I was five years old. Head tilted skyward, eyes locked on a falling star as it ripped through the winter-dark Montana sky. "Make a wish," I was told. "Falling stars are magic. Make a wish on every one you see, and your wish will come true."
At that age, I didn't have a lot of wishes. I was privileged enough to have my needs met — to have shoulders to sit on, the whispered encouragement of parents. The side-eyed smile and devious support of my younger sister. A black cat with seven claws on a single paw. A house that was small, but full, with the biggest weeping willow on Earth in the back yard.
I don't have anything to wish for, I thought. What could I possibly need more of?
That's when I decided on a failsafe wish to make: I wish for happiness.
For the rest of my life, I made the same wish on every single falling star I saw. Even as I aged, as life introduced new wishes into my life, nothing felt quite as fitting as the simple wish for a little more joy, a little more peace. Happiness.
But after retreating from Austin, Texas with my tail between my legs in 2019, after the house fire in early 2020, after the isolation of a global pandemic, a shocking death in the family, and an impromptu move to a small town nestled in red rocks —
That wish changed. For the first time since I wished upon a falling star at the age of five, my wish changed to something other than happiness.
I found myself standing outside, staring at the night sky, captivated by Orion's Belt and Mars and Jupiter in the distance. I swept my fingers over the empty air, as though strumming over the stars themselves, those ever-watching celestial gods. And when a star fell, cutting the sky into halves, I found myself wishing not for happiness —
But for strength.
Perhaps that was the lesson all along. My lesson. That happiness is a self-gifted entity. Not a thing to acquire, but a place we carry with us wherever we go. A little sanctuary we create for ourselves, can access at any moment.
Or perhaps it wasn't a lesson. Perhaps it was a lifetime's worth of accumulated wishes, each snowballing into the other, resulting in an epiphany that feels like a superpower: the knowing that wherever I go, whatever I'm doing, I can create my own happiness.
I've found joy in miserable places. I've smiled, have found humor, in dire situations. I have felt the gravity of loss, made peace with the weight of it on my shoulders. Learned to love how it feels to have people, places, things slip out of my grasp. Embraced the throat-closing freefall of control lost.
But now, as life's thrown me yet another big test, it isn't happiness I need. It's strength. Just a modicum of resilience. Enough to push me out of one day, tumbling into the next. Enough to keep my balance, to stay steady.
Enough to keep believing in hope. In the "other side" of this. In the power of integrity.
Something tells me that when I get through this I'll find something new to wish for — neither happiness nor strength, but something else. Something new to complement the seasons of my life as I leap from one big lesson to another.
Perhaps the goal is to get to the end of life, to look up at a falling star, and have nothing left to wish for. To know that through life's harsh lessons, I've learned to cultivate everything one could ever need within myself.
Perhaps, before death, I'll simply thank the star as it falls, and fall right along with it.