the engineering of a wish

Last night I attended my first Chinese New Year party. From what I understand, the holiday celebrates how the Chinese defeated an ancient mythical creature that preyed upon children and villagers by exposing it to its fears. Namely, the color red and noise.

The festival is a time of cleansing one’s home, paying one’s debts, and preparing for the future. I’m told Chinese New Year celebrates change and moving beyond old grievances and bad fortune.

Our hosts provided a sumptuous feast, dirty Confucius jokes, tasty ginger booze, and the opportunity to propel our dreams into the year ahead. While I am pretty sure this is not actually a tradition associated with Chinese New Year, I like it just the same.

We started by writing whatever it was we wanted to let go of onto sheets of paper. It was an opportunity to ask for forgiveness and to be forgiven — to acknowledge the things we regret, the things we have no control of, and the things that made us hurt. The idea was to leave bad energy in the past. I wrote down three. Then we gathered on the back porch and tossed them into a fire.

Later, we wrote out our wishes for the future. We crushed them into balls then unfurled the paper into wrinkled cylinders. We lit matches and touched the flames to the edges watching the fire consume our dreams. The final throws of heat rocketed the ashes into the air. They floated down in pieces we caught in our palms. At least that was the idea.

To be honest, I am not sure whom we were addressing to help shepherd our wishes into the year ahead. Ourselves? God? Perhaps that seems like the easy thing to do.  Send your deepest desires via the great mailman in the sky and blame him if they get lost along the way. But then again, maybe the exercise is more about just asking for the courage to even try.

Personally, I think that is how great ideas are engineered.  Imagine, plan, execute, and hope. Sometimes I think we forget the last part.

The exercise reminded me of a conversation I had with a girlfriend the day before. She has spent the past year and a half positioning her finances and building contacts so that she can leave behind the security of a full-time job in the financial sector to launch a singing career.

“I may be entering that scary phase of getting what I ask for,” she said. “I feel like my whole life just opened up.”

I kept thinking of her as we took turns lighting our paper wishes. Discussion arose about whether it is harder to ask for our desires or easier to let go of our mistakes. People seemed divided. Some thought it was hardest to actually realize what it is we truly want. I don’t know about that.

I do know this. Most of the time our paper cylinders didn’t take to the air like they were supposed to. Most of the time they burned straight to the ground, leaving behind a mess of ashes on the tabletop and disappointment. I think the hardest part is reaching for a pencil and another sheet of paper and acknowledging what we still haven’t accomplished yet. And deciding, maybe this is the year I will.

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