Our library water fountain sits in the center of the building. It resembles large, gray boulders imported from the banks of the local river. My kids are drawn to its size and to the water. They climb the rock. I pull them down. They put their hands in the water. I pull their hands out.
The children’s section is in an adjacent room, so I yank them away from the adventures of the fountain and distract them with books and toys and computers, until the temptation is too much. There is the chase, the “get back here” routine until I hurry everyone along. We check out our books and return to the fountain to do what they’ve been waiting to do: make wishes.
I give each daughter a coin. I tell them to think good thoughts for someone. Or to think about something they want. They are nine, five, and two, and despite their ages, they take their wishing seriously; they pause, think, then throw in their coin. I make a wish and throw in a coin, too. And just like a fun game at the arcade, my kids ask for another turn. I’m okay with that. I like teaching them about the power of wishes. I like teaching them to ask for what they want. Our ritual lasts as long as there is money in my wallet. The money we leave behind goes to buy books for the library.
A wish I made at that fountain, and any fountain I visited, including the one in Jackson Square in New Orleans, was for my sister to have the family she wanted. I made that wish several times over the years she waited and hoped for children. My daughters made wishes on my sister’s behalf, too.
Emily Upton explains in this short article, “Why We Throw Coins into Fountains” how this ritual people do all over the world is a tradition that can be traced back to Roman and Celtic societies. It started as a ritual of gratitude, a means of thanking the gods for access to potable water. In 2014, we may not worry about keeping gods happy in exchange for water, but many of us do consult greater powers for guidance and hope.
Putting a wish out to the universe is a form of prayer. It is a means of deciding what matters. With one coin in my wallet, I will be choosy about what I wish before I toss it into the water.
And all that wishing does work. On Christmas Day 2010, shortly after my trip to New Orleans, my sister announced she was pregnant with twins. Even though I wished specifically for my sister at Jackson Square, the universe must have had other plans. That month, I found out I was pregnant, too.
Inspired by the letter I as in “I Wish …” as part of the A to Z Challenge for the month of April.
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