Four months ago I was reminded of the innocence and beauty that surrounds us, and how being caught up in the busyness of my life, I’m often immune to its energy. We live in a quaint little pocket of Toronto just north of the eastern beach. Like many people in big cities, we have a postage-sized front garden that serves as a little oasis. Our little front garden took on an entirely different meaning this spring when I suddenly found myself on an extended medical leave from work in order to deal with some effects of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD).
Facing huge blocks of free time became increasingly distressful as it became quickly apparent that as the result of the PTSD, I was unable to concentrate, and therefore, reading and writing were next to impossible. I spent many mornings and afternoons sitting on our front porch watching the world go by; neighbors heading off to work, dog walkers pounding the pavement, and parents walking their children to and from school. I felt like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window transfixed to the intricate tableau unfolding in front of me.
One morning a little girl and her father stopped in front of our garden, and the little girl reached into a make-shift concrete bird bath that we had at the front of our garden. She reached in and took one of the ornamental stones out, and her father saw me sitting on our porch, so he scolded his daughter and told her “she should stay out of people’s gardens." The little girl turned to her father and said: “Mommy lets me do this every day. It’s my wishing bowl. Every day I take a stone out and make a wish.”
I thought this was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard, so I decided to latch onto this idea. I searched around the basement for a piece of old wood to use to make a sign, but all I could find was an old wooden cheese board. I grabbed the board and a Sharpie marker and fashioned a little sign to place beside the old bird bath.
Take a stone out to make a wish….
Place a stone in to let go of a problem.
To be honest with you, my only motivation for doing this was to see the expression on the little girl’s face the next time she walked by our garden. What I didn’t expect was the reaction our wishing bowl would have on our little community. As people were rushing by on their way to work, school, or the store, they would stop and read the little sign, and then they would smile, reach down, and take a stone out of the bowl. Within a week, people were bringing stones from god knows where to place into the bowl to “let go of a problem”. Our little wishing bowl with a few decorative stones was now overflowing with pebbles and rocks from the community. If you sit on our front porch, you will always see people stopping at the wishing bowl. The most surprising thing for me has been the reaction of the groups of teenagers who parade past our house every day on the way to and from the high school down the street. Teenagers love the wishing bowl, and they don’t look embarrassed doing it in front of their friends. There is one elderly man who stops by every morning and takes a rock out and carries it with him for the day. On his way home, he drops another rock off to the wishing bowl. Last week a father stopped to tell me that his kids love the wishing bowl, and he said it reminds him to slow down and appreciate the world through the wonder of his children’s eyes.
Obviously there was a need for more wishing in our community. Before writing this, I starting thinking about the difference between the words “wish” and “hope”. We tend to use these words interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference. A “hope” refers to a person’s desires, and it is attached to strong emotion with the expectation that something is doable with a little effort. For instance, I “hope I pass my chemistry exam.” Whereas a “wish” is often associated with magic or a strong yearning. We make a wish when we blow out birthday candles, wish on an eyelash, or even read about Aladdin’s three wishes. For me, wishes are boundless, and they are magic in that they are not steeped in typical adult pessimism. As I embark on my year of transformation and quest for a life of authenticity, I’m going to start “wishing” more and “hoping” less. If this means going against the grain, choosing to live a life of magic and optimism that borders on naivety at times, then so be it. Our little wishing bowl is not just a neighborhood novelty, it’s a metaphor for a more joyous way of life.”