Sometimes I catch sight of the sun and the mystery of it all returns. There is no magic at the half century mark, only reason. The earth rotates around a ball of nuclear fire millions of miles away that itself is hurtling toward a distant edge that it will never reach. Ho hum.
I am speeding toward a distant edge, too–the end of mankind–but I’ll never reach it. Like the sun, I’ll burn out long before the edge of that universe comes into view. My body will turn to ash, and that dust will nurture the tender roots of fresh blades of grass that will stretch toward the sun that soars through the emptiness of space like trillions of similar stars feeding trillions of blades of grass.
No magic. No mystery. No god. Ho hum.
We can move the air and make each other cry. That’s all that music is. We can break light into its components and reassemble them to tell a story. That’s what painting is. Words on page are a con. What you’re hearing is your own voice rattling around inside your own head, but you interpret that voice as mine rather than yours. It’s art, not magic. Everything has a logical explanation at the halfway mark. Middle age is a bore.
“Jimmy, wake up. Wake up.” My mother grabbed my hand and led me to the living room. She pulled a cord and the heavy curtains behind the couch parted. My whole world was gone.
“Snow!” I screamed. It was a miracle.
At night I arranged my stuffed animals around me in a protective circle and drew my knees to my chest. Neglecting these precautions invited the devil at the foot of my bed to drag me to Hell. Damnation was real, bedtime was terrifying. Santa Claus was real, too: the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy. I stared at the paintings in my Children’s Bible, awestruck by the man who rose from the dead and became a god.
Time passed. Experiences piled up. The ubiquity of the sunrise robbed it of any mystery. Snow became a nuisance to be avoided, Satan just a metaphor rather than a child-snatching demon. There is no magic anymore, but sometimes I catch sight of the sun and the mystery of it all returns.
Occasionally something else does the trick. Last night I took a walk near dusk. The air was cold and still, the horizon backlit by the last sliver of the day’s light. As I neared the park I heard their screams: young, joyful. A few steps in and I could make out the silhouettes of three young boys running in a circle.
“Faster!” one shouted. “Let out more string!” I heard the fluttering long before I could make out the kite floundering in the dark, dead air. “Don’t stop running!” the little boy yelled.
I stood and watched, waiting for the children to realize that they couldn’t fly a kite with no wind, and that even if they managed to keep it aloft they wouldn’t be able to see it in the dark. “These are basic concepts!” I wanted to shout. “Don’t be fools! Ho hum!”
But I didn’t. I stood and watched and waited. I gave up long before they did. They ran in circles and laughed and willed their kite toward the edge of the universe, and I walked away.”Faster!” they continued to scream. “More string! Go higher! Higher!”
They still have magic. Maybe I do, too.
That’s the real work of being an adult: working hard to find the magic.
When you get beyond the half century mark, the magic starts all over again. It is in a different, better form. For me it is the ability to say “fuck you and the horse you rode in on” without really being insulting, but not caring if I am.
That was a great lesson you presented above.
I grew up with no Santa Claus, no tooth fairy, no God, and thus with no magic or sense of wonder. What a dreary world that was. I had reasonable explanations for just about everything that affected me: microscopic beings periodically invaded my body and made me sick; the green grass was the result of photosynthesis; sunsets were beautiful because stuff in the air refracted or reflected emanations from our nearest star. No magic, no wonder, nothing to see here, just move along. All that happened in my life was the result of biology, chemistry or physics and I had no power to change any of it. Happily, over the years I rediscovered and reclaimed a sense of wonder and magic I didn’t experience as a child. It doesn’t matter that sunsets are creatures of physics, they are still beautiful. Biology and chemistry produce infants, but they are still brand new life and wondrous to behold. Love is largely a chemical reaction in my brain and a necessity in the continuation of our race, but the joy and contentment it gives us is still marvelous. I dearly wish I could contact little Buddy and open his eyes to all he was missing.
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There was never a time I didn’t know of my parents, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and God. They were always there, always existing. With each trip around the Sun questions and doubts arose. Over time I began to think about things in a different way. Some kids whispered that the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny weren’t real. Some yelled it. Some kids even said the same about Santa. My parents eventually explained it was really all just make believe, but by the time they told me I had already figured it out.
After more trips around the Sun, and much learning, I realized that great ball of fire in the sky was actually a star, a huge mass of hydrogen burning up at an incredible rate. It was like billions of others, just your basic middle-aged yellow star. Like everything else, it too will die. And from the remnants perhaps another star will be born, with new planets, new life. Maybe that’s the way God designed it. Maybe there is no God. But maybe there is. We all can believe or not believe, but no one really knows what will happen after we take that last breath. Death is like a closed door. It can only be opened by dying. What will I find beyond it? Maybe nothing at all, my self extinguished. Maybe something wonderful. Maybe something bland and boring. Maybe something totally unexpected. No one on this planet, or any other, knows for sure. But what is certain is that we will all one day turn that doorknob. For me, this the greatest mystery.
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