to wonder about the world, to wonder about life, to wonder about people?  What would anyone imbued with a sense of wonder be like?

5 Benefits of Being A Curious Person by Leigh Weingus

  1. It can strengthen your relationships.
  2. It can help protect your brain.
  3. It can help you overcome anxiety.
  4. It correlates with happiness.
  5. It can help you learn pretty much anything.

You will find many articles about the virtue of curiosity on the web.  You will also find many of the components of curiosity.  Whether or not we can teach curiosity is perhaps another issue.  I have seen little in my many years of education that show we have the desire or knowledge to teach children to be curious.  If anything, I think curiosity is an innate trait which rather than nurture we do the best to kill.  Children ask fewer and fewer questions as they progress through our school systems.

‘Schools are killing curiosity’: why we need to stop telling children to shut up and learn – The Guardian

Imagine if you will that kids were not taught answers but were taught questions.  Anyone who has ever raised a child knows that they are the most curious little creatures on the face of the earth.  But right from childhood on, we do our best to extinguish this innate curiosity.

Group of Elementary Pupils In Classroom Answering Question

Imagine if kids who asked, “who made the world?” or “why do I have to do that?” were given the quest to investigate and come back with their own opinions.  Imagine if children who asked, “why are some people racist?” or “why do people hurt other people?” were told “Well, I don’t really know, but can you research this and come back and tell the class what you have found out?”

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Imagine if we had leaders who asked more questions and looked more to experts to help solve social problems rather than political polls.  Imagine if politicians were curious about life and wanted to explore life rather than control it.  Imagine if stories written in newspapers and the media were less biased and more honest about what is known and what is not known.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.  — —”Old Man’s Advice to Youth: ‘Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'” LIFE Magazine (2 May 1955) p. 64” — Albert Einstein

2016 New Year Predictions

Every New Year we are inundated with predictions, forecasts and prognostications for the coming year.  This year, I decided that I could do as well as many of the other pundits out there.  In fact, I think I can do better.  I am logical, rational, educated and not sentimental or emotional. 🙂 Any list that I create will be based on pure logic and scientific deduction. 🙂 You can take my list to the odds makers and I am sure you will make a fortune betting on them.  This is the least I can do to help my followers and readers capitalize on their loyalty to reading my blogs.  Remember, the vast majority of humankind will be ignorant of the predictions that I am about to give you.

Here are my top 10 predictions for the New Year.  I will include a brief justification and logic for each of these predictions below.  If you find some of them appalling, remember this, we can change things if we want them to be different.  No one ever said life would be easy.

  1. Hillary Clinton will be elected President of the United States of America.

This is a no brainer. The majority of the American people are too smart to select any of the dregs running that are now in the Republican queue.  I have said it in my blogs and I will say it again, the majority of US Citizens are decent, compassionate, rational human beings.  They will not elect a bigot, racist or demagogue for President.

  1. Weather patterns will continue to be unpredictable and chaotic.

As long as a large portion of the people in the world continue to believe that no change in lifestyles is needed or that these patterns are “normal”, I see little progress being made in addressing the underlying factors of pollution and waste disposal that are fundamental to our weather changes.  Some call it Global Warming but the problems we are creating go beyond even this potential disaster.  We are draining our ground water.  Polluting our oceans.  Contaminating our soils and forests.  Our mother earth has become one large garbage dump for every conceivable bit of trash we need to dispose of.  I am sorry but I do not see us making enough progress in this area.

  1. Water Shortages will create major agricultural problems throughout the world.

Water shortages will continue to exacerbate agricultural development in many parts of the USA and world.  Water prices will rise as ground water and aquifers are increasingly depleted or contaminated.  Sink holes will become more pronounced in areas where water is depleted.  More and more communities will be forced to provide stringent controls on water usage.   In the short term, water problems will eclipse Global Warming as a key problem in the world.

