What do I want?


What do I want? Such a simple question. What is it I want?

I was sitting with a group of friends, and someone asked simply the question: “what do I want?” She reflected, then, on what she had “wanted” at times in her life. She mentioned her choices, choices that became clear in her wants.

I had feelings, then. I realized that what I had allowed myself to “want,” was a long way from what she had allowed herself to want, to desire, to consider as a choice in her life. I could not, given who I was, given where I had come from, given who my parents were, who I was, given the circumstances of my birth and even my ancestry. Who I am, as well as what I can want, had certain limitations.

We can see “want” reflected in the world around us. Some of us can “want” what others have. Some of us want what can never be ours. Sometimes, we cannot even want, at all. The places we come from, socially, politically, culturally, intellectually, allow us, or do not allow us to want.

Even to “want” is a luxury,  not given to all.  I felt that when my friend mentioned her choices, which had offered opportunities for want that I did not have, had never had.  Sometimes, even now, in my 60’s, I can begin to want for something I had not considered before.  Do I want to travel to India?  Do I want to learn to swim?  Do I want to know another language?

I think that as children, we can be given the gift to “want,” or the gift will not be given, at all.  Some children can never want.  There is no room in their home, in their lives, in their world, to want.  And that is true for the privileged as well as those who are not born into privilege.  Some children have all that they want fulfilled, the basket of their wants over-flowing, even before they know want.

Such a simple word.  So much meaning, so much depth, so much potential in that word:  want.

The ancient Hebrew word for want is:  chaser.  It’s meaning can be translated in these ways:  “to lack; by implication, to fail, lessen:  be abated, bereave, decrease, to cause to fail, lack, make lower.”  (blueletterbible.com/lexicon).

When we want, then, we lack.  We lack something we do not have.  We are without that which we do not have.  We are in a place of lessening, by our very want.  And we experience, we know this place of lessening, every day.  And we know this place of lessening, or we do not even allow – in ourselves or others – this wanting, this lessening.

What is it I want?  Sometimes, even now, I ask myself that.  What do I want, today?  Do I want this, for lunch, to wear, to see, to experience?  Am I allowed to want, to have this place of lessening awakened in me?  Perhaps I cannot allow this to be awakened, perhaps there is not room for my want.


“My children want for what they cannot have.  I have only these hands among your roots and a few places of sunlight in the house.”  – Mary Elyn Bahlert, “Houseplants.”


“I’m confused.”


I have written about the beautiful birch tree that stands and grows and lives outside the front window of my house. I’m a city-girl, and honestly, until I grew older – and hopefully, wiser – I did not pay much attention to trees. I loved the elm trees I walked beside on the streets of Milwaukee as a child, because they were beautiful, their branches growing out over the streets, touching the branches of their neighbors on the other side. Years later, many of them would be gone, victims of Dutch Elm disease, and their disappearance changed the landscape of those working-class neighborhoods, the blocks of flats with their slanted roofs, forever.

Besides noting their beauty, however, I did not think of trees as inhabiting the same world of sensation and feeling as I do, now.

To have believed then that I would love a tree, actually love a tree and know that it loves me would not have suited my busy – too busy! – child’s mind. But I do love this tree, and I know the tree loves me. I’ve come to the beginning of things, the way life is understood in so many less-linear cultures than ours.

I watch with interest the passing of the seasons and the passing of the days through the branches of this particular tree.

This dry winter season, confuses the tree. I’m certain this long drought – we’re in the third year of drought in California – confuses humans, as well. But I can see the confusion in the tree. The calendar tells us it is January, the month when light comes back, minute by minute, moving toward the longest day in June. The tree still balances on its branches yellow leaves, the leaves of November. By the end of this month or the beginning of February, we can expect the new leaves to begin pushing up onto the branches.

Confusion is surely an important – and ordinary – part of human experience, as well. We don’t do confusion well,  do we? Many years ago, I learned a trick in some leadership journal, a trick I have used many times. In a meeting or conversation, when a suggestion or idea is presented and resistance and misunderstanding grows, a useful way to learn what is really happening is to say: “I’m confused.”

We don’t “do” confusion.   The common response to saying these words: “I’m confused,” is: Answers! I expect that “I’m confused” gets our minds going: “We can’t have this! We can’t be confused! We have to know! We have to explain! We know the answer! We know what’s right! We know what to do!”

Confusion moves so quickly to anxiety.  And then…

Saying “I’m confused” brings more information into a meeting or conversation. Some answers are given. Some unexplained events or feelings are explained, for the moment.  We are compelled by the insertion of “confused” to provide answers!

Confusion plays itself out every day, in every situation, in every relationship, in every event, personal and global. It is so difficult for us to wait – or not wait – for confusion itself to simply tell us what is needed – or not needed, for confusion – a visitor – to take its own to time to stay and to pass.

We move so quickly to answers, to explanations, to actions that may or may not be needed – or even good. We move so quickly because confusion – that dark and deep feeling in the pit of us – isn’t comfortable. We move so quickly to explain away this deep and dark feeling, to give it an answer, to move it along:

“Thank you for coming, but here, here is your hat, and there, there is the door!”

I will continue to watch the tree outside my window these next weeks, hopefully, months and years. I want to see how the tree handles these confusing times, these times when its sustenance has not been provided.

I continue to observe myself as I live in confusing times, changing times, times burdened by too much information, too soon, too often, too carelessly given.

I watch the rest of us, too.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void…”  Genesis 1:1-2