Esteemed Reader for January 2015 | Esteemed Reader | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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Esteemed Reader for January 2015 

There are two kinds of doing—automatic and doing what you wish. Take a small thing that you wish to do and cannot do and make this your God. Let nothing interfere. If you wish, you can. Without wishing you never can. Wish is the most powerful thing in the world."

—Kenneth Walker

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

What is this experience of wish?

In children the power to wish is strong. As children we can want something so much it hurts. Every waking moment can be focused on the object in mind, with the feeling that possessing it will yield a state of utter completeness.

For me the object was something I saw in an ad at the back of a Richie Rich comic book when I was six. It caught my attention immediately in its elegant design and constructive use of spoiled vegetables. It was called a "potato gun" and, from what I could gather, was a device that propelled plugs of potato with velocity and accuracy. I remember the line drawings on the yellowed comic book paper showing a feisty boy with short, side-parted hair and a plaid shirt pelting his shrieking sister with bits of spud. The ad included an order form, showing a cost of $.75 plus postage and handling, which came to $.93.

It took me a couple months to save up enough money with my savings and an allowance of a dime a week. When I had saved the sum I carefully completed the form, addressed and stamped an envelope, and loaded it up with change. I remember the walk down our quarter-mile long driveway, moving from one track to the other to avoid pond-sized puddles, cradling the heavy, bulging package like a new kitten, finally placing it in the box, and ceremoniously raising the flag.

And then I waited for the potato gun to arrive. I waited a week. A month. I waited years. I was still waiting into my teens though I had moved a dozen times and there was clearly no chance that the potato gun would come. It was like the wish for the potato gun, my heart's desire, was the thread of yearning on which all the experiences of my early life were strung.

It was only much later, as I tried to reconstruct the details to understand how it was that this wish that was so important, that had even become my God, went unfulfilled and undelivered, that I realized what must have happened.

I found the Richie Rich comic book in a pile of other comic books while exploring the attic of the old farmhouse where we lived for a year. They were in the company of strange old objects like a worn, handmade flail, cookstove-heated clothing irons, and a collection of hand-crank egg beaters.

I was particularly intrigued by a device the purpose of which I couldn't fathom. It was in an impressive black leather-covered box with precisely shaped receptacles for several electrical discharge devices and a dozen bizarrely shaped hollow glass attachments. Apparently it was a machine designed to deliver therapeutic electrical current to various parts of the body. The purposes of some of the attachments became clear, while others did not. One attachment was a tube shaped like a rake or comb, apparently for invigorating the scalp, while others were so oddly formed that I was afraid to consider what parts or orifices they were meant to address. I used the device to test how far I could turn the knob while holding the delivering end, enduring the increasingly intense voltage.

Eventually bored with testing my capacity for electric shock, I sat down with the comic books and pored through the treasure trove of old titles. Perhaps it was my charged state that caused such a whole-hearted response to the ad for the potato gun.

In any case, though the comic books clearly weren't as antiquated as the quack machine, they were at least 20 years out of date, which meant that the company selling the potato gun likely no longer existed, which meant that I had sent my hard-saved 93 cents into the void.

At the time, I was not in possession of this kind of logical mentation, and all that remained was a gradually ripening disappointment and the final realization that the mail-ordered object would never arrive. Of course, if the gun had arrived I would never have remembered the vivid experience of wishing that developed into hope, and even a kind of faith, before the disappointment set in. Had the gun arrived, wish would have been subsumed by novelty, which itself would have worn out fast, as happens with all new toys.

Because the wished-for object never came, I was allowed to cook in the wishing, to know the flavor and texture of a heart longing for fulfillment, and to remember the naive but unalloyed purity of wish, which can only arise in a child, but which can be evoked even in the heart of a wizened adult, with an added capacity for discernment, as wish for Being.

—Jason Stern

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