When I was in grade school, we played the game: “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” Must’ve been in about third or fourth grade. All the boys wanted x-ray vision, heh heh heh (without really even understanding why seeing underneath girls’ clothes was so great), the nerds wanted to command armies of robots, and someone wanted to be able to teleport from place to place. I, fresh from having read Lois Lowry’s A Gift of Magic, was pretty sure I wanted ESP. I wanted to be able to read people’s minds.
“What??” declared the disbelieving teacher. “None of you want to be able to fly?” Oh yeah, oh yeah, we chorused in remembrance. We want that too.
I’ve since realized that the kid who wanted to teleport was the only one of us who was thinking practically. I mean geeze. Reading minds would turn into a huge burden, armies of robots always backfire, and flying is great but the troposphere is seriously cold. But teleportation? Do you have any idea how much of our lives we spend in cars? On planes? Trains and subways and the rest of it?
Skip to seventh grade, when I attended a superhero party. You were supposed to go dressed as a superhero, one you’d invented yourself. There were prizes for best costume, best superpower, best secret identity, and most useless superpower. My best friend won the prize for the last one. She showed up as Corn Lady, whose only superpower was the amazing ability to communicate with corn. With that stunning victory beside me, I can’t even tell you what I went dressed as on the occasion. I’m sure I had a cape.
Then one day last May I was in France, wallowing in disgust that I just ordered a carafe of “white water” instead of a carafe of white wine, and I’ve finally got it. I know what superpower I want. I want to be able to speak easily in any language. As we bumped along on the Metro that night, I honed down my wish, carefully considering how I would phrase it so that the granting genie could not possibly misconstrue my meaning. Here’s what I came up with:
“I wish I could communicate fluently in the language of the person I’m talking to at any given moment. “
What do you think? Is there still room for misunderstanding? I’m sure. I suspect all genies of granting wishes only grudgingly. I’d probably still only be able to speak to corn.
I puzzled over this for a good ten minutes, at the end of which I had truly convinced myself that someone was going to come up to me one day and actually grant this wish. I was making contingencies for different ways the wish could be offered – in case there was a price demanded or limits imposed…
When I remembered this was only a fantasy, that I did not have a scheduled appointment with said genie, and that the only way to pick up languages is to sit down and actually learn them, I was heartbroken. I felt like someone had just stolen my lollipop, but there was no mother to whom I could appeal to get it back. There just aren’t any genies – wanting to grant my wishes or otherwise.
Yet, I’ve started fantasizing again lately. I’ve come up with two other wishes which I’ve carefully crafted into phraseology that will certainly get me exactly what I want, when that genie asks. I’ve decided not to share the exact nature of these other two wishes. They deal with a personal fear and lack of enthusiasm that I think I do a pretty decent job hiding from the world at large, and I’d prefer to keep it that way for now.
When I thought of my second wish, I realized that I was onto something really good. It took me months and months to come up with this pair of perfect wishes. Imagine how I might have blown it if I’d tried to make three wishes on the spot, right after the genie popped out of his bottle. I might have wished for one of the foolish things that people think they want, but don’t really need. Money? It can always be earned, and it’s possible to be happy with what you’ve got. (Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t turn away a million dollars if someone handed it to me.) Health is great, but something else is always gonna get you in the future. Power? Who wants that anyway? Fame? Same icky deal as power.
No, I found that both my wishes were designed to balance out personal flaws. The not-being-able-to-speak-French-so-well thing may not actually be a flaw, but I see it as a shortcoming, and when you’re in the wishing business, why not overcompensate? So I began to wonder what other shortcomings I would choose to overcome with wishes, and very quickly my third wish came to me.
Three personal shortcomings that I could wish away, rather than devoting the years of hard work and dedication it would take to overcome them on my own. My tangled tongue would straighten out, my fear and unethusiasm would disappear in a poof of effortless purple smoke. I’d be a step closer to perfect through no actual effort of my own. Is that a worldly spirit, or what?
Since I’m quite sure (in my moments of lucidity anyway) that no genies will be popping up to grant these wishes, I suppose the thing to do is actually make a concrete plan to tackle my shortcomings and make some progress on my own. As soon as the purple smoke filling my brain clears, I’ll let you know how that’s going.
So what would your three wishes be? (No fair wishing for world peace. Go on… be selfish!)