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Magic

There is nothing special in the world. Nothing magic. Just physics.”

Chuck Palahniuk,  Diary

“Magic is just science we don’t understand yet.”

-Sharon Mc Carragher

As I sent him out the door into the arctic darkness of a Michigan morning, I told my son that I was out of things to write about. “Give me something.” I implored, “anything that pops into your head.”

“Christmas lights” was his offering, as he left, bed-headed and sleep-eyed.

This was not the working of a fertile imagination; in order to leave the house he had to pass the lit Christmas tree, the lit garland in the foyer, and the unlit icicle lights on the front porch. It did, however, ignite the proverbial spark in me to write not only about Christmas lights, but about all of the magic that I still believe in, despite 47 years of exposure to the cynicism, disillusionment, pain and loss that exist in the world. I have seen the little man behind the curtain many, many times, but I still believe in the Great and Powerful Oz.  Sue me.

As a child, I believed in all kinds of magic – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the fountain in the mall into which one threw pennies and made wishes. My birthday was a kind of magical celebration of my wonderfulness, and the discovery of a woolly caterpillar on a tree trunk, a toad in the basement window well or a lady bug on a leaf was a unique and amazing event.  I also believed that the animals could speak on Christmas Eve, and used to fall asleep on the floor next to our big Airedale, Katie, waiting for her to say something to me. Later, it gave me incalculable pleasure to recreate Santa et al for my own children, leaving elaborate trails of jelly beans through the house (before we had the dogs), making glitter-pen trails on letters from the Tooth Fairy, and simulating reindeer tracks in the snow.

I have heard people say that they “never really believed in any of that stuff,” or (worse) that it’s wrong to “lie” to children, and that they are just going to tell their kids straight up that it’s all pretend. Unless it’s necessitated by religious or economic pressures, it seems like an incredible, selfish shame to deny children the chance to believe in magic because of parental pessimism and disappointment. There is relatively little risk that the average child will be made gullible or stupid as the result of waiting anxiously for the Tooth Fairy; I believed deeply and intensely throughout my childhood, and the little spots of magic that occurred on a regular basis gave me a sense of wonder and possibility that still inspire and delight me. I am not juvenile, or even particularly given to light-heartedness by nature; I am a mature, somewhat melancholy type who genuinely loves the joy of something unexpected, somewhat impossible, and quite wonderful.

Even when I was too old to believe in Santa, I had a world of magic available to me. My best friend Isabel and I had a lively interest in ghosts, and one summer I left her a series of notes from a sad female ghost residing in a weeping willow-filled lot across the street from my house. She probably never really believed, and I knew I was making it all up, but by mutual agreement, we played our parts until it seemed to us that there was a ghost, and that if we could be allowed to stay outside late enough, we might see her gliding through the willows in her white dress. We believed that if we built tiny houses outside with mushroom stools and grassy beds, fairies might come and live there when we weren’t watching. We believed that there was magic in the world, and much that we read, thought and played confirmed that belief. We are both, I think, better for it as adults.

There are signs of magic even in an adult life, including babies, the first snow of the season, running into an old friend just after you were thinking about her, finding something long-lost and treasured, hearing loons laughing on a still summer night, a solitary piper playing “Amazing Grace,” finding the perfect piece of beach glass, falling in love, and books that seem to have been written solely for you by an author you have never met. There are also kinds of beauty – a perfect spider web, a single red berry on a stark lace of branches, a casual arrangement of colored kayaks on the sand – that seem to signal us to stop what we’re doing and recognize what goodness this life offers. We can chock these things up to biology, random coincidence, the law of averages, or any number of real and pragmatic things, but do we really have to? No matter how we see the universe, as the creation of a higher power or as evidence of the laws of nature, there are occurrences, and phenomena that have the power to take us, even for a moment, from our daily rounds and give us a glimpse of the magical.

Which brings me back to the Christmas lights. I know that my husband, and not a merry band of elves, put them there. I understand that they involve current and plugs and filaments and all sorts of other electrical details that interest me not one little bit. They are magic, to me; they were magical when I was a child lying on the floor of the living room, looking up at the patterns created on the ceiling by the tree lights and branches, and it is magical to me at 47 that there is a tree with tiny white lights in my house, and that if I turned out all the lights I would again see that mysterious and beautiful play of light and dark on my own ceiling. (It is important to note that, given my difficulty with scientific principles, even the fact that electricity exists and can be harnessed and brought into my house is somewhat magical). It’s not sappy or sentimental, I don’t think, to be awed and surprised by something quite beautiful that really makes absolutely no sense and serves no real purpose other than to be quite beautiful.

Even if, like me, you have much daily truck with sarcasm, cynicism and irony, you should always leave room for magic (and dessert). Otherwise, you miss the best stuff.

There is nothing special in the world. Nothing magic. Just physics.

CHUCK PALAHNIUK, Diary

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

17 responses »

  1. again, the beauty of some of this actually made me get butterflies in my stomach. I continue to tell Zachary if you really really believe in something, doesn’t that make it real to you? This is the first year he hasn’t asked my 50 questions about the magic, leading me to believe it is gone. He won’t let on though, like you and your friend we’ll keep playing our roles, it’s better that way. The way Daniel’s mind work he doesn’t understand it and believes fully. He’s a bit lucky that way, I think. Happy Holidays!

    Reply
    • Well, I’m glad SOMEBODY else believes. I really don’t want to live in a world in which nothing is magical, mystical or otherwise spontaneous, unexpected or (literally) “awesome.” I hope that you and Zachary go on playing as you possibly can, and as for Daniel; it’s maybe a kind of magic that he has the ability to believe, no?

      Reply
  2. Ann,

    Physics is little more that the set of self imposed rules with which an omnipotent being keeps the game of creation and daily living interesting…….

    Anything is possible.

    Reply
  3. Ann,

    Great post today. I believe, too.

    Reply
    • Gosh, I hope so! (Did I just write “Gosh, like I’m Aunt Bee?!)

      Reply
      • Ann, is that your tree in the header pic? Oh my, it looks so beautiful and cozy there–magical! I mean that, too. Looks like a room with magic in the air.

      • It is my tree (lit but undecorated) and my living room (complete with dog on chair and pile o’ guns & ammo).

  4. Even crochety old agnostics trained as scientists, like yours truly, need a place for magic. Otherwise what’s the point. Magic is the seed of joy.

    Reply
    • Magic is the seed of joy. If I didn’t already know that you were a poet (in addition to being a crotchety old agnostic and a scientist) I would know now.

      Reply
  5. This is my favorite piece. Have you ever read a book, and felt that it was just what you would have wanted to write, had you the discipline, talent, and imagination? You have done that for me in this short piece.

    Thank you for the magic.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much. I’m so glad it spoke to you – I was worried that it was too silly for my Deep Thoughts period. I really do believe, though…..

      Reply
  6. Just got back from a walk around the neighborhood with the pup and a friend. I’m still like a little kid when I see houses and yards with lovely sparkling lights out front. Glimpses of the trees inside windows. There indeed is magic in all of those things– the things of beauty we see around us every day– all we have to do is just stop and look. Thanks for reminding us to do so!

    Reply
    • My pleasure – walking in the winter and looking in at lights is one of my FAVORITE kinds of magic, along with the feeling when you step back into your house and it’s warm and cozy and your people are there.

      Reply
  7. Thanks, Ann, I needed that. . . .

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Math Finals « Forest Street Kitchen

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