Got a story for you. It’s an old one; maybe you’ve heard it.
A wealthy merchant is walking through the streets of Baghdad when he sees the Angel of Death. Death recognizes him and seems very interested in him. The man concludes that Death is in Baghdad to take him and, unwilling to die, he expends all his vast wealth in one day to secure the service of a genie. “Genie,” says the man, “I’ve no wish to die. Transport me to Damascus in one night, so that I might evade Death’s embrace.”
And so the genie did as was asked of him and worked great magic to transport the man, along with all his family and home and livestock and servants, far away to Damascus in the space of a single night. The merchant slept easily, knowing he had fooled Death.
The next morning, however, the man went into the streets of Damascus to find Death waiting for him. The man was aghast. “What? How did you find me?!”
Death shrugged and said, “That is why I was so interested to see you in Baghdad. You see, I had an appointment to meet you today in Damascus.”
Heard that one? Well, it’s true, let me tell you. I was the genie.
You would imagine, as an immortal being whose task it is to grant wishes, I would have seen more than my fair share of happiness over the millennia. Not so, though. I have some thoughts on the subject.
You people – you mortals – you can never figure out what you actually want. I mean that, too – you cannot, as in you are not capable. A man wishes for wealth and dies alone. A woman wishes for beauty only to drown the next week. A boy wishes for power only to pine for his mother. On and on and on it goes. You don’t know what tomorrow brings and, so terrified that Death might have penciled you in for Friday, you pick the absolute worst thing for you at the time and think it solves all your problems. It is so consistent as to be actively tragic.
Had a guy once – sometime in Ancient Babylon – wish to be an invulnerable warrior. Easy enough, right? How can a guy go wrong with that? Simple: his tribe, the people he wanted to protect, drove him out of their lands claiming he was a demon. So he was the world’s biggest badass with nothing to fight for. He died of old age as a hermit. Blamed me, too.
I don’t trick people, okay? Not my thing. I’m a servant of the lamp and that’s it – you rub, I appear, and we do business. I am not “imprisoned” in the lamp – it’s just a convenient hole in space-time for me to zip through. I’ve got a life outside of this one. I mean, not one you’d easily understand, but it’s there. Had one lady wish to have me explain it to her once. She went insane.
So, yeah, I’m not upset when somebody rubs the lamp and pops me out. Not a big deal – less than an eye-blink in the breadth and depth of the cosmos, understand? You really cannot waste my time, since I have as much of it as I want. When you wish for something, I give it to you – no judgment, no tricks. Do I sometimes screw up the details? Yeah, sure – some of you guys are damned unclear. I mean, how am I supposed to interpret “I wish for the world?” Go on – I dare you to figure out, in concrete terms, what that means exactly. That guy’s name was Atlas and man, was he pissed. Not my problem though – if you can’t be bothered to read the fine print on the lamp itself, don’t come crying to me.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right – wishes. Let’s get this out of the way: You can’t wish for true happiness, okay? You can’t have it like that. I cannot give it to you, much as I might want to. You mortals are always thinking in external terms – give me gold, give me power, give me land, give me love – and that’s missing the entire point. Happiness comes from within.
Oh sure, the occasional wise-acre wishes for internal happiness, but it doesn’t work. I just have to turn them into different people. Is that success? You want to know what really happened to Attila the Hun? They say he died of a brain hemorrhage while doing the wild thing after deciding not to sack Rome. What he did instead was take the lamp, given him by Pope Leo I (who had used it to become pope), in exchange for sparing the city. So he did. And then he wished to be truly, permanently happy. I turned him into a friendly dog – best I could do. His followers did the rest.
Happiness is something that people who seek me out are never going to find. Happiness is contentment, understand? To be content with your lot, no matter what your lot is. That is true, contemplative happiness. If you got it, what do you need me for? What can I possibly give you to get you there? No, all wishes – all rewards and triumphs – are things you need to have grow out of yourself, not have dumped on you from on high. Give a fish shoes and it’ll have no idea what to do until it grows some feet.
