Today is my birthday, and my wife has promised me there will be a cake in my near future, candles included. I have never been a formal wish-maker, and so, once a year, when presented with the requirement to do so, I usually panic. The first wish I remember making was on my sixth birthday. This was in 1971, and my knowledge of the world beyond my house and school was that there was a war being fought in a place called Vietnam and that this war was bad and grownups around the country were arguing about it. When I saw those candles burning, and all eyes at the party turned to me for the moment of truth, I thought, “I wish for the end of war.” I wanted to be a good person, you see, and that seemed like what a good person would wish for. In this way, it never felt like an authentic wish, and so I could not take much credit when the war finally did end a few years later. I don’t remember a single other birthday wish I have ever made, so I can’t say whether any of them have come true or not.
I do remember standing by a wishing well about ten years ago when my writing career seemed to be all rejection. I tossed a penny in, and thought, “I wish for . . . success. I guess.” I felt as hopeless tossing that penny in the well as I did sending out query letters. Strangely, I felt about that wish for success exactly as I had about my wish for the end of war. It was as if I was making someone else’s wish. Didn’t I want success? What was wrong with me?
But now that I think of it, my brother moved to Los Angeles last fall, and a couple months ago I told my wife, “I want to visit John, but I wish there was a place I could speak while I was down there. Combine business and pleasure, you know?” Two weeks later I received an invitation to speak in Ventura County, about an hour north of my brother’s new digs.
They say that birthday wishes must be kept private. I believe this is accurate. In fact, the more private the wish is kept the better. You see, despite what I had told my wife about speaking near Los Angeles, even I didn’t understand that I had made a wish until it came true.
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