Many things about my childhood predisposed me to believe in magic. The mighty Mississippi, limestone bluffs riddled with old lead mines, our proximity to the library which had an amazing children’s room. Five siblings with creative imaginations, and parents who encouraged the use of them, also helped. So I grew up believing in many kinds of magic. Supernatural magic, such as Santa Claus, elves and pixies, wishing on stars. Religious magic, like patron saints or my very own guardian angel. And there was everyday magic: the longing induced by a lone barge whistle, snow falling softly through lamplight, the profusion of lilac blossoms in spring.
For most of my adult life, I’ve tried to hold onto the magic. The tension between being a grown up (making decisions, earning a living, surviving the hard parts like illness and despair) AND a believer in magic is oftentimes difficult to resolve such that you can successfully be both. I frequently get it wrong, and discover that I have ventured into territory in which one or the other is lost, to the detriment of my ability to function well. If I am overbalanced on the side of “magic”, I stray into magical thinking and dreaming and lose the present moment in which to create my life. If I stand too deep in the land of grown ups, I forget how to be touched by beauty and wonder, how to welcome grace when it enters my life.
Love can be an instructive example of what I mean. In the grown up world, we learn to love in spite of weaknesses, human foibles, habits that we don’t care for (both in ourselves and in those we love). Love is about learning where people are in life, then accepting ourselves and others exactly there. In the world of magic, love is about soul mates who just get us, moments that propel us into a feeling of flow, our perfect selves connecting with another perfect self who dreams with us about all the perfect possibilities out there. This is true for all kinds of love, not just romantic love. Too far to the “grown up” side, and we lose the childlike joy that relationship brings; we leave out the “…and all” part of the phrase, leaving us with just the “warts…” part. Too far on the magic side, and we end up in a lovely castle made of air, which may blow away at the first puff of rough weather. Love needs both our grown up selves and our magic-believer selves.
Love has taught me a lot this year, both about being a grown up and about believing in magic. It turns out that the magic of love happens in ways and places we don’t expect. Sometimes we get one thing when we were hoping for something else. The grown up in us needs to learn to be content that this is so. Because every bit of it is miraculous, every incarnation of love is magic.
I was thinking about this at my friend Ryan’s birthday party last weekend. He was a 19-year-old college student and I was a 36-year-old administrator when we met. An unlikely pair. Yet, words cannot express the depth of feeling I have for him — brother, colleague, co-conspirator all wrapped up in one big ball of love. You will never convince me that is anything but magic!
So, I try to hold that old tension. Try to be both grown up and believe in magic. And really, now that I think about it, love in all its forms is the perfect melding of the two.