The best wish ever? Oh, that’s easy: fella name of Lao-Tzu, ancient China. Summoned me up and chatted with me for a little while on a road in the middle of nowhere. When I asked him what he wanted, he said, “Only to talk. Thank you.”
He meant it, too. I still think about that sometimes.
Anyway, enough about me. Let’s whip you up that private island, okay? Did you have a hemisphere in mind, or am I just gonna get creative?
So, there you are, the magic lamp in your hands, the genie before you. After fighting down your primal terror at the face of the djinn, you are left with the question: what are your three wishes?
I think it’s probably safe to say that every geek worth his or her salt has spent a fair amount of time considering this issue. For those of you who haven’t, it is far more complicated a question that you think. For one thing, it is very, very important to remember that the genie is not your friend. Don’t listen to Disney, folks–this is an all-powerful otherworldly entity that has been chained inside a lamp for every idiot mortal to come order around for all eternity. They are really, really pissed about it (and who can blame them?), so you can reasonably expect them to do everything possible to screw with you. Proceed with extreme caution. Some things you ought to do before actually making a wish:
- Be Specific and Literal: Stay away from metaphor, idiom, or generalities. If you ask to be ‘taken far, far away’, it’s your own damn fault if you wind up suffocating/freezing on the surface of the moon.
- Write Out Your Wish: Don’t just jump in–take your time, write it out, proofread, and make sure it will work to your benefit. This is a good way to accomplish #1, too.
- Ask Questions: Ask the genie what constitutes a wish, ask it how the wishes work, and so on (are there limits/rules? Can you wish for more wishes?). If it doesn’t answer or counts your first question as a wish, that lets you know what you’re dealing with. Don’t make commands of the genie, however, if you don’t intend to use a wish–bad idea. Proceed with caution, remember?
Beyond this, there is also the issue of ‘what makes a good wish?’ If you wish for eternal life, make sure you include ‘eternal youth’. Also make sure you’ve thought about what it means to live forever. Remember King Midas? Be careful what you wish for, as they say.
So, here are my wishes, as they stand.
Wish #1: I wish for myself, my family, and my friends to be blessed with good health and peak physical fitness for the duration of their natural lives.
This wish, I feel, is a more responsible way to wish for good health. If I’m healthy, I want everybody I care about to be, too. While I might also wish the whole world be healthy, that, I feel, would have some nasty side-effects I’d have trouble anticipating. I also wouldn’t tell my friends or family I made this wish, either–that would make me way too popular, I imagine. I’d hope that we’d all just be seen as uncommonly lucky and healthy people. At any rate, my descendants would also benefit from this wish, so in that sense it would spread to others down through the generations.
Wish #2: I wish for the ability to create alternate worlds according to my specifications and for me to travel freely between those worlds and this one as I see fit.
This is the vanity wish, I confess. As a lover of fantasy and science fiction, I think it would be a lot of fun to be able to actually create these alternate worlds. This wish is also very dangerous–it is an immense responsibility, creating worlds, and I would have to be very careful. It would be nice, however, to have my own private island in an alternate dimension that I and my friends/family could visit anytime they want. I could also potentially parley this into a financial boon–create a world rich in gold and a bunch of critters to mine it for me, or the like. This wish might be beyond the genie’s power to grant, admittedly, or may count as two wishes–who knows?
Wish #3: Undecided
I really don’t know what wish #3 would be. I wouldn’t want to wish for money or success–lots of complications in the first place and I’d rather achieve it myself in the second. I don’t really want to live forever. I think I might just keep this one in my back pocket–an insurance wish, if you will–to save for a rainy day. I could use it to undo the effects of an accident, perhaps, or to save the life of someone I love. Yeah, keeping it sounds like a good idea.
So, what are your wishes? Have you thought them through? What do you think?