Longings of the human heart

A year ago, Alice and I were in Calgary on one of our almost annual pilgrimages to Western Canada, which over the years has rapaciously swallowed four of our five children. It was decided that the Science Centre would be a good place to visit, right after we spent some time in the Calgary Zoo with its new penguin exhibition.

The Science Centre provided entertainment of a different sort. Although I am interested in the various displays, I was drawn to an exhibit that seemed out of place in a science centre. It was the Wish Tree. Dozens of messages had been suspended from the branches of the Tree. I decided to record several. What I found was that every wish represented a human story, in some cases a human drama. Very few of the wishes were as trivial or foolish as the one that read “My wish is to get all I want.” Maybe that wish is representative of how our consumer society acts in disregard of true human needs and sensitive earth care, but it is a foolish wish nevertheless. If we get all we want, we are doomed to extinction.

But almost all the other wishes were more focused and more heartfelt. What story do you think lies behind “I wish I could kiss my Mom and Dad”? What kind of separation between the child and the parents is represented here? Or what story lies behind the one that read: “I wish my Dad was still alive”? The sense of loss is more clearly indicated in the latter wish. The child’s father is totally out of reach. There is a deep sense of longing and pain in evidence here.

Within the same category of child and parents there is the message: “I wish my Mom and Dad would stop fighting.” This statement should act as an alarm to all parents who express their anger and frustration at each other without regard for their children’s welfare. Fighting parents are the demons in a child’s world of imagination and desire for peace and security.

One more “parent-oriented” note: “I wish Dad would not stress about work and life.” Out of the mouth of children comes the wisdom that the father lacks.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air. . . .”

Here are some of the other wishes I recorded while my grandchildren were eagerly exploring the world of science:

I wish the world was a happier place.
I wish cancer was non-existent.
I wish my Mom would take care of herself and get better and stay out of the hospital.
I wish I had the courage to follow my intuitions.
I wish that Nathan would stop eating everything.
I wish the world would not be so judgmental.
I wish to have eternal life.
I wish people would stop hovering and interfering with children playing.
I wish no one would ever drink and drive.
I wish for inner peace.

Each wish carries the desire of a hurting human being, some of them perhaps young, some of them middle-aged, some of them old. But the drama of life is honestly portrayed here. I was surprised at the willingness of people to state their inner longings. The list of wishes could become a source of inspiration for those who like to write stories.
I have saved one last wish for the end of my editorial. It stood out from all the others because it did not express a personal longing. It came from a grateful heart overflowing with love for others. It seemed to me the most Christ-like of them all: “I wish everyone could have a family like I do.”

Of course, as a writer and grammarian I ask myself, does the person mean “I wish everyone could have a family like the one I have?” Or does she wish that “everyone could have a family, just like I have a family?” I am choosing the grammatically incorrect version, which is the most likely one intended: “I wish everyone could have a family like the one I have.”

  • Bert Witvoet is a former educator and editor of various magazines, including the Christian Courier, who lives with his wife, Alice, in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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