One of my favorite musicals is Into the Woods. I saw it for the first time as a sophomore in high school when our music/theatre departments collaborated to bring a very difficult show to our stage.
Mesmerized by the witch in the show from the first rehearsal I snuck into and for multiple performances there as well as over the years following, I have spent most of my adult life believing that the most compelling message of the show had to do with needing to disregard finding fault in our situations and instead pulling together to find solutions.
I recently flew from Minneapolis to Dallas on a Southwest flight on a Saturday. I rarely fly on Saturdays as I find that most of the best deals happen on Tuesdays. This particular fare sale aligned with my desire to be in Texas for specific dates. As I approached the gate area for my mid-morning flight, the gate attendant’s voice announced that the flight was overbooked and that there would be a decent amount of money granted to those willing to change their plans by two hours.
I accepted the offer and jumped on a flight connecting in Chicago rather than Kansas City. This is a risk – the Chicago area can claim many hours of a traveler’s time should the travel occur while Chicago has precipitation. Phrases like “I hope” and “I wish” rattled through my brain – all for nothing because it was sun-sparkling awesome in Chicago that day.
As “I wish” traveled through my mind, it turned into the song from Into the Woods.
In the fifteen minute character-introducing first song of the musical, various characters enter the stage as they sing the same two words: “I wish.” From Cinderella to Little Red Riding Hood to Jack, characters share their desire for life to be different.
Cinderella wishes to go to the festival and dance before the prince. The baker and his wife wish for a child. Jack and his mother wish to get out of poverty. Little Red Riding Hood just wishes for some bread.
Their wishes are all metaphors. Each lacks satisfaction in his or her current condition and things that a change – the wish – will bring satisfaction. Without ruining the musical too much (impossible because these words don’t do the musical justice), the point of the show is to realize that satisfaction is found in being happy with what we have and in our relationships – good or bad, family or not – rather than in what we could have.
Side note: if you can see the show on stage, you should spend the money to see it. Even the junior version used by middle schools will be delightful. One of my nephews was recently cast as Cinderella’s prince in a junior version, and I can’t wait to see him in it. If you do not have this opportunity, Disney does a decent job with the musical in movie form. And – Meryl Streep plays the witch. Say it with me, “Cool!” Seriously.
I write down ideas when they come to me so that I can use them in future blog posts. My notes from that thought time on the plane included concepts about going after what we want, setting goals, and making our wishes come true. As I sifted through and deleted various notes from that trip, I realized that even I – the one thinking about the dissatisfaction that the characters in Into the Woods experience once their wishes come true and they return to living life – continue to miss the point.
Yes – goal setting is a great idea. I do not know anyone who can jump on a plane to Europe tomorrow just because they feel like it. The people I know have to save, sacrifice, and let ideas simmer before they take that trip. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and having a bucket list.
Where we go wrong is when we think that attaining the goals and achieving the bucket list will bring our soul the complete satisfaction it seeks in finding a joy-filled life in the here and now…the today…the present moment. I can certainly have an Amazon Wish List as long as I balance that with the truth that I have enough already. Even if half of my belongings were carried out of my home tomorrow, I would have enough.
It is not about the amount of things left after a bunch of things have left my possession. My attitude and my willingness to find joy in what I have today determines if I am satisfied regardless of what I have. My attitude and my willingness to find joy in what is right now determines what I am and who I become.
The final song of Into the Woods catches me off-guard every time I see it. With a touch of melancholy and a heaping cup of warning, the characters caution the audience about their wishes:
Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
I think that the serious nature of the song is what surprises me, but I also think I do not want to listen to its warning. I want to dream, to hope, and to wish. More than that, I want my wishes to come true. Sometimes, this can be all consuming: a new job, a new house, a new outfit, and so on. I can be so wrapped up in wishing that I also do a lot of missing.
If I am off track about human nature and how we wish, I hope that readers will correct my path a bit.
Happy Wednesday, my friends!