Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Lester" Changed My Life

I'm a fan of good literature. Nothing fluxes my capacitor like a well-written essay, clever poem, or insightful novel. I've read a few things in my short tenure on earth that have changed my life. The first was "Of Mice and Men" which I read when I was 13. I cried and cried and cried some more. The next was "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" which I read when I was 18. There have been a few things I've picked up over the years that have impacted me for better or worse, unless you subscribe to the "there's no such thing as a bad experience" ideology, which I typically do. Unless the experience is ultra-painful. I recently read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy which will haunt me for the rest of my life. I'd still recommend it to anyone and everyone.

But tonight I had the absolute life-altering pleasure of reading Shel Silverstein to my boys before bed. I love this author. He gave us "The Giving Tree" and "Uncle Shelby's ABZs", which is likely the sharpest, most disturbed satire ever written. But tonight, while reading from "Where the Sidewalk Ends" I stumbled across "Lester."

Lester, by Shel Silverstein

Lester was given a magic wish
By the goblin who lives in the banyan tree,
And with his wish he wished for two more wishes-
So now instead of just one wish, he cleverly had three.
And with each one of these
He simply wished for three more wishes,
Which gave him three old wishes, plus nine new.
And with each of these twelve
He slyly wished for three more wishes,
Which added up to forty-six -- or is it fifty-two?
Well anyway, he used each wish
To wish for wishes 'til he had
Five billion, seven million, eighteen thousand thirty-four.
And then he spread them on the ground
And clapped his hands and danced around
And skipped and sang, and then sat down
And wished for more.
And more...and more...they multiplied
While other people smiled and cried
And loved and reached and touched and felt.
Lester sat amid his wealth
Stacked mountain-high like stacks of gold,
Sat and counted -- and grew old.
And then one Thursday night they found him
Dead -- with his wishes piled around him.
And they counted the lot and found that not
A single one was missing.
All shiny and new -- here, take a few
And think of Lester as you do.
In a world of apples and kisses and shoes
He wasted his wishes on wishing.

Ladies and gents, don't be a Lester. I know too many of them. There are Lesters that I love very much. I find it fascinating that Silverstein uses apples, kisses, and shoes to represent important things that were missed in Lester's world. On the surface they seem so simple, but how profound they are! I'll take a good, sweet, crisp apple over a Texas T-Bone any day. And there is nothing lovelier than daddy kisses from my children.

Wishes, to me, are symbolic as well. How many of us focus so much energy on our work, school, or other projects that we fail to bask in the glow of life? I believe the story here is also partly that we should avoid things that dominate our time, control our thoughts, and overpoweringly influence our decisions. There is more than one dimension...don't be one-dimensional. As the great Harry Chapin sang, "There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in the flower, and I see every one."

Shel Silverstein, you were the ultimate dreamer. An icon for wayward-thinking fools and bards like me. Thank you for sharing your mind.


Maren said...

Thank you. Something to think about.
(Love that Mr. Silverstein. The "Almost Perfect but Not Quite" poem runs through my head when I come across someone who you can never please. And, I remember as a child thinking that "The Little Boy and the Old Man" was sadly sweet. I must have read my A Light In The Attic dozens of times growing up.)
I'm glad you've got your cute family moved and settled in. I'm also glad you didn't give in and "invest" in Latoya's future. I've given in too many times in my life. I finally reached a point where if I don't want it, it doesn't matter how slick the presentation, I'm not buying. Took me long enough.

Sister said...

I wish I was one of those wishes. I loved your post, and dare I say, even cried.

Pete Pearson said...

Thanks for the blog post. As has been said, "If wishes were fishes, we'd all have a fry." In writing, it is very easy to talk about the wishes ... in life, turning those wishes into action takes a great amount of work, communication, perserverance, commitment, and patience. When any of those fail, the wishes become empty. I certainly have wishes that have not been realized and I have no one to blame but me. Focusing on just a few wishes that really matter ... and then putting forth the effort to make them happen is the key ... at least that is the way it seems to this vey old man!

Imani Bey said...

I've read this poem as a kid and now and you made me see it in a new light. I'd imagined they were saying he'd GONE to a world of apples, kisses and shoes, but now I see jt differently.