Growing up, my parents knew I was a sensitive kid. I was shielded from childhood terror movies such as “Bambi” and “Dumbo” that depicted horrible things happening to the parents of the young and innocent. I begged to see “Bambi,” but was never allowed. Alas, I have never seen it to this day, nor do I plan to.
Darkness permeates the cautionary tales of kids’ entertainment. Don’t we all marvel at the macabre plots and lessons of children’s movies and stories throughout the ages?
They’ve been tamed, perhaps, Grimm’s tales softened in later retellings. But who can forget the outlandish consequences for character flaws in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
For me, the story that struck terror in me — determines my actions to this day, in fact — was the Monkey’s Paw. Do you remember it? It’s a story in which whoever possessed a charmed monkey’s paw would get three wishes. In the vein of the adage, “Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it,” the wishes would come horribly, horribly true. A woman came into possession of the paw, then wished for money. Soon after, her son was killed in a gruesome factory accident. Her wished-for sum arrived in the form of an apologetic payment from the factory. She then wished her son to be alive — and he was brought back to life in the same mangled state as he’d been in when killed. So she wished for him to be dead again and lost him forever.
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Perhaps strengthening the story’s impact was an event my grandma liked to tell me about. One night as she lay in bed, a dog was barking, keeping her awake.
“Bert, go do something,” she told my grandpa, who obediently got up and headed outside to “do something.” Just as he left, she thought to herself, “I wish that dog was dead.” She heard a car, then a yelp — then silence. Soon after, my grandpa returned.
“What did you do?” my grandma asked, horrified. Neither she nor my grandpa were the dog-murdering type.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just as I went out the front door, it got hit by a car. It’s dead.”
The story’s moral, which she shared with tender-hearted, animal-loving little me, was to never wish death on a person — or barking dog — or anything else we didn’t actually want dead, which I think is pretty reasonable advice. She said she always felt guilty for uttering her wish — merely an expression — spoken in desperation. She didn’t really want it dead.
It’s funny how these ideas we learn as youngsters can twist around us, worming their way into our view of the world. I never believed in evil monkey’s paws or genies or any other manners of wish-granting. What I do believe in, however, is a God who listens to our thoughts and prayers — and has the power to respond. I believe the answers He provides often look nothing like how we envisioned them.
To this day, I think of the monkey’s paw when there’s something I want. I preface prayers of request to God with the caveat that if He’s planning to answer monkey’s paw style, I’ll handle it on my own.
What I’ve found, though, is that sometimes just thinking through the monkey’s paw tragic answer — the one I don’t want — is enough to help me find a solution on my own. If I ask for patience with my family, I think of being without a family to test my patience. If I wish for more finances — more success — more anything, I can think of a flip-side that helps me appreciate the life I have.
I do not believe God operates like the monkey’s paw. Our prayers are not wishes, and we can safely utter our pleas from our knees with no fear of God “sticking it to us.”
As for my grandma’s wish? Well, that must have just been a coincidence.
Overland Park mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes weekly.