Wishes on Paper


I took this picture at a Chinese temple in Cebu. It’s a snapshot of a pile of wishing papers on a bench. The way it works: you take a piece of paper, make a wish, and then roll the paper into a tube, tucking in the ends while leaving the gold paint visible on the outside. Then you take your rolled wishes (make as many wishes as you want, why not), and burn them on the altar along with some incense, petitioning the docile buddhas to grant your heart’s desires. It sounds so easy.

No wonder I didn’t trust it. No paper wishes for me, I remembered thinking. Better to talk directly to the powers that be. I just knelt on the red satin cushions and bowed three times, waving the smoke of the incense around my head.  When I finished, I felt light, even calm, as though my worldly cares were lifted. Even when I turned and walked away, I could still see the benign smile of the buddhas.  The rotund little gods kept smiling the entire time, smiling with the careless abandon of those that promise nothing, but accept all.

I should have known, then. I should have.