  1. The ISIS Caliphate will be demolished.

With the increase in forces arrayed against ISIS, the group will be defeated in battle after battle forcing it to give up territory that it has conquered.  Nevertheless, the destruction of ISIS will not destroy the fundamental forces that have underpinned the rise of this radical group.  From Al Qaeda, to Boko Haram, to ISIS, the fundamental forces that have given rise to these groups seem to be either ignored or misunderstood by the Western Powers.  The destruction of the ISIS caliphate will not destroy the dreams and hopes that those who have pledged allegiance to these extremist beliefs hold.  Instead, we will see a disintegration of ISIS into many smaller more covert and decentralized radical groups that will still be capable of and will continue to spread violence and terrorism on a global scale.  Until the fundamental forces are addressed, terrorism will continue to be omnipresent on a global scale.

  1. Schools throughout the world will continue to decline in their ability to properly educate young people for the real world.

Rich kids and children of the elites will find a way to obtain a quality education.  However, the vast majority of children will not be well served in this goal by the current education model that delivers mass education in most countries of the world.  The present model of educating young people was developed over a hundred years ago and is based on an industrial model of educating people that in no longer valid for today’s world.  We need to completely overhaul our educational systems but this will mean large scale displacement of many educators and administrators who benefit from an obsolete model of education.

  1. Standards of living will continue to rise throughout the world but many poor will not be better off.

Almost paradoxically one might think, is my prediction that the increase in average standards of living will continue throughout the world despite some of the dire predictions I have made above.  How is this possible?  The answer lies in the concept of “average” versus the concept of a “normal distribution.”  An average can increase if the upper extremes increases.  We have seen a large growth in the USA for the upper 1 percent income bracket; this creates an “average” increase.  Thus, the rich are going to get richer throughout the world, but many poor will still stay poor. Comparatively it will be true to say that “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.”  This income inequality will continue to be a source of violence and terrorism throughout the world as police forces and the military become more violent to protect the haves from the have nots.

  1. Fear of terrorism will create more restrictions on immigration throughout the world.  

As more and more isolated events of “lone wolf” terrorism take place, the world will react with increased levels of xenophobia and paranoia.  Immigrants will become the target for displaced feelings of fear and anger.  Politicians will pander to these fears by blaming outsiders for the problem and enacting legislation to create barriers that have the supposed effect of making people feel safer.

  1. Gun violence will continue to increase in the USA.

The NRA and gun manufacturers will continue to flood America with more and more guns and assault style weapons.  More people will purchase concealed carry permits.  The general level of easy availability to a deadly weapon will raise the level of violence thus creating a vicious cycle of guns, violence, fear and guns.  The only solution will be to break this cycle of violence but the money involved in the manufacture and sale of guns in the USA creates an effective barrier to accomplishing this goal.

  1. Technology will not save the world, but it will make the world easier to live in.

Many people have believed that new inventions from fish farming to finger print gun activation to pace makers would defray many of the problems in the world and save us from our own selves.  Ironically, technology has not saved us from ourselves but in many cases it has made life easier to live.  For instance, my income level has not significantly increased because of the Internet.  However, I now work from home much of the time which has made my life much easier and happier.  Another example is agriculture, where irrigation has helped us plant crops in places like Arizona where it would have been impossible years ago.  On the other hand, technology always seem to come with hidden costs and unforeseen complications.  For instance, aquifer depletion is now causing sink holes and ground collapse in many parts of the USA due to over irrigation.

  1. I will continue to write my blog for at least another year.

Two of my best friends, William Cox and Brian Rogers died in 2015.  William was 87 and Brian was 68.  The passing away of my friends and many other acquaintances are constant reminders of my own mortality.  My father died when he was 60 years old and my mother was 67.  I have now outlived them both.  My wife passed 70 in 2014 and is now reaching for 72.  Ages that once seemed “ancient” no longer seem so old.  At the same time, the obituaries constantly remind us that we are “old.”  Everywhere I go, we now qualify for senior discounts or elderly benefits.  I am told that I have the body and stamina of a 45 year old, but that seldom if ever impresses me as I see other men in my condition suddenly succumb to the passage of time and I write out yet another card of condolences or sympathy.

Thus, I make a commitment to write this blog for another year, which I am not sure or confident I can keep.  I hope to write as long as I am able to and I hope that will be for at least another year.  Please keep your fingers crossed for me.

Time for Questions:

What are your New Year Predictions?  Which of mine do you agree or disagree with?  Why?  What predictions did I miss?

Life is just beginning.

Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.”  —- Goran Persson

 “May we love each other not only at Christmas but all year.” — ― Lailah Gifty Akita

 

 

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