A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the Cute Syndrome Blog about my relationship with the “magic” ring I have in my life. I didn’t come out and say it exactly, but at the core the piece was about how magical thinking can help draw our attention to the gifts that life offers—the unexpected wins, the special people who find their way into our lives, the times when really hard work pays off.
Since writing the piece I have found myself thinking an awful lot about the relationship between magic and reality. I’ve been trying to understand why I don’t believe that these two things are distinct…why, more than ever, I believe in magic in every day life.
In many ways, in my heart I have always been a bit of a magical realist—even before falling in love with stories such as Like Water for Chocolate, Amelie, and One Hundred Years of Solitude and the art of Frida Kahlo. As a child I had a pretty elaborate fantasy world. My childhood was rich with opportunities for magic. I lived on acres of beautiful rolling fields and thick, damp woods. My parents didn’t believe in fancy toys (nor could they afford them then) or much television. Instead they nurtured my imagination, my relationship with our land, and my interest in making things.
As a result I lived in a very rich reality that was animated by friendships with the fairies and elves that lived in the woods adjacent to my house—I built them houses, made them clothing out of flowers, and wrote letters to these dear friends. I caught frogs in our pond and kissed them, fully expecting that one of the times one of them would have to turn into a prince. I played paleontologist and archeologist in the woods—digging through a very old cow graveyard and what was, presumably, an old dump where I found old glass bottles, tins, and pottery shards.
And, later, as my family came apart in a painful divorce when I was seven, my belief in magic solidified into elaborate fairytales about how the dynamic of my family might be righted. Interestingly—while magical things happened in these stories, like my ability to become invisible, or give magic potion to my parents, or find just the right words to caste a spell—the stories set bizarrely practical goals, with happy endings rarely amounting to a reconciliation or being whisked away to another place. I loved my family, and eventually I knew it was best that my parents weren’t together. Instead I wrote happy endings with fantasies like my parents being able to speak to each other about my schedule or having clothing at both houses so I wouldn’t get in trouble for forgetting things or being able to decorate the room in which I slept.
With time I learned that with some of these things the practical magic I was looking for would only happen if I was the one to create it. So, I got really good at organizing my own schedule, carefully packing my own bags, and claiming spaces for myself through non-permanent means.
I suppose that sounds so far from magic that it is just silly…
But also, it is not.
Because somewhere in there is the secret to understanding that a lot of the magic in life is recognizing reality and not trying to escape it…but, rather, turning it into something you can work with.
It is about bending reality in order to create magic.
When my daughter Esmé was born five years ago—so silent, so fragile, struggling to survive in this world—I almost immediately thought about magic. There is something about her that is otherworldly…something in the combination of her fragility and her intuitive connection with others. I’ve often joked that she was a gift given to me by the fairies and elves that inhabited the woods near my childhood home.
And many times, in the moments when she seemed so close to slipping away from this world, I have wondered whether they would take her back from me…
There has never been a time in my adult life that I have had to struggle so deeply with the nature of reality and my magical thinking. At times the “reality” of Esmé could seem extremely bleak…and I felt like I had to battle to keep ahold of my hope for the beautiful magic I saw in my child’s eyes.
When Esmé was three weeks old one physician said something about her potential quality of life, when we resisted, saying that we couldn’t know anything about her future based on so little information, the physician said, “Well, no one is telling you to put your baby in a garbage bag on the side of the road, but you need to be realistic about this…” We walked out and never went back.
Not long after that I found myself walking into the ER with a limp and blue Esmé in my arms, hours later her heart and breathing stopped. As she was in the ICU recovering, a pediatric specialist told us that we shouldn’t expect our child to amount to much, should she survive.
We’ve been told over and over not to expect much—by doctors, by the pitying looks we generate, by the assumptions made about her, by the developmental testing that labels her as severely delayed in all respects.
And over and over Esmé has done things so seemingly impossible that I have felt the need to present her doctors with video evidence.
Over and over we have looked for and found therapists and doctors who see what we see in her.
Over and over we have had truly amazing people walk into our lives only because of the wonder that is Esmé.
Over and over we have pushed hard to give her the proper environment for her to make possible gains.
Over and over she meets her reality with her spirit. It is a spirit that says she will not give up on trying things that are difficult, that she will learn things even though she may not be able to demonstrate them, that she will love and laugh and dance, that she will be rare and perfect and unpredictable.
I stand back and watch while my tiny daughter bends reality over and over, and I can say that, now more than ever, I know magic is my reality.