As a child, I would lay for hours beneath the big cottonwood tree in the backyard, staring up into its branches and eavesdropping on the private conversations of crow and squirrel. One day, a beautiful, glistening object glided down to rest in my hand, lightweight and fragile. I gently cupped my hand around it and went inside to find my mom. “What?” she asked, without looking up from the kitchen table. I carefully opened my hand to reveal the delightful little shimmering ball inside, to which she said, “Oh, that’s just a weed … it’s from a dandelion. Take it outside, make a wish, and blow on it. Maybe something good will happen.”
I thought it the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, that wish. In my bedroom, the movement of my hands opening sent the shimmering seed upward, dancing above the bed. I made a wish, for more wishes. When it came to rest on my pink dresser, I carefully placed it in my special jar on the highest shelf.
I wasn’t good at making friends with other children, but I found companionship in the wishes that accumulated in my special jar and in the crows and squirrels who called out to me from the big cottonwood tree.
Sometimes I opened the jar and released the wishes into the room. Dancing the dream of my wishes, I forgot about my shyness and fear, and my spirit floated to a happy, magical place.
One summer day, my mom said, like it or not, I was going to camp. When the day came to board the bus, I begged to stay at home. My cries were met with admonitions of “Don’t be silly; it will be good for you. You need to make friends.” As I waited with the other campers, I caught sight of a glimmer just above my head. A wish! I reached up and grabbed it, without calling attention from the other children, and tucked it into the outside pocket of my overnight bag.
The next day, we arrived at the place where stony outcroppings created a rocky slide into a clear green pool of water. I sat down in the grassy space beside the water, explaining to the counselor that I preferred to watch; I was afraid to say I couldn’t swim. But other campers coaxed… “C’mon, don’t be a sissy! You’ll be fine!” I didn’t believe them. I knew better. It wasn’t safe.
Trembling, I eased my body into the freezing cold water, holding my breath and wrapping my arms tightly around the waist of the boy in front of me. Just then, I noticed a wish floating above the water… out of reach. As I watched the wish float up and away with the wind, the train of children began moving downward, sliding more and more quickly over the rocks. In the next instant, the boy I had been clinging to was gone. I was alone. My arms flailed wildly, grasping for anything to hold onto. My screams erupted from beneath the water; I struggled, choking and terrified, until I couldn’t struggle any more. My body floated freely, my voice mute.
Cradled by the same invisible arms that had carried me into the world, glimpses of home flashed before my eyes: my family, smiling and laughing; my dog, my books, and my jar of wishes. A bright light in the distance drew me into its warmth. I wanted to go there. I wanted to stay there.
When I awoke, I felt the warmth of stone against my cheek. I had been propped against a large rock in the sun, and my bare feet rested on the earth. I had glimpsed something extraordinary and magical and wonderful; a place that felt like home.
As I grew, so too did my jar of wishes. They appeared on gentle breezes with messages of hope whispered in my ear. Some followed me home as I ran to escape the jeers of a school bully. One wiggled its way into the pages of my favorite storybook. Another appeared on my bedspread like a twinkling light to calm my fear of darkness.
I carried the jar into adulthood, introducing my son to the magic of wishes and giving him his very own wishing jar. On the day Gram died, a wish went into his jar. Another went in on the day his papa moved away. More came as we restructured our family. We collected wishes while searching for lost kitties and going for walks. A few landed in the little white basket on the front of his bike, while others flew in his bedroom window on summer evenings.
After joyful celebrations of graduation and his passage into adulthood, my sweet boy left for college. I was alone then, really alone, for the first time in decades. Silence, which at one time had been such a comfort to me, now felt suffocating. In my grief, solitude, and loneliness, I wasn’t sure how to go on, or if I even wanted to.
Friends, concerned about my isolation, began to organize potential matches. I hated the idea of dating but I went along, reluctantly. One afternoon, I arrived to meet a tall, handsome, dark-haired man who “would be a perfect partner,” according to the well-intentioned matchmaker. He was so engrossed in a loud telephone conversation that he nearly ran me over in the restaurant lobby. “Be right with you, honey,” he said.
I knew I should go right then, but before I could take a step toward the door, in one broad gesture he dropped his phone on the table, threw his arm around my shoulders, and swooped in to kiss me on the mouth. I was stunned. Despite his boorish manner, a fondness stirred within me as he regaled me with stories of his brilliant musical career, his awards and travels and adventures. He recognized me as a member of his “tribe,” he said. I assumed that meant he was spiritual.
I dreamt of him that night and awakened with a jumble of feelings and a dull ache in my belly. When he came calling the next day, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He noted my ability to really “see” him; I noted that something about him felt familiar, like family.
Within weeks, I had fallen completely in love. I was charmed by his laugh, his sharp wit, his talent, and the fierceness of our lovemaking. I began to abandon my life at home in order to inhabit his world; I changed plans to be with him, cheered at his performances and giggled at his boyish antics. I naively accepted his infidelities as evidence of his broken spirit, and I believed him when he assured me he was working to heal that fractured part of himself.
