Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
November 2007 - Volume 07, No. 8
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The Third Wish

I consider myself fortunate that when I was growing up, my parents read stories to us children. This was before the days of television (at least in our home), and so the primary media were radio, records (the 78rpm kind), and books - literally hundreds of books. And from each medium in my childhood household, came stories, lots of stories - from Loretta Young reading "The Littlest Angel" on a cherished 78 record, to the classic story programs on university radio station WOI, Ames, Iowa, each Saturday morning as I cleaned my room. (The memory of dust under my bedsprings and those stories are inextricably mingled.)

My Dad was a Methodist preacher, so he knew the power of the old stories. And my mother, from her English childhood, also knew the 'old home' of myth and legend. She later developed her story-telling art to the point where, in her later days, she traveled all over the State of Iowa as a recognized virtuoso of her craft.

So I grew up hearing the stories, the old stories, lots of them. And much of who I am today was formed by the patterns of those oft-told tales.

One theme or motif that keeps popping up in those tales is the gift of three wishes.

The stories involve someone from the otherworld (perhaps an elf, or genie, or the Lord himself) granting three wishes in response to a good deed or as part of a bargain. The recipient (or sometimes the recipient's wife) then carelessly uses up the first two wishes, leaving the remaining third wish as necessary to undo the carelessness. (cf. many of The Grimm Brothers stories, and also Aladdin.) The pattern is that (at least) the first two parts of the gift are always wasted.

The 'lesson' of these stories has to do with the rash and foolish waste of life's opportunities leading to regretful results in the end. A modern-day example could be people who win the lottery and end up in bankruptcy. Also there is the common aphorism, be careful what you wish for.....

An adaptation I use sometimes in my client work is that the third wish is still now before us. The first two were squandered in anger, foolishness, self-centeredness, wastefulness, hoarding, immaturity, victimhood, perhaps even innocence. All we have left is one final wish - upon which everything now depends. An old Sufi saying puts it succinctly:

"We have three days left to live and two are gone."

There are those who have squandered all three wishes, and now all that is left is the original gift of life granted at birth, with no additional benefits. Or, there are those who have squandered the first two wishes, and the only one left is that upon which the rest of life is dependent. It's virtually the same story each way. The time of squandering must now be over. (And the popular spiritual myth of perpetually unfolding possibility and prosperity here begins to show itself as a false god. Yes, there really are limits.)

One client of mine sees his adult life now as (literally) two thirds over. The first and second times each involved a different and specific professional identity. Now looms the question of how to form and live that most important third phase - his true life. It's not an easy question, except for the temptation to ignore it and let his previous life just "run on" until his end. But the reason he's working with me is because he somehow knows better than to evade this question.

This is not only true for those who have already passed middle age. The real meaning of this "third wish" can come to us at any age. And the lessons of the "three wishes" stories are valid for whomever has the ears to hear.

Many folk, especially in my part of the country, are finding economically that they have "run out" already. The "three wishes" gift from trusting General Motors, or whatever beneficent god, has run its course. What remains, no longer allows us a casual wish or careless decision.

The Third Wish is a demanding power to be reckoned with - a difficult and pivotal time in which to live. And, in many ways, it can become the time of our "true life" - when the fuller meaning of our life and its purpose is finally broken open. So, I encourage you, like the old stories teach us, to

pay attention!

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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