Make a Wish

It was June of 1997. My favorite place on the riverbank. “C’mon, smile for me,” my boyfriend said. I lifted the sides of my mouth. Some of the tension ebbed away. It was hard to be upset when I was here. I had moved into my own place by then, but he wouldn’t let me go. Relationships are work, he’d say. Over and over. His fingers digging into my shoulder.

The following year. Same place, same season. That boyfriend now banished from my life. Banished, but now obsessed. His grip on reality had completely shredded. I saved the incoherent threats that he left on my answering machine. Just in case they were needed as evidence. I would soon be leaving for Arizona. A safer place. The turmoil in my heart. The river’s voice telling me, Go. You will be back one day. I will be here. Always.

The sound of footsteps and voices behind me. I turned to look. A couple stood there. The woman had her arms wrapped around herself. Her eyes were wide and terrified as she looked all around her. She gasped when she saw me. “Aren’t you scared to be out here all alone?”

I smiled and shook my head. “No.”

A spasm seized her face. Fear mingled with contempt. They moved on without another word.

I smiled again, to myself. And whispered, “No.”

Spring’s awakening softens into summer’s daydream. I melt into the warm soil. Summer is lushness, indolence. I used to believe that people who preferred summer over all other seasons lacked personality. It’s the easiest season to love. But this year, I allow myself that guilty pleasure. Luxuriate in every precious day. All too soon it will be finished.

Why is it that we so often make things more difficult than they need to be? Who made up the rule that only that which comes from struggle is valuable?

I now live in my little cabin. I walk softly within these walls. Sweep my gaze and run my hands over the work I’ve done. Cosmetic work, but still arduous. The dark-stained ceiling and the whitewashed shiplap walls. Yes, I really did all of that. Yes, this paradise is really mine. My mother unearths a couple of storage tubs from her garage. The things I’d saved before I moved away all those years ago. I find the black and white photo of me by the river. My mother had it framed. I hold it in my hands for a long while. If I hadn’t been driven away, I wouldn’t have had the incredible life I’ve had. The nineteen years with Monsieur Riso. The travels. The most important thing that I’ve learned: if life is putting up roadblocks, stop trying to tear them down. Take the detours. Go.

Summer. That feeling of passing through the gateway to Heaven on Earth.

A night, I lie awake and watch the forest lights outside my window. Sharp flickers of lightning, like knife slashes. The languid blinking of fireflies. Eerie, drifting beacons inviting me into the night’s mystery.

In late June, a robin builds a nest in my bedroom window. At first, she fails. The material she gathers falls to the ground. I try to help, first opening the window a little more, then closing it. Finally she succeeds. The eggs hatch. If I stand on tiptoes, I can see the little beaks poking out of the nest. Tiny, shrill voices emanate from within. The male robin stands guard in the trees. If I get too close to the window, he flies towards me, his neck feathers raised in outrage.

One afternoon, the parents are absent. I walk to the window, startling one of the babies. It flies out of the nest and lands on the ground. It does not move. My heart withers. I go outside and stand over it. It stares upwards. If I come too close, it opens its beak as if to bite me. I lift my eyes to the trees. Where are you, parents? I look down again. Leave it alone. You’re not helping it by helping it. It has to learn how to survive. Let it go.

In the other world, people gather, high on reclaimed freedom. I retreat to the trails. My heart once again battered. My mind a maelstrom. The same lesson comes back to haunt us. Different incarnations of the same phantom. We only ever harm ourselves by the choices we make. Others cannot hurt us without our decision to let them in.

Feel how you damn well feel like feeling. Feel it all. The deluge. The ebb. The exhaustion. Walk it off, is what coaches often tell you when you injure yourself. Mud-splattered legs, soggy shoes. We never truly get over anything. Do we?

I look at the ground. My heart stops. A raven feather lies by the side of the trail. I bend over to pick it up. A single croak is released from the treetops. I look up and whisper, “Thank you.”

I move along, twirling the feather. We process, assimilate, shift. Alter our behavior. For better or worse. We teach ourselves how to survive.

Every hike is a story. The twists and turns and ups and downs of the trail. The chance encounters with animals I’ve only seen dead in the middle of the road. I stop and observe. The porcupine. The baby skunk. They scuttle along, indifferent to my presence.

I pass by lotus-filled lakes and tannin-stained streams. Through forests of pine and hardwood. Until I get to the end. Even though the view is different on the way back, it somehow always seems shorter.

I gather serenity from the wilderness and build a sanctuary of my presence. Stand guard. Until I can discern who is worthy, no one is getting in. In the deepest, darkest corner of my labyrinth, I corner the oldest of phantoms. It looms over me. No matter how many lost souls you try to heal with your love, it won’t make up for not having saved your father. I shake my head and sigh. It’s not my job, anymore. It never has been. The time has come for you to go.

August. I write by the light of a sun tinted by the smoke of distant wildfires. A coppery light that further dilutes the boundaries of memory.