A few months into the relationship, in a brief moment of clarity, I realized I had begun to lose myself in him, to disconnect from things and people who had once been so important to me. Tending to his broken spirit was breaking mine.
One morning, as we lay, bodies entwined and speaking in whispers, I bravely opened my heart wide and blurted out my deepest desire: “I want your presence and your partnership.” I told him I wanted to get close enough to explore every inch of each other, inside and out. “I want your commitment,” I told him, “and I want your devotion.”
Saying those words aloud felt so liberating and exhilarating. But he pushed away from me, wide-eyed and speechless. Soon his words began tumbling out, tentative at first but with a tinge of what sounded like anger. He loved me, he said, more than he had ever loved anyone but, still, he wasn’t certain that a life with me would be the most interesting adventure of all. He asked me to be patient, to stay and support his process of self-discovery; he said he’d like to marry me someday. I vowed to stay, to accept him, and he praised me for my openheartedness.
One winter morning, watching a beautiful leaf from the big maple outside his bedroom gliding gently to earth, I was overcome by a feeling of deep contentment. The veil of sadness covering my spirit seemed to lift a little as the sun streamed into the bedroom window. In the months to come, we spent long hours talking about the life we could build together, traveling together, planning our future. Those were moments of intoxicating happiness for me, and it was easy to associate the brightness of my spirit with the person in whose arms I lay.
When we weren’t together, though, I began to feel anxious and unsettled again. It became more and more difficult to overlook his leering at other women, to keep up the pretense of partnership. Driving home one rainy afternoon, I was overcome with deep sadness. Through my tears, I didn’t see the car stop abruptly in front of me. The crash was deafening. I couldn’t catch my breath. The woman from the other car pounded on my window, screaming for me to get out.
Sobbing and shaken, I stood beside the smoldering wreck of my car, pondering the shuddering wreck of my life. The paramedics said I should not be alone that night, so I called my love from the tow truck, explaining what had happened. “Sweetie, I’m so sorry,” he said. “Can you call a friend?” he said. “Mary and I have already rescheduled once,” he said. “I’ll call you in the morning,” he said. “I love you,” he said.
The tow-truck driver dropped me in front of my house, where I made my way to my favorite fir tree and collapsed there. In the pouring rain, I cried out God and Goddess, angels and ancestors, begging them to quiet the chaos of my heart.
There was no turning back after the crash. When he called the next day, my voice erupted with passion, venting months of stored up disappointment and rage, confusion and sadness. I told him how his emotional abandonment and selfishness had worn away at my self esteem and caused me to doubt myself, how it had eroded my trust in me and in him.
“I showed you who I was from the beginning and you refused to accept me! I loved you more than anyone, but it wasn’t enough!” he screamed, and hung up. He was right; he had shown me who he was, in so many ways. I had refused to see him, and he didn’t have the capacity to see me. His version of love felt so familiar, like home, but there was no hope of redemption there. The object of my desire, the man I regarded as beloved, was just another version of the mother who shamed me; a hungry ghost feeding endlessly on the energy with which I showered him; a broken, frightened little boy in a grown man’s body.
He was the star, the prince in my fairy tale of idealized love; a brilliant, beautiful catalyst for my awareness and healing.
I reached into my pocket for a tissue and found a crumpled wish. Holding it gently, I climbed to the high shelf where my jar of wishes sat, neglected for years. Carefully carrying the jar down and dusting if off, I opened the lid and blew lightly to release the wishes into the room. I waved my arms and began to dance, closing my eyes, conjuring distant memories of expectancy and hope.
I danced for a long time, and gradually clarity danced along with me. It was time to accept what my heart had known all along, to reconnect with the magical, wise little girl within. In the months that followed, amid oceans of tears, I discovered the core of my own inner strength and wisdom. I left behind notions of fairy tale princes and princesses, of true love and happily ever after, and I began to assemble the pieces of myself that had long been scattered. I met and embraced the little girl who had been the keeper of my wishes and dreams, the one who so desperately needed protection and who sought it in all the wrong places.
I learned to draw on my own inner resources to protect her, and to assure her that she would never be abandoned again. And, finally, she and I began to walk in the world as one.
Ever since I was a child, my wishes, those gentle messengers of spirit, had offered me glimpses of my own divinity and illuminated the deepest knowing of my heart. Their sacred purpose had been revealed in the expectancy of a little girl who needed to believe in her voice long before it arrived, and in the hope of a grownup girl whose longing for love eventually led her back to the hearth of her own heart.
Armed with a reservoir of gratitude that had, at last, grown stronger than my fear, and with a wish tucked in my pocket, I took my first tentative steps toward the greatest adventure of all: a love affair with my own mythic journey.