Haven’t you ever wished on a star? When I was little, I would stand by the window and scan the darkening sky for that first faint point of light. Even now, at twilight I often glance upward and whisper the magic of that little rhyme…
Truly, there seems to be a magical quality about wishes. We raise our glasses and wish that our loved ones prosper in health and happiness. We wish for success or good weather or decent seats on an airplane, or, for that matter, a flight that won’t be cancelled at the last minute. Like my grandchildren, I close my eyes and think hard before blowing out birthday candles. And in Rome didn’t I toss a coin into the Fountain of Trevi, over my shoulder, even?
Threw coin in fountain
Under bright blue Roman skies
While grown children smiled.
Where would we be without something to wish for? A wish actually means, ‘If only…” and isn’t ‘if’ bread and butter to an artist? Show creative types a blank canvas or a bland-looking piece of fabric and watch eyes get that far-away look which might translate to:. “If I put a purple mountain there and a bright orange waterfall here…” or, “This fabric would really come alive if I sew it to a slash of crimson velvet…”
Writers rely on the ‘if’ factor, too. Faced with a deadline and a lackluster plot, what wordsmith hasn’t eyed the offending script and muttered, “ If only this beastly thing would come together!” Then, later in the day…”Wait a minute! If I ditch the hero and move the whole thing to Istanbul, what would happen?” Aha!
In many parts of the world, wishing is a national past-time. Take Japan for instance, where, sometime between July and August (dates vary), a festival called Tanabata is celebrated. This is a romantic event dedicated to Vega and Altair, or Orihime and Hikoboshi as these celestial bodies are called in that part of the world. It’s believed that these two stars are lovers separated by the Milky Way, and that, once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, they are allowed to meet. Their dearest wish comes true only once a year, so down on earth people mark the occasion by making wishes of their own.
When I was young, Tanabata was great fun. A few days before the festival I would begin roaming around my Aunt Francine’s back garden, making a nuisance of myself until I found the perfect bamboo branch. After that I would cut colored paper into shapes and write a wish on each of them. When every possible wish was thought about, discussed and recorded, I would tie the slips of paper to the bamboo branch.
Adults decorated bamboo branches, too, often writing wish-poems that were literary and serious. My own wishes were for toys or books or practical matters: I remember wishing— without much success—for good marks on my math test. After it was fully decorated, my mother set my bamboo branch in her tallest vase so that it could be admired by the whole family. Then, on the night of Tanabata, my parents, uncles and aunts would accompany me to the sea shore where we tossed the bamboo into the waves and watched it sail away under a star-filled sky.
On a silver sea,
Carrying a child’s wishes
To the summer stars.