It was last summer, around this time, that I crossed paths with some little girls on the trail that runs behind my property. They came out of the woods next to the meadow, flowers in their hair and sticks in their grasp. I recognized that look in their eyes. All feral mischief. Were they pretending to be fairies or witches or squaws as I used to do when I was their age? What spells had they just finished casting to the sky? What incantations had they composed and sung to the trees? They walked up to me and introduced themselves and said they were part of another family that had owned a cottage here since the time of my grandpa.

“I used to play out here, too, when I was your age.”

“We know,” the older one said.

They headed towards their cottage and I headed up the path. I had reached the middle of the meadow when I saw the hearts. They were etched in the trail every few steps.

Deep breath. Close your eyes. Open your heart. Make a wish and let it go. The dreamy drift of a bloom’s dissolution. Such beauty now in pieces. Transported on a breath – a breath not taken away, but unleashed without reservation. A passionate dissemination of new possibilities. Now: surrender to the mystery. Wishes are always granted, but not always in the form you expect. A gentle tumble into fertile soil. Earth’s soft embrace. And it all begins again.

And so I wish to stop wishing.

And so it comes to pass.

And so I discover that I already have everything I’ve ever wanted.

41 thoughts on “Make a Wish

  1. “I gather serenity from the wilderness and build a sanctuary of my presence.” I will be taking this thought with me in the days ahead, as I contemplate the hearts on the road. Symbolism is everywhere, and stories find their way along the path. A wonderful reflection, Julie. Thank you.

    • Yes, we are surrounded by symbolism. All we need to do is allow ourselves to see it. I needed to see that “path of hearts” at that very moment. And the raven feather by the side of the road. Nothing is random. Thank you, Rebecca.💖

  2. I re-read so many bits of this over again – for their beauty, to better understand – and this one because it resonates so – “I gather serenity from the wilderness and build a sanctuary of my presence. Stand guard. Until I can discern who is worthy, no one is getting in. In the deepest, darkest corner of my labyrinth, I corner the oldest of phantoms. It looms over me. No matter how many lost souls you try to heal with your love, it won’t make up for not having saved your father. I shake my head and sigh. It’s not my job, anymore. It never has been. The time has come for you to go.” Oh yes! xxx

  3. I am so happy with the last finding. I have the suspicion that in modern movies children and teens are not so apathic as they are portrayed, but as I see in my neighborhood and relatives they are happy to play, run and, these days here, to fly kites. Although the cycle has its bad parts though sadly, for example that about us as boys, to know when to just leave another one to go her own path. Precisely the other day I was reading a title of a video I did not watch, I think it was from Osho, “All I learned in my life came from a river.” Thanks, amiga, I know the joy to touch something we made. Greetings : )

    • It made me so happy to see those girls playing as I used to in the days before video games and internet. I would have loved to hang out with them in the woods. 🙂 Sending you smiles from the north, amigo. Take care.

  4. You always carry so much wisdom with you. I too am learning to stop wishing. If it happens, it happens. If not. That is how it is. But, I’ll continue to do the work whatever the results. I too feel that “every hike is a story.” There’s so much more to learn as we keep opening our hearts and minds. Wishing you a very lovely conclusion to your simple summer of pleasure.

    • If it’s wisdom, it’s hard-won. Haha. We hear so much about letting go of attachment to outcome. But it’s not something we can learn from a book or teacher, or at least I was never able to. There just comes a time when it simply becomes the only option left. May the rest of your summer be filled with adventures.💚

  5. Hello Julie,
    I had to take more than a few moments to read (and re-read) this and it is so powerful each time. I feel strength, wisdom, beauty, vulnerability…growth from this ongoing journey. And I love the robin’s nest (this must be the robin’s nest you had mentioned on the other day, when you stopped by my blog!) and each scene that you have shared with us.

    Wishing you a safe, peaceful and blessed remainder of the summer.

    • Thank you so very much, Takami. Yes that is the robin I mentioned. I’m honored that they chose my window. 😊 May the rest of your summer be delightful. 💕

  6. Hi Julie, this is a most interesting post. Often things happen in our lives that, at the time, seem terrible and insurmountable, but they strengthen us and often lead to better things. Walking in nature certainly helps bring serenity.

    • Hi Roberta – remembering that time helps to remind me to let go of futile situations. Something better awaits. Something better is already here, in fact. This serenity is priceless. 💚

  7. This post is full of wisdom, mystery, and reflection Julie. The photos are beautiful and I’m glad you’re finding ways to fill up with serenity, but sorry you feel the need to guard yourself. Thank you for sharing your tender heart.

  8. If we could only come to that realisation sooner, Julie. Would it save us all that angst? Would we be the same people? And what would we do with all that time we’d been angsting? If I could flip a switch I’d stop angsting tomorrow. But would I be the same person?.

