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). 

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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. 

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“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?

Let’s All Kill Buddha!

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Years ago, I spent some time studying Zen Buddhism.  Some of this was the “fad” of the day during the sixties and seventies.  Zen was so different than the Christianity or Catholicism that I had grown up with.  Zen spoke in koans and paradoxes.  A koan is a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.  For instance, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”  Christianity has its parables and well renowned truths, but Zen teaches one to be skeptical of everything.   

Perhaps the most famous “truth” of Christianity is that Jesus was God incarnate.  In other words, Jesus was born a man but was actually a God.  This claim is indisputable among followers of Christianity.  Buddha never claimed to be a God.  Buddha never claimed to have any absolute truths.  One of the most famous lines that I have used many times was “If you meet the Buddha on the road, Kill Him!”  This message might seem bizarre to some people, but it makes absolute sense to many Zen followers.  Even Buddha’s message is not to be taken as “gospel” truth but instead examined and questioned with an open mind. 

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I think about “Killing Buddha” quite frequently.  In this day of lies, misinformation, disinformation, and deliberately confusing legalese, we see more and more people taking sides about issues that they have seldom spent much time thinking or questioning about.  Emotions rule conversations today rather than facts, data, or logic.  We believe doctors, salespeople, lawyers, reporters, and politicians despite the fact that they have a vested interest in making money off of us.  Doctors with their often-needless surgeries, reporters more interested in advertising revenue than the truth, politicians trying to be reelected for life, lawyers with few or no ethics dedicated to winning at all costs, and salespeople trying to make as much money as they can on each sale.  They all want you to think that they know the absolute truth.  Jesus said, “The Truth will set you free”, but where will you find the truth?  Ask a politician.  Ask a doctor,  Ask a lawyer.  Only if you are delirious.

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Can you imagine if I said, “When you meet a politician or lawyer on the road, kill him or her.”  On the contrary, the public keeps re-electing politicians to office.  It does not seem to matter to people that Congressional approval ratings are some of the lowest they have been in history; they keep electing the same liars back to office.  The reelection rate of incumbents is nearly ninety percent.

Congressional stagnation is an American political theory that attempts to explain the high rate of incumbency re-election to the United States House of Representatives.  In recent years this rate has been well over 90 per cent, with rarely more than 5-10 incumbents losing their House seats every election cycle.”Wikipedia

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We have some very interesting challenges ahead of us.  Climate change, excessive militarization, corporate capitalism, assaults on democracy and the obfuscation of legitimate information in favor of bias and distortion.  I have not even mentioned sexism, homophobia, racism, xenophobia and the decline of education and the media.  Many of the people I know think that these problems are insurmountable and that they herald the decline of America.  Some believe that they represent the decline of humanity and civilization.  Optimist or pessimist or realist, I doubt very much that we can overcome these problems if we do not have the will or desire to start dialogues that question everything.  A quote by Einstein that I much admire goes:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

EintsteinQuestionEverythingI have often been accused of being a pessimist but there is nothing about this quote that is pessimistic.  It is simply a fact that we must use our imaginations to see a different world and to believe that a different world can exist.  As long as we are stuck in the same thinking that generated our problems, we are not free to consider alternative realities.  We need more thinking about possibilities and the future.  We are bogged down with what Dr. Deming called the “problems of today.”  Deming said, “We must balance the problems of today with the problems of tomorrow.”

What if we taught our children in school to “Kill Buddha?”  What would tests look like?  What would a successful student look like?  What would schools look like?  Can you imagine students going around and killing Buddhas all over the place?  Imagine for a second if all the lawyers, doctors, politicians, and salespeople were challenged.  I suppose there are many who would be horrified at this idea.  Isn’t the role of education to teach facts and knowledge?  How would students get a job if all they knew how to do was “kill” Buddha? 

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Hope springs eternal in the human breast.  But what is hope without a plan?  We need positive direction from our leaders, but we also need more transparency and innovation on the part of our leaders.  Supporters and leaders should be in a dance together.  A dance of rhythm and harmony.  Leaders must be open and honest with their supporters and supporters must be willing to challenge their leaders at every turn and nuance that life puts forward.  There is too little dancing together today.  Demagoguery is not dancing nor are spell binding speeches excoriating the opposition. 

One has only to watch or read the political advertising to see the worst of American politics.  Political ads one after another spewing lies and misinformation about the opposition.  No one can tell what any politician stands for or what their plans are because they are so busy bashing their opponents.  Benjamin Franklin once said, ”We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”  I will paraphrase Franklin by saying, “Either Americans will all join together to destroy the problems facing us or we will all be destroyed together by these problems.”   That is the simple truth. 

 

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