I recently read a blog in which the writer, a mother imagining the world through her five-year-old son’s eyes, was lamenting the loss of magic in her own adult Christmas experience. She wondered, specifically about Santa, but really about life in general, “Do I let him believe in magic knowing how fast it could, and one day will get ripped away? …do I encourage it?”
My short answer to her is, yes, of course you should. But I suspect she doesn’t really need me to tell her what to do.
My long answer is this…
I’m an adult; I know ‘the truth’ about Santa—but I still believe in magic. I know magic exists; it’s real. I can feel it inside me as surely as I feel my own bones. And most importantly, I know it when I see it
You see, the tricky thing about magic is it’s everywhere and all-the-time, but you kinda have to know where to look for it. It’s not always in the form you’d expect. (Well of course it’s not—I can hear my eight-year-old daughter, an ardent Harry Potter fan, whispering in my ear as I type this—it’s magic!)
One early summer day my friend Jonathan came over to visit and brought his seven-year-old nephew to play with my daughters. We ended up at the neighborhood park where we ran into a bunch of kids, all about that same age. As the shadows grew longer and the light began to shift, Jonathan announced to all of us (because he’s just amazingly cool like this), “The sun is starting to go down. C’mon let’s find a good spot to watch the sunset!” We all followed him to the highest spot on the playground, where the kids continued to run around, slaloming through lines of trees while we waited for the sun to set.
After a long time, it was the blue-haired kid in the hockey jersey who noticed it. Peering through the trees at the melting sky, his eyes suddenly got wide. “Look!” he shouted. “Everybody look! I see a rainbow!” He turned to me. “See? See it!? It’s right there. There’s a rainbow in the sunset!”
I squinted. I couldn’t see the rainbow. But the boy, there was something different about him. As he stood still for just a second beside a low wall on the periphery of the playground, the air tingled with a tiny spark of something… wonder, possibility, ideas taking shape… Yes, just-there: magic! Everything stopped and I felt it. For a second, the whole world was drenched in it.
Maybe I’m cheating here a little bit. I’m describing a child’s experience. Everything is new to children, and everybody knows magic is how children see the world. But the very best magic is transformative, for everyone involved. When I talk about the boy discovering a rainbow in the sunset, I’m really not telling the whole story. What I really mean to say is, watching the boy’s face, as he stood still for just a second beside a low wall on the periphery of the playground—I felt a change in me.
Years ago my husband and I took a trip to Italy. While in Rome I decided we needed to visit the famous catacombs outside the city. On the car ride there I was excited; I couldn’t stop thinking about what we might find, “Do you think we’ll see bones? Will there be bodies? Maybe skulls? Do you think we could touch them?” Brett had no idea, but he knows me well enough to understand I was about to be majorly freaked out by whatever we were about to see– and also well enough to understand there was no use in talking me out of it.
Inside the catacombs, deep underground, our guide– a Catholic priest from Ireland– led us through the burial chambers of early Christian martyrs and popes, past the peculiar sad effigy of Cecilia, patron saint of music, through shoulder-width earthen tunnels lined on both sides with body-sized niches. No bodies anymore in this burial chamber, but that didn’t lessen the emotional impact. The energy inside the empty tombs was intense. The farther we walked into the underground dark, the tighter my chest got, the more I had to fight the urge to shove past our small group of tourists and escape.
Finally our tour wound around one last passageway and I could see stairs and sunlight. I couldn’t handle the psychic energy of the place anymore– or maybe my imagination was running wild. I rushed for the stairs, pulling Brett along with me, “Let’s go, let’s go,” I said. “I have to get out of here now. Let’s go.” Our guide stopped us, puzzled. He was in the process of herding our group into a tiny cave of a room to the right of the stairs. I knew there was absolutely no way I was going in there. “My wife needs to get out of here,” Brett explained. “She’s claustrophobic.”
This wasn’t the exact truth, and although I’m not hugely religious to speak of, I felt bad lying to a priest. The priest stepped forward and looked into my eyes. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “God bless you.” He reached gently towards me and I stepped back, reluctant to have a stranger touch me. He pressed on, and slowly he drew the sign of the cross on my forehead, right at the spot where my third eye might be. Ohhhhhhh! I could feel the energy as he laid his hands on me. Coming from somewhere outside of him, it coursed through him, pulsing and focusing through his fingers and into my body. “Be well,” he said.
I was well. Truthfully I was euphoric. I don’t know when in my life I’ve ever felt such a deep sense of peace and well-being. And power. Where did that come from, I wondered? For days afterward, maybe weeks, I could still feel the imprint of the cross on my forehead. “It’s like magic!” I said. “Or a miracle, that’s almost the same thing right.?” My husband, a martial arts student, always practical, said, “It’s ch’i.“
So, I’m an adult. You can take this to mean that I don’t believe in Santa Claus or (probably not) fairies, or even boy wizards (sigh). And I don’t, at least not in the same ways I did when I was a child. But that doesn’t mean my sense of wonder has just totally disapparated. There is too much undiscovered, unexplored and unexplained in the world for me to give up that easily.
After all, there is a certain truth that lies behind belief in magic—that feeling of possibilities and wonder and everyday amazement—and I don’t ever want to let that go.
© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2012