Making a wish upon a paw

Christopher Farai Charamba The Reader
A magical creature or item appears, call it a genie as many modern tales have come to do. It grants you three wishes. What is it that you would wish for?

This is a common hypothetical that people ask each other on occasion. It was made popular by Disney’s Aladdin, which is a Middle Eastern folktale in the “Book of One Thousand and One Nights”.

I suppose the purpose is to see what is the other’s most treasured desire. It is not an easy question to answer, particularly where there are a finite number of wishes, but an infinite number of things to wish for.

Unending wealth, immortality, the ability to fly are some of the usual and immediate responses that people give. But that is just imaginary, faced with the situation one’s actual response might be different.

Another question to ask, is at what cost would you be willing to get your wishes? Newton’s Third Law of Physics states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

There are those who believe in counterbalances, good and evil or light and darkness. So should you wish for something and it is created, what is on the opposite end and would you be willing to pay that price?

This is what W.W. Jacobs explores in the short story “The Monkey’s Paw”. It was first published in England in 1902 and was adapted into a play and other mediums from 1903 onwards. The tale is set in the home of Mr and Mrs White. They live with their adult son Herbert.

Mr White’s close friend, Sergeant-Major Morris visits their home. He had been on duty with the British army in India where he came across a mummified monkey’s paw that possessed the ability to grant three wishes.

Sergeant-Major Morris reluctantly explains to the Whites that this item was not to be played with as the wishes came at great cost. He told them that the first person to use it wished for death as his final wish.

In an attempt to rid himself of this cursed item, Sergeant-Major Morris tosses it into the fire. Mr White rescues it and states that if the Sergeant doesn’t want it then he will take it. But Mr White doesn’t know what to wish for, he considers himself comfortable, he has a happy family, and a good life.

His son suggests that perhaps he could wish for £200 — about $8 000 in today’s currency — to pay off their mortgage and then he could live the rest of their lives with no worries. Mr White makes the wish. Nothing happens.

The following day the household goes about its daily routine, but the day does not end the way it began. They receive the £200, but there is a twist to the way in which the money comes.

This is a story that forces one to think about what they would do in such a situation. Obviously, there was no explicit warning as to what the cost of the wish would be, but Mr White had been warned. In fact, he had been told that a previous owner of the paw had wished for his own death.

It also questions whether experimenting with that which you do not understand is a good thing to do or not. How do you reconcile your personal beliefs and values with something that is foreign and potentially dangerous?

Finally, there is the question of whether the easy way out is worth it. Life is filled with a number of challenges and at times one might feel like quitting or finding a short-cut to overcome the trial.

At the end of the day, it is important to be able to live with the choices that you make, particularly when your actions affect the lives of others.

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