I believe in magic.
As a child, long before diving into the magical world of writing, I always wanted to believe in magic–that desire to believe that something existed that could make all wrongs right and all injustices fair. Not having been raised in a religious household, the void was never filled by belief in God, and even though later in life I grew to find strength through the empowerment of a spiritual journey, it was more a vehicle to help find my way through the realities I faced each day–a tool–not magic.
As I reflect on this holiday season and I assess the learnings the past year has gifted me, I realize that magic is not something that exists on its own, but is something created. I had come to believe that even those things that felt like magic would one day be shattered by reality, thus calling its entire existence into question. But as we gain wisdom and perspective, sometimes we find what we thought was impossible had been waiting for us to simply acknowledge its existence.
I grew up in an old coal-mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania. My mother, who left school in the ninth grade to care for my grandmother, was seventeen the day she gave birth. My father, nearly twenty-four, worked as mechanic for his brother instead of attending college. Even though he worked insanely hard to provide for us, money was always scarce.
I never had the latest technology or trendy toys. There were no shopping trips like my children enjoy. I was a teenager the first time I went to sit-down restaurant. Vacations consisted of weekend day trips to a park, because hotels were too expensive. Clothing was purchased once a year at the start of school and toys were received only twice per year–birthdays– usually modest and… Christmas.
Christmas was wonderful because my parents who could never afford any luxuries for me had help. Santa, a philanthropic do-gooder with a fat bank account and a love for children, came to the rescue once per year.
Every year, on Christmas Eve, I would say good night to a barren pine tree that we had selected and cut, and then dragged through the snow down the mountainside, the week before. In a red and green stand containing water, it waited for Santa to arrive and adorn it with lights, tinsel and ornaments.
On Christmas morning, I had to wake my father to make sure that “Santa wasn’t still in the house.” It was his queue to illuminate the tree. Once given the all clear, I descended the stairs to find the most beautifully decorate tree and a bounty that would surpass any child’s imagination.
My parents stood dutifully by while I opened gifts from a stranger–a magical man who rewarded me for all the things I did right, who without knowing me at all, knew my likes, dislikes and secret wishes. A person who gave to me without ever asking a thing in return–no washed dishes, completed homework or chores.
I wanted to believe so much that people like Santa existed that I challenged anyone who tried to tell me otherwise. It couldn’t possibly have been my parents like the other children told me. They couldn’t afford the treasures I’d received, and if they did have a hand in everything, wouldn’t they want credit? Wouldn’t they want their child to know it was them? Wouldn’t the world lose all of its magic if I stopped believing?
The truth, though obvious and quite comically so, eluded me as I stayed loyal to my belief much longer than most children. When I was finally told the truth, my belief in magic died, but in its place, years later, something even more mystical emerged–mature love. Not the adoration that a child has for a parent or the all-consuming notion of romantic love but that selflessness that compels one to do things without reward and without recognition, simply because it makes the other person believe in things they never thought possible. There is no greater gift or expression of love.
In all honesty, I didn’t make the connection right away, and like most children, I used the deception to manipulate my parents (There you have it–my written confession, Dad), but as I grew older with the full-knowledge that Santa didn’t exist, and that magic was an illusion, I came face to face with a series of events I couldn’t explain–a scholarship I never applied for, auditions and opportunities arranged by a someone who had never heard me sing, and more than a few cases of being in the right place at the right time. Each one of these events changed my life forever, and without the influence of a willful act by someone unknown to me, I would not be who I am today. Those simple actions that molded and shaped me, started with my parents–two people willing to allow a fictional manifestation of goodness to take credit for all their hard work and discipline so that I could experience magic.
Whether my benevolent benefactors were people I knew, working behind the scenes or strangers motivated by some unexplainable connection, I’ll never know. But I can say that without a doubt, I believe in magic. Not the magic that allows fat guys to plummet down chimneys of houses across the Earth, no matter the size or shape, but the magic we create for each other when we give without expectation, believe in someone so much that they start to believe in themselves and when we take the risk to love someone without asking the same in return. That is magic. And the most mystical thing of all–the more you give, the more your receive.
Many people claim that a belief in Santa causes children not to trust when the truth is revealed, and I’m sure that is true in some cases, but tomorrow Santa will visit our house. Like my parents before, he will decorate the tree (Until about 3 AM-groan), and leave a bounty of presents that my husband and I will take no credit for. I’m sure given our circumstances, my children’s belief may not be as steadfast as mine since I have the means to provide treasures for them all year-long, but when the day comes that I must impart the truth, I’ll have an even greater gift to give them–a belief in magic that lasts a lifetime.
My best to all of you this holiday season. May you conjure a little magic of your own.