It’s an old, familiar, childhood question. If you had just one wish, and you knew it would come true…
It’s a genie question, hovering in smoke, the answer thought-whispered over snuffed out candles, wispy and curling. Just once, it was a question of Biblical proportions, only God posed it differently, to a young king: Ask me for whatever you want.
Tonight, Zoe reads the question aloud, off a playing card, sliding her thumb against the edge. If I had one wish and I knew it would come true…what would I wish for? We’re supposed to guess her answer; that’s the game. I watch her lift the pencil quickly, bowing her head. She has thought about this before. A stream of soft-spun flaxen strands slips from behind her ear, dangling loose over her forehead as she writes.
As a child, the possible answers to this question always far exceeded the number of my wishes. There were the obvious things: wealth, fame, no homework for the rest of my life, invisibility. I was smart; I learned to ask for unlimited wishes. But Zoe is not really a child anymore. It’s that time of year; I watch her walk in a room and see her as she once was, always those same beautiful eyes as wide and blue as a stormy sky, as deep as the seas, but back then, the round, downy cheeks; the purposeful baby stride that made us all smile; hair like a crown of pale feathers. Over the years, God has stretched her more than one way. Back then, her spirit overflowed the boundaries of her diminutive stature, bubbling over, rushing forth. It still does, but she’s more careful now to reign it in, to cloak her expressions, to modulate her voice and choose her words just right. I suppose I understand that part of her uniquely.
The pencil smacks the table as Zoe throws it down, decidedly, but I’m still thinking. It will not be something small, her answer. She looks around the table, but those eyes, they’re sealed. I sit back, remembering the feel of her in my arms, the sound of her sobs, the way her voice once broke over the words I wish. I wish I did not have diabetes. I wish there was a cure. I wish I thought I would ever not have to be that. The older we get, the more our true answers to that question–the first, unfiltered things we wish for–expose our shattered spaces. She would write something different, something more acceptable and understood, if it weren’t just us around the table. At least, that’s what I think.
I look down at my paper and pick up the pencil. A cure for diabetes, I write, feeling sure of myself. My mom smiles, rubbing her knotted hand over her forehead. Dad sits back, finished. Kevin slides his pencil away from the page, satisfied. Riley laughs, a jagged sound that purposefully rips through the silence. “How bout that, Adam Jones,” she asks, gesturing toward her paper. He flicks her ear, smiling broadly. “Yes.” They’re playing on a team; he’s happy not to have to think of something to write.
“Well?” Zoe says, her eyes glimmering.
We read off our answers.
“If Zoe had one wish, what I would say is that she would wish to go to Harry Potter World. She likes Harry Potter,” Riley says.
“No more diabetes,” I say. My tone adds an of course that I don’t put into words.
“Puppy,” Kevin says with certainty. Oooh. He might be right. She has always wanted a puppy, shows us pictures all the time of fuzzy, droopy-eared animals. “Come on, you know you think they’re cute,” she says, as though this will convince us to get one.
“To get to sleep late,” Mom says, still smiling. It’s true, having to get up early makes Zoe groan and cover her head with the sheets.
“To have a happy life.” Because, who doesn’t wish just to be happy?
“Well…..you’re all wrong,” Zoe says slowly.
What could it be? I’m thinking. She picks up the paper, rolling it in her fingers.
“If I had one wish, and I knew it would come true…I would ask that Adam be able to speak properly.” She looks away from us, biting her lip.
For a moment, I can’t speak. She has on occasion said that she misses him, the friendship she knows they would have if he could talk to her. But this is not about her at all, I can see that now, naked on her face, reflected in the tears gathering in my dad’s eyes. I feel it, sore and true, clogging up my throat. Our most beautiful wishes are the ones we wish for other people.
If Zoe had just one wish, she would spend it on her brother. She has prayed for this, I know it now as easily as I know that I have misjudged her, as easily as I now see the young woman she’s become.
When God told Solomon to ask for whatever Solomon wanted, the young king spent his ask on wisdom and discernment to govern God’s people well. He asked for the people; he asked for God, before asking for himself. This pleased God, who not only granted the request but also gifted Solomon with all of the self-indulgent things every child seeks—wealth, fame–okay, maybe not invisibility (1 Kings 3:1-15). That’s the part of the story that always glittered for me during my wishing days, that Solomon got all of the other things, too. But now the part that shines rare are those beautiful words, “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.” That part I now know is the best of everything.
“That’s beautiful. Just, beautiful,” I say to Zoe. Every other word I might have said drowns in my throat.
Because I have just unwrapped this, that whatever else God may have planned to give my daughter, He is surely pleased she would ask for this.