As children, we spend a lot of time wishing.
We make wishes on pennies, in wishing wells, on shooting stars, on wishbones and when we blow out the candles on our birthday cakes. These wishes we make in secret, knowing that if we tell them to anyone, they won’t come true. Those are the rules.
At Christmastime, we go to the mall and sit on Santa’s knee and wish for presents. But these wishes are different: they are ephemeral and fleeting. They lack the resonance of those private wishes that we make to ourselves.
For as long as I can remember, my wish was always the same: I wished to be happy.
As young as age seven, this wish seemed to me to be the only logical choice. Over the years, I considered on many occasions wishing for something else, but I always reached the same conclusion: all I really wanted was to be happy. If I was happy, I reasoned, it wouldn’t matter if I had all the toys that I wanted or if I became a professional ballerina. It wouldn’t matter if I had a horse or if Jim Elliott, a boy on my school bus, had a crush on me. If I was happy, nothing else would be important.
If this wish seems exceedingly pragmatic for a seven year-old, it is even more so for a teenager. But as I moved through my teenage years and struggled with my lack of popularity, my reputation, my grades and my parents, I held fast to my wish. I partied, drank too much and sought comfort in teenaged boyfriends who, like me, had none to spare. Happiness became more elusive; still, I never turned my back on it. When the numbers on my digital alarm clock read 11:11, I wished my wish as doggedly as ever.
When I moved into adulthood, my wish faded into the background. I forged ahead and pursued my undergraduate and graduate degrees, invested in my career and moved from one city to another in pursuit of opportunities for advancement. I was happy, for the most part, and busy with the goings on of an adult life. I had all but forgotten about my wish.
Then, this past summer, I went on a weekend hiking trip with my partner, my cousin and a close family friend who was visiting from out of town. I decided to take them up a mountain, located an hour or so north of the city and up a logging road. As we settled into our tent that night, the sky was clear and full of stars. We lay awake for a while with the door of the tent open and watched the night sky. One after another, I counted four shooting stars. Instinctively, though years had passed, my wish returned to me.
I realized that, throughout my lifetime, my wish has become my compass. Every now and then it surfaces unexpectedly, irrespective of the day-to-day happenings of my life, to offer a reminder of what is most important. Remarkably consistent, it has shaped my decisions and my chosen path.
Faced with any decision, I need only ask myself: “Will this make me happy?” My heart always knows the answer; it’s listening that takes courage.
Author: Ngaio Hotte
Editor: Travis May
Photos: Author’s Own