Back in January, two of my completely separate worlds collided and the impact shifted something profound inside of me. It all started when, with wet paintbrushes in hand, I walked back into the art room at my children’s school to clean up from a volunteer project I had been working on. At the side of the classroom I tried to quietly rinse and dry while the teacher went on with her lesson. The words, “wishing tree” pricked my ears and my head slowly turned to the screen. “Could it be the same one?” I thought as my hands forgot about the brushes under the water.
A few years ago, I had attended a photography retreat. The women who organized the affair had created a Facebook group and every once in awhile, something new would pop up relating to photography and projects the attendees were working on. I first read about the San Francisco Wishing Tree there when fellow retreat attendee, Vanessa, mentioned that NBC Nightly News had a just done a piece on her tree. It was so refreshing to see that the national news circuit had finally focused on something positive and joyful to share with the audience. And what an amazing coincidence that the news broadcast had inspired action in the art teacher at MY children’s school, half a country away in Houston, Texas?
Ms. Lamb took the idea of the Wishing Tree and ran with it, opening it up to our entire elementary school and then the local community. Each child made their wishes and hung them up on a perfectly imperfect hodge-podge display of ribbon, sparkle and glitter.
It was an organic exhibition of hope and bravery that caught the attention of every passerby. Walking through and reading the wishes of the children, teachers and community, a new idea started to brew in my head. Vanessa’s tree had now sparked even more inspiration.
I decided to share the idea of the Wishing Tree with my own students. I wanted to expand on the idea of making wishes and find a way to incorporate photography and writing. I created a series of lesson plans to go along with the idea of building community:
Lesson 1: We discussed different types of wishes. We talked about how the wishes we made for the world as a whole were different than the wishes we made only for ourselves. It might be easy to wish for something generic like “no more poverty” but difficult to wish for something personal that we really, really wanted. It takes bravery to put our truest, heartfelt wishes out into the universe. We also discussed wishing in a community and how we never really know who might be able to help us achieve our wishes – if only they knew what we were wishing for.
Lesson 2: We began to differentiate the types of wishes we make. We categorized them into 2 sets, positive and negative. Some of the more positives wishes were things like, “I wish I could finish my college degree” and “I wish I could spend a day with my whole family”. Some of the negative wishes included things like, “I wish this line would move faster” and “I wish I wasn’t so fat.” We talked about how setting our intentions for our wishes to be hopeful and optimistic could help change our outlook. Instead of, “I wish this line would move faster,” we could change our wish to be, “I wish that I could have more patience.”
Lesson 3: Over the course of the year, my class had spent time finding small items in our community to photograph following along with several principles of photography: Lines, Color, Shape, Texture, Light, etc. We had a backlog of beautiful images that represented the different principles, but we hadn’t done anything specific with them. I decided that we would go through these images, discuss them and use them as part of our project. We talked what we liked about these images and what we might change about them if we had a chance to do them again. Then, we spent even more time with our cameras finding new scenes to practice on.
Lesson 4: Between classes, I put together a grid of the images we discussed and printed them out. We each decorated a page in our journals with the words, “I wish…” that we subsequently photographed to print on the back side of our images. We used an assembly-line approach to cut out the images, round the corners, cut string, punch holes and finally, tie strings onto each print.
We made enough cards for all the students, the staff, the volunteers and the visitors to each make wishes. And we made even more to have on hand for the exhibition of student work that would be happening a few weeks after the lesson had taken place. It was a powerful sight to see all the empty cards waiting to be filled and to think about all the people and the wishes they might make.
At the exhibition, all the guests were invited to make their own wishes and add them to our makeshift tree. I didn’t get to see it on the last day when they took down the displays. I like to imagine that the all the branches were drooping from the weight of the wishes that the visitors unloaded from their hearts. I found out recently that our humble wishing tree will continue to live on at the community from which it sprung to life. The tree, along with all it’s newly acquired wishes will stand in one of the common areas for new residents and guests to see everyday. It’s even going on a road trip as an example of the projects that get created through partnerships with various art organizations throughout Houston.
I’m continually amazed at the power of wishing. Putting your hopes and genuine intentions out into the world can literally bring communities together. I am so thankful for Vanessa and Ms. Lamb for bringing the idea of the Wishing Trees into my world and I can’t wait to see how the Trees evolve with each passing year. I want to know – what is YOUR brave, true, genuine wish for yourself? Will you put it out there into the comments and into the universe? You never know who will be there to help make it come true…
Here’s to wishing and hoping and dreaming, Angie
*This post was originally published on Viewfinders.io in June 2015.