Wishful vs. Wistful

My handsome baby boy, Ian, at age 13. Not a baby anymore!

Allow me to get a little personal… This past July, my son, Ian, turned 13 years old.  It marked an important rite of passage in our faith as 13 is the age at which a Jewish child is recognized as an adult.  Just a few weeks ago, in fact, he had his Bar Mitzvah, a coming of age ceremony during which he lead our congregation in Sabbath morning services.  Like most Jewish families, it is an event we looked forward to and anticipated since the day he was born.

Over the past several months we have planned-and-prepped-and-planned-and-prepped.  Ian began studying for the momentous occasion a year prior… weekly meetings with his tutor, multiple one-on-one discussions and practice sessions with the Rabbi, with the Cantor, with a speech-writing helper, with others, too.  Similarly, months and months ago, we started envisioning what the full weekend of activities would look like and began booking venues and the DJ and the caterer and everything else required to organize such an event.

We had hopes and dreams and expectations of what it would be like.  We weren’t disappointed… it was a flawless weekend and we couldn’t have been happier or more proud of Ian.  In fact, heretofore, it was the most amazing weekend of my life.  Truly.

But, then, I felt so blue.  As I said, we had planned-and-prepped-and-planned-and-prepped.  The weekend arrived and it was a remarkable experience.  And, then, POOF!  It was gone in a flash.

As I described the full panoply of events and feelings and emotions to a friend, I said that I was rather wistful.  Her eyes brightened and she said, “my kids and I just read a story yesterday describing the difference between ‘wishful’ and ‘wistful.’ You have to read it.  It will help you to feel better.”  A few hours later, I had the name of the book and scanned copies of the critical two pages in my email inbox.  So, with appreciation to my buddy, Andrea, and to Mary Casanova, author of the children’s book, American Girl Today:  Grace Makes It Great, I share with you the definitions of “wishful” and “wistful” and how they can both factor favorably in our lives.  The book says,

“The only thing separating wishful and wistful is a single letter.  Wishful means feeling hopeful for something and looking to the future.  Wistful is feeling sadness about something and longing for the past.” (pages 54-55)

I think both emotions are valuable.  To be wishful means we have dreams and hopes for what is to come.  Through our actions and interactions, we can bring those ideas to fruition.  When we are wistful, we often long for what has already taken place… usually, our memories of those particular times gone by are fond and help us to recall good, happy, wonderful experiences.  The great thing is that, though we feel wistful, we can be wishful for other good things to come.  In our minds and through our efforts, we can create a virtuous cycle and go from experience to experience, remembering our past and looking forward to our future.

This is exactly what I’m doing now… as wishful as I was for Ian’s bar mitzvah, I must remember, it did not disappoint!  It was an incredible experience that I will hold onto forever.  And, though, I am slightly wistful about the weekend, longing to be right back there, my memories of the weekend are emblazoned in my head and on my heart.  Now, I am again wishful for Ian’s future as he marches into adulthood… so excited to see what his journey holds!

As my friend, David, suggested, “though you are feeling a little sad now, just wait… you won’t believe how Ian will blossom over the next few years.  You won’t be feeling sad for long.”  Indeed.  Here’s to feeling wishful….

6 thoughts to “Wishful vs. Wistful”

  1. Great story, Alana. Blessings to you and your family on this occasion!

    When I was in the wedding consulting business, there also was this moment of sadness for the bride, and sometimes groom, and moms.

    I think in addition to grieving the passing part in a rite of passage, we grieve too the event and anticipation itself. All that planning is a momentous focal point for energy and emotional and financial resources. An event of this magnitude questions in its wake, “What’s next!?” And it’s hard to top these big occasions.

    I know you are constantly creating, and soon if not already, land on the next focal point for your talents. And until then, enjoy the wallowing of a celebration well-done, and the grief as a hole carved in waiting for that next thing that will consume your spirit.

    1. Ah, great example, Dodie! Love your explanation and recognition of the “grieving” part of the rite of passage. Very nicely stated and helpful.

  2. This is poignant and pertinent for everyone, irrespective their lifecycle stage. I would go one step further… learning to BE in the moment. Not unmooring oneself from the history that has formed us and not relinquishing the pleasure of anticipating the future to which we aspire and for which we plan, no. But resting from time to time in the present – tingling and alive in the immeasurable gratitude for all that IS. Here’s to just being.

    1. Lovely way to think about this, Leslie. I remember before Marc and I got married, a friend (maybe it was YOU!!!) told me to pause throughout the night to take “snapshots” of what was going on around us — just as you described, to be PRESENT. I am happy to report, we reminded ourselves of that concept throughout Ian’s bar mitzvah weekend and I have a wonderful memory-based “photo album” in my head from the event. Indeed, here’s to just being!!!! Beautiful.

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