Your fondest wish isn't someone else's

If I could have any wish in the world, it would naturally be to have my mother back. Even if the Trickster who granted my wish gave her back as an old, old woman, and all I could do was help her die.

But not even that much is possible. So if I must restrict myself to what’s possible, I’d wish for a stranger to appear out of the blue bearing a thick sheaf of my mother’s letters or such. Stuff she wrote when she was young. Just after I was born, maybe, or before she even knew me; scribbles and doodles on bright-colored paper; letters whose envelopes bore hasty final thoughts before they were dropped into the mailbox, or postcards with funny jokes drawn over the picture.

I know almost nothing about her—one song she liked, one vote she would’ve cast. I don’t even know her favorite color, or book, or joke. I don’t have so much as a recipe. Nor will I ever get one. If it hasn’t happened already, it’s not going to.

But guess what? I’ve been able to do this for two other people. Two strangers.

Over the years, I’d forgotten that I kept things—old letters, postcards, drawings, songs, poems. By the time I dug everything out, at the start of this project, the Internet had been invented, enabling fast, easy searches for people long-vanished from one’s life. So that’s how I found the children (one each) of two old friends who had died. Surely these people, now grown, would love to see these scraps from their mothers?

I scanned everything; carefully, I made a PDF for each one. Across the country, across the ocean, I sent the words, colors, scribbles, doodles—all the faithfully rendered artifacts of their loved one’s humor, confusion, whimsy, or despair. For the children of these two friends, I’ve been able to offer a concentrated dollop of their mothers’ souls. I know I should feel glad.

One said thank you most graciously. “I’ll put them in the chest with all her journals and photos and the rest,” she told me. (Ouch.) The other expressed no thanks at all.

It makes no difference. It’s nice, I suppose, that I could give someone else what I most wish for. But that’s not necessarily what they most wish for. In fact (to fulfill some Law of the Conservation of Psychic Shit, I guess), it’s bound not to be. So my friends’ children were not overjoyed.

As for me, it’s a rare mood that finds me glad. Usually I just feel—there it is again—envy. It’s no good wishing otherwise. Wishing won’t make it so.