-1- When I was five years old, my parents were the landlords of an apartment complex in South Florida. This meant our family made an excessive number of trips to the local hardware store. Always the begrudging participant, I would search for ways to make the experience more of an adventure, which often required evading supervision. On this occasion, my parents quickly immersed themselves in a particularly gripping discussion about sheets of plywood when my chance to escape presented itself. I made my way to the garden section hoping to encounter something a bit more exciting, like a lemon tree, some river rocks, or better yet — a snail! I wandered through the aisle of fruit trees and found one with some lemons. I recently learned in school that trees are a part of nature, and nature belongs to all of us. I plucked a few lemons and into my pocket they went. While in the midst of self-justifying my harvest, I noticed I wasn’t alone. Nearby, atop a stack of several bags of mulch, sat a wispy grey cat. Like most kindergarteners, I was certain this creature would become my best friend. I started towards her in slow motion (at first), and in the brand of silence only possessed by young children.
-2- “HI, KITTYCAT!” I screamed, charging at her. Like most rational cats, in a flash of fur she bolted away from the small human now in hot pursuit. I followed her until she eventually led me to the fountain section where she decided she’d had enough and ended the chase. I’m sure she thought no creature would be foolish enough to approach all of those tubs of water and risk getting themselves wet. I, however, read this as a welcome. Trying to impress my new friend with my feline-like agility, I began to climb onto the nearest fountain ledge. She yawned. The next thing I knew, she catapulted herself to a nearby shelf, and promptly vanished into the darkness between the stacks of earthen flower pots. What reason could she have to run away when I had made clear I was trying to be friends? Maybe she didn’t speak English and I should have meowed at her instead. I was developing a new strategy for my next cat encounter as I gazed into the depths of the fountain. The overhead lights twinkled across the surface of the coins at the bottom like a school of copper fish. I followed them as they swam, twisting and turning, until my eyes fell upon something unusual. A small orb sat between the coins on the fountain floor. A series of thumps broke the enchantment of this new discovery, a sound children everywhere can identify from miles away— the ominous footsteps of an angry parent.
-3- Mom! It was time for action! I hastily decided to stretch myself across the top of the fountain, one hand on the ledge and my legs splayed for balance like a flying squirrel so I could lower my free hand into the water and retrieve the orb. I’d grab it, slip it into my pocket along with the tiny lemons I’d collected, and then make a swift run back towards my mom. How could this plan possibly go wrong? Well, here’s how: flying squirrels are graceful creatures who defy gravity regularly. I, on the other hand, slipped on the ledge and sank like a sack of pennies, into the water with the rest of the coins. My mother’s voice broke through the commotion. I felt around for the orb and with one last hopeful swipe, climbed out of the fountain as coolly as a drenched five year old could. I approached my mother, blinking the water out of my eyes only to realize both of my parents were now staring at me incredulously. All shopping plans were abandoned as we made a swift exit through the garden section, one of my ears secured between my mother’s fingers until we reached the car.
-4- Despite the resulting safety lesson on supervision, my mind wandered off to a much more pressing matter. The orb was safely in my pocket. The mysterious item at the bottom of the fountain turned out to be an iridescent marble, which, upon closer inspection, was filled with tiny bubbles, each a perfect replica of the orb itself. Later that night, with the help of a flashlight, I inspected my hard-earned prize in closer detail under the covers. Held delicately yet securely between my thumb and index finger, I positioned it in front of the flashlight. An infinity of brilliant blue arrows scattered in every direction from the marble’s core, pushing back against the surrounding darkness. This was clearly a magic marble. In the ensuing weeks, the marble remained with me at all times. I imagined it allowed me to share its special powers. While holding it up to the sun one day, creating my own solar eclipse, my sister noticed the marble. “Where did you get that from?”
