what do you wish for?

As I rose up on the escalator out of the basement of Sears department store downtown tonight my eyes zeroed in on a big sign atop a pillar dripping with Christmas decorations. “What do you wish for?” it asked.

Hmmm…

I wish for world peace.

I wish for all cancer to go away and stop hurting people.

I wish for common kindness to be commonplace.

Think I could pick those things up at Sears on my way through this evening? Probably Sears wishes that I’d wish for something like a new pair of slippers, some perfume, or a toaster oven.

We are getting the first tastes right now of a season that will play wildly with a powerful human feeling – desire. Desire is an interesting thing, it can just as easily stir us into action as freeze us in place. Desire can spur us to great things, if we follow our desire.

Now you might be thinking “yes, but desire can lead us into bad behavior too”, and this idea of desire may be the one you’re most familiar with, but desire doesn’t have to take us that way. In the Christian tradition we could say that “sin” is in fact misplaced desire. A desire for deep relationship could lead a person through a series of perceived intimate relationships that are not in fact quality deep relations. A desire for belonging can prevent a person from being their true self when they fear their community may reject that true self.

Also, when what we desire seems too big and too difficult to strive for, we can sometimes be paralyzed into non-action. “Why do I not do the thing I want to do?” says the Apostle Paul in a letter to his followers. It’s a question we all face in our lives. We most often know what it is we could do to follow our desires for the flourishing of people and planet, what we could do to make a difference, so why don’t we do those things?

Does desire maybe strike again here? Our desire for safety or comfort or any one of a number of conflicting desires. These are noble desires, but when they get in the way of what we could be doing, they become less noble.

And so as the season of material desire comes upon us, let’s also remember our less tangible desires, the ones that, if we followed them, might lead us into unknown territory, but the ones which, in the end, are the only ones that truly give us a feeling of desire being fulfilled when we pursue them with our whole heart.

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faith in humanity

Sometimes working in a retail store makes it difficult to have faith in the goodness of humanity. I meet some incredibly rude and inconsiderate people whose behaviour puzzles me. I just don’t understand some people.

On the other hand, I also get opportunities to witness some beautiful acts of consideration, thoughtfulness and cooperation. Last week I found myself in a busy and often frustrating area of the store, lots of product, many choices, and often nothing that looks exactly like what someone is looking for. So I was trying to help these two customers who had similar needs, one with a very particular product in mind, another with a less specific need, but for a similar product. Nothing on the rack seemed to satisfy either of these people.

When I went to the stockroom in the back to see if we had anything more than what was on the rack I discovered that there were single packages containing two of just the type of product these two strangers were looking for. The first thought in my mind was “if they bought this together they would both be able to get what they want, separately they would probably both throw away the second item. Together they could save money, make less waste, and both go away happy.” So, with low expectations of how my idea might go over, thinking that they would probably never go for such a preposterous idea as buying something in cooperation with a stranger, I grabbed two packages and headed to the sales floor. I humbly presented my suggestion about perhaps splitting the cost of the one package. Neither one immediately jumped at the idea, but neither person dismissed it either. I stood back and waited to see what might happen.

After passing the package back and forth for awhile, a magic set of words came out of the one person’s mouth: “I’d be happy to split the cost of this with you, and you can have first pick of which one you want, I don’t really care which one I get.” I was surprised and delighted. In cities, instances of cooperation and generous sharing can be hard to uncover, but these lovely moments do exist. The two went up to the cash desk and shared the cost together, also surprising and delighting the cashier with this cooperative act.

I wonder sometimes if more of us had more faith in humanity, if we trusted each other more, that we might find that we encountered more instances of cooperation and community, bringing out the best in one anothe, rather than the worst. So maybe next time you have the chance to cooperate or be generous to another person but are suspicious and doubtful, try being more trusting and optimistic – you too might just be surprised and delighted.