    • Such good questions, Jo. I doubt we’d be able to truly appreciate serenity if it didn’t come after a lot of angst. I guess the angst builds character. Haha. But I’m at the point where I’m done with the angst. Enough is enough. 🙂

  9. I’m reading this on a day when this morning I was confronted with two things that got me thinking about my future: one is regarding work, and another one is more of my personal life. I remember when I was a college student, one of my friends told me that I was a kind of person who was content with myself, not thinking too much of what the future holds. But fast forward to now, many years since that conversation, I have pretty much changed. I want things, I have wishes, and when life is putting up roadblocks, sometimes I feel frustrated and helpless. You remind me that I can always take a detour. Thanks Julie.

    • It’s normal to feel frustrated and helpless when the things we want just can’t seem to work out, despite our best efforts. Whenever that happens – whether it’s one facet of life such as a job or relationship, or everything falling apart – I remember what happened all those years ago when I had no choice but to say, “I give up” and let life happen. It has always, eventually worked out for the better. You will find your way, Bama. 🙂

  10. “I discover that I already have everything I’ve ever wanted” – serenity, good to know you have come home and found it, Julie. I envy your proximity to water. It’s an oft used quote but I still love it: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
    I am pleased you have a robin as a neighbour 🙂 It is only recently that I found out that the American robin is quite different in appearance from the UK variety – both handsome chaps though 😀
    All the best, R

    • Love that quote. Maybe it’s oft used, but it’s the first time I’ve read it. There’s just something about rivers.

      I was honored to provide shelter for those robins. They’ve all gone now. But I’ve read they often build nests in the same place every year. We’ll see. Yes, all robins are handsome. 🙂

  11. “Now: surrender to the mystery. Wishes are always granted, but not always in the form you expect.” Isn’t it always thus. I have learned from yrs of angsting to finally let it be easy. It has become a mantra. Let it be easy.
    I’ve not stopped wishing, but I’ve stopped having the wishing create discontent.
    I love the hearts.
    I so enjoyed this journey you took us on.
    We live we learn we evolve. If we’re lucky.
    Alison ❤️

  12. I love the idea of detouring around our road blocks instead of ramming up against them over and over again. I almost picture it as water finding its way, letting ourselves soften and liquefy enough to swirl left or right with no (or at least less) resistance. Allowing rather than trying – something I am working on myself – reflected in that image and in your final lines. I’m so happy to read that you continue to be content with your new (old?) world, and I love the story of the young girls and their hearts and their appearance when you needed them. Enjoy the rest of your summer, Julie!

    • That’s really a perfect way to think of it:water. It’s not easy to stop forcing and just flow, especially for those of us who were taught to work hard for everything. Thank you, Lexie. Have a beautiful rest of the summer, yourself. 🙂

  13. “if life is putting up roadblocks, stop trying to tear them down. Take the detours. Go.” I love that line, Julie. But more so, I love the contentment that sifts through your words here. Beautiful reflections and beautiful photos.

  14. Wow! Finding hearts along the paths of our lives, and in return that seems to be a life lesson, to give ourselves our hearts to others ..!💖😊

  15. Ma chère Julie. Encore un beau texte de paix. “Tales of a little cabin”. Of robins and paradise and feathers and little girls and rivers… (Just saw the Seine in July-August. I took a photo especially for you. You can e-mail me at brieuc.martin.onraet@gmail.com , I’ll send it to you)
    About saving souls and your father… You can’t save anybody. My little sister took her own life a long while back. I was concerned about her state of mind. Even talked to her shrink. I couldn’t read the signs then. But even if I could, I probably could not have saved her. All we can do is try. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
    Back to wishes. You do write well, and deep. I think I too “already have everything I’ve ever wanted.” But stop wishing? I don’t think I’ve reached that level of enlightenmnent yet. 😉 (Asia still lures me)
    I like the tone of your last posts. Peace. At last?
    Toutes mes félicitations pour la cabane. 🙏🏻
    Bises ma grande

    • Mon chér Brian. Merci. Oui c’est un ti paradis dans le foret. 😊I am grateful every day when I open my eyes. Et oui we can only save our own self. Peace, yes, most of the time now. But some turmoil is necessary to remind me to be grateful. I’m so proud of myself for getting to this place.

      I have your email and will contact you soon.
      Bises back.

      • I am proud of you too. Beyond happy that you got yourself this place. You may go back to wandering one day, who knows. But you now have a place to go back to. Yours and only yours.
        Look forward to your mail. I will put the picture in a safe place. Might ring a bell for you.
        Biz.

  16. Julie, your writing is exquisite, from the heart and taking me with you. You sound at peace in your life and I’m so happy for you. Like you I find sanctuary and peace in nature. And I try not to rush and wish too much, preferring to let life flow. Sending you much love from down under. xx

  17. Ahh. It almost slipped through but I always look and notice, even if late. So beautiful, everything, words and images too. And memories, and your wish, and the discovery. Thank you especially for showing us the first image. You could build a life on such a picture, and in a way you have.

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