“Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,” he said wisely one day, “but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment.”
I have loved The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, both by Frances Hodgson Burnett, since the third grade when my teacher, Ms. Begneaud, suggested I read them. Begneaud is a Cajun name and my teacher had sparkly eyes and very curly hair.
In A Little Princess, Sara Crewe’s father dies leaving her a penniless orphan, and the sour Ms. Minchin moves Sara into the cold attic to live in rags, underfed, and work as a servant in the school where she had been the star pupil. Fictional Sara always treats others with care, sharing when there is anything to share and using her vivid imagination to help those around her, and herself, to bear misfortune. (In rodent news, she also befriends a rat whom she names Melchisedec.)
The conditions of Sara’s life continue to decline. She grows thinner, shabbier, hungrier. Yet even on her worst day finding a coin in the gutter she shares her good fortune (and five out of six fresh buns) with a girl who is hungrier than she is.
And it happens that someone takes notice. An invalid who lives next door to the school becomes interested in this little girl and her situation. He thinks: maybe I’m in a position to do something. And secretly he hatches a plan to leave her gifts in her attic room, dropped in from the skylight — food, blankets, a warm fire in the grate — all anonymously. She goes to sleep one night and wakes up later and there it is, appearing to her as a gift from life itself. Amazed, she says: The Magic has come and done it.
But that's not magic
No, you say, (if you are my child), that’s not magic. A guy came in through the skylight with some food and put it on the table. We saw him planning it. She only thinks it’s magic. Science has a clear explanation and we can logically assign causality.
Yes it is
And to think I used to pretend and pretend and wish there were fairies! The one thing I always wanted was to see a fairy story come true. I am living in a fairy story. I feel as if I might be a fairy myself, and able to turn things into anything else.
The magic part is how it makes her feel about life. That things can come to be in unplanned, unexpected, unimagined ways.
A wood elf
Do you remember my giant tree pieces?
(As a quick recap: I had 2.5 100-yr-old oaks cut into giant rounds and left sitting in a reptile-inviting heap at the bottom of my yard, too heavy for me to budge, awaiting some uncertain destiny.)
Since January I am reminded of this physically challenging question mark each time I look out of my office window. As I sit here typing, the tree segments are arranged below my line of sight, just hidden from my view. I roll the chair towards the window, or sit up tall and lean over, to look out and see them. Most days I gaze at the mound of wood, wondering what it is there to teach me. I’ve considered mushroom farming, I’ve looked into hugelculture, I’ve taken multiple long, deep breaths. I love the wood. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with it or how I’m going to find the physical strength to move any of it anywhere.
On Monday I looked out of the window and almost rubbed my eyes to make sure I was seeing clearly. A small stack of neatly chopped wood sat in the middle of the yard. As I’ve mentioned, we don’t own an axe and Dave grew up in a country where all the trees were cut down hundreds of years ago so he’s not an experienced log splitter, but very manly nonetheless.
It was like Rumpelstiltskin had been here, or some shoe elves.
Two days later, I looked again and the pile had grown. I am in the house what feels like all the time but I never heard or saw anyone splitting those logs.
I’m pretty sure I know who is cutting the wood. I’m pretty sure it’s not a gnome or a genie.
I haven’t confirmed this yet, though, or even said thank you. I wanted to write this first, and even more than that to let myself live in the Magic for just a little bit longer.
It's not the wood, it's the choppedness
“When Mary found this garden it looked quite dead,” the orator proceeded. “Then something began pushing things up out of the soil and making things out of nothing. One day things weren’t there and another they were… ‘What is it? What is it?’… I don’t know its name so I call it Magic. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden — in all the places.”
“Magic is in her just as it is in Dickon,” said Colin. “It makes her think of ways to do things — nice things. She is a Magic person.”
I don’t know what magic is, but I know what it feels like.
Magic is not the sudden materialization in space of atoms that were not there moments before. It is not the “free-thingness” of something that makes it magic.
Magic feels like a surprise, like a gift that shows up in its own way, and you didn’t figure it out yourself. One day something wasn’t there and another day, it was. You didn’t know what might happen and then something did.
Aspiring magician how-to
I don’t think my neighbor was trying to be a magician (that is, if it was not a wood elf, still unconfirmed). Maybe magic exists because we exist in relationship with others, maybe it is a feature of the uncontrollable, unpredictable, unknowable nature of life. Maybe it happens when there is a question mark and someone else takes an action to help. And you feel in yourself, with delight and surprise: The power of life can be benevolent. I am supported by unseen forces.
“Never thee stop believin’ in th’ Big Good Thing an’ knowin’ th’ world’s full of it—an’ call it what tha’ likes.