-5- Arrhythmic giggles and a sudden interest in my toes delayed my response. “Where did you get it?” She asked a bit louder this time. “Uhm…I…” I wasn’t prepared for the inquiry. “I found it…a cat helped me find it!” Her skepticism was silent but palpable. She hadn’t even finished raising her eyebrows when the whole story poured out of me. I told her all about fountain climbing with the cat, the lemon heist, and the orb. Being my older and wiser sister (she was eight years old, after all), she first informed me with absolute authority that I should not have taken the lemons or the marble. I listened to this theory and glued my eyes to the floor. As long as she didn’t tell our parents, this would all end well. “Do you know what you have in your hand there?” she asked. “That’s someone’s wish!” She went on to posit, “It must have been an important wish or they would have just used a penny.” Someone’s wish? She told me all about the act of throwing objects into the water to make a wish come true. So that’s why the fountain was full of coins!
-6- It seemed a bit absurd. How could someone toss this amazing marble into a fountain and just leave it there…on purpose? Of course, who was I to doubt the wisdom of those who already knew how to tie their own shoelaces? I listened intently, nodding my promise to never pluck lemons or remove anything from a fountain ever again (with two fingers crossed behind my back). I was playing with the marble a few days later when I began thinking more about wishes. What would I wish for? A flurry of ideas rushed forth, beginning with a list of highly coveted toys. Chief among them, Teddy Ruxpin, the only teddy bear who could talk. There was also my terrible haircut; I'd definitely wish that away. And candy was certainly high on the list as well. The source of my wishes, however, took a dramatic turn the next day when I awoke to the stillness of my dear goldfish, Fishy, who was now floating above the hot pink plants in her aquarium. I sprinted to the kitchen where my mom, still in her nursing uniform, was preparing breakfast. “Mummy! Fishy needs to go to the doctor, she’s sick!” “There are no goldfish doctors,” My father informed me while hastily running a fluffy brush across his work shoes. “And if there are, we can’t afford them!”
-7- Money. It was a concept I didn’t fully understand. I just knew if I had some, I might be able to help Fishy. I had a great idea just then. Mrs. Kay, my dad’s boss, was rich. Her house looked like a palace. I bet she had at least a hundred dollars. She could just give us some of her extra money and then we could take Fishy to a doctor. “She doesn’t have extra” sighed my dad before he grabbed his briefcase and rushed out the front door. I turned to my mother in hopes of a contradiction. “She does have extra, doesn’t she, mummy? That’s what it means to be rich. It means ‘extra.’” “Your dad is right,” she said with a yawn. “Now, come eat your cereal before it gets soggy.” I sat down to the first spoon of my breakfast, which was now more porridge than corn flakes, bewildered (and slightly queasy). When I had more crayons than I needed at school, my teacher instructed me to share what I didn’t need with my classmates. “Sharing is caring.” Grown-ups invented that saying.
-9- Much later, I would discover that grown-ups often say nice things, but a lot of it was like plastic fruit on the dining table or the soap bars shaped like seashells in the guest bathroom— for decoration only. If grownups really cared, they would share just like they tell children to. Then, no one would be hungry, or alone or helpless because someone would always care and do something to make things better. I suddenly knew what to do. Instead of making a wish for myself, I’d wish for Fishy to live! A wish doesn't have to be a selfish desire. It could also be a light in the most desperate corner of one's heart, a life-changing breath of hope. I began to think about the wish inside my marble and started to comprehend the significance of what I had been carrying around so casually until that moment. I didn’t know the person who made this wish. I couldn’t see them, but I now held a bit of their hope in the palm of my little hand. Whoever they were, they were real and the marble was proof. It was no toy. Something lived within it, beyond itself. A powerful magic that created a bridge between two lives. I was now the guardian of a wish.
-10- Over the years, the marble became a metaphor for the grand connection. There is a living passage that runs through the hopes of all creatures. The energy flowing within this space awakens us to the experience of others and our responsibility to reach beyond ourselves in service. As I grew older, I learned there exists a word for this intangible, infinite force. Empathy.
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