For the past thirty minutes I’ve stood guard at a genuine Wishing Well that sits in the back of convenience store one town over. I stumbled upon it by means of an errand, a sudden thirst, and an innate sense of interest. The errand brought me into town, the thirst brought me into the store, and the Well has stoked my curiosity. Why? Because everyone keeps throwing money in it.
And I mean everyone. Kids, adults, and the elderly. Men and women. Different races and different nationalities. All seem helpless to pass it by without pausing to close their eyes, toss in a coin, and hear the plop!
(Yes, I tossed in my own coin. I had to see what the fuss was all about. Aside from the plop! I have yet to receive anything for my wish. Angels have not sung and Lady Luck has not tapped me on the shoulder. But you never know in life. That’s all the fun.)
I asked the nice lady behind the register about the Well. She said the owner put it there back in the 1970s as a joke. Gas prices were soaring, inflation was soaring, everything but optimism was soaring. He figured a Wishing Well could do more good for people than the government was doing.
It’s been there ever since, she told me. It’s become a barometer of the times in a way, a leading indicator of the state of their town. When things are going well, the Well is relatively untouched. When things are tough, it’s full of change.
I asked her if it would be okay if I conducted a little research. She agreed. So I took my place beside the Well and watched as one person after another came through for lottery tickets and beer and coffee, and one wish before they left through the door.
Things went well for a while. But standing there watching everyone make their wish became a little boring. I needed more. I wanted to know who those people were.
So when the little boy managed to beg a nickel from his mother and tossed it in, I thought I’d pry.
“What’d you wish for?” I asked him.
“Can’t say,” he answered. “If I say it won’t come true.”
I hadn’t thought of that.
“That’s just for birthday candles,” I said. “This is different. Besides, it’s just a superstition. You know what that is, right?”
“It’s a stition that’s really, really good,” he said.
He never did tell me his wish.
I did, however, get a fair share of other people’s.
One man said he wished for a little overtime to buy his wife something nice for her birthday. Another said he wished for the heating bill to get lost in the mail. I met a lady who wished for a new pair of feet because the ones she had didn’t agree with all the walking around she had to do at work. I met another who wanted just one more good snow (I fished her penny out when she left).
One old farmer threw in an entire handful of pennies for a good crop this year. One old lady simply said, “Brad Pitt.” A teenage boy wanted the attention of a particular girl in his math class, and a teenage girl wanted the attention of a particular boy in hers. Yes, that thought crossed my mind as well. And no, they were different schools.
Some were not as lighthearted. People wished for jobs, for healing, for faith. For hope and peace.
Most wished not for abundance, but simply for enough. To many, this is more a time of getting by than dreaming big.
By the time I left I had realized two things. One was that more than love, even more than faith, it is hope that sustains us. Hope that tomorrow will be better and that life can turn around. Hope that somehow, someway, the prayers we say and the wishes we make count and are not uttered in vain.
And the other is this—perhaps more than anything else, our desires reveal our character. Too many people, myself included, often equate their identity with what they have. I don’t think that’s right anymore. Now I think It’s not what we have but what we wish we did that defines the sort of people we are.