What Is Magic?

Contrary to most of my writing (but not my thinking), I write this post without definitions. To define is to make clear. To define is to limit.

These are precisely what I do not want when I think of this word, Magic. We hear it all the time, especially in malls around this season. You know. There’s a star involved somewhere. Lots of sparkles. The end result is wide-eyed faces agape at something that evidently just appeared. And this result is true in the long run. That it is, I suppose, the right and just expression for something like that: awe.

But a lot of time this concept, Magic, is thrown around lightly. Think about magicians. They’re hokey and mostly for children. And I suppose the word has taken a little bit of a cutesy color from this. But really, connotations aside, what is it?

Magic is things that stun you that you cannot get back.

Magic is things that you know you cannot get back. Or you do not know that you can get back. You do not think something is magical and think next: “We can get this again.” When we think this, we relax and lower our eyelids, and probably the slope of our back. We become complacent. “Look how great this is,” we think. And then we get tired of it. Because it will be around. You’ll see it again. Chill out.

That’s when you don’t have magic anymore. When you become comfortable. No one is scared and comfortable. When the Magic falls off, you get a despair, whether you know it or not. You exhale and it’s a letting go; it’s a slackening, and you lie in darkness for a little while. But sleep makes dreams.

The biggest (and weirdest) problem is what do you do when you finally obtain everything you’ve been hoping for: keeping the magic of anything. When you get married. When you get your wished-for gift. Some people have to work to keep the magic. Some people are so stunned they become dazed all their lives.

Magic is the sudden appearance of the incredible. That is why people believe or do not believe in magic.

It is fleeting as time. We do not realize time as we are stunned. We, in a sense, enter into time and are taken away somewhere.

People talk about making magic.  Sometimes comically it is linked to factories. “This is where the magic happens.” I give them the circumstantial aspect of the phrase. Nothing more. Because it’s all an accident. It’s whatever falls down wherever (it’s cases). It’s like being on a checkerboard. It’s like Hans Arp (Are you German? Are you French?).

(Although really, with those Chance Portraits, they look awfully neat for his claims of absolute randomness.)

It cannot be relied on. It cannot be reckoned.

And we talk about Christmas magic: “The Magic of Christmas.” Our priest at Christmas Mass made a sermon of a little girl who retold the story of Christmas in her own words. The story was cute, with a lot of fanciful takes on the original. She concluded her version with: “and the parents had a baby, and the baby was God.” With that, she whirled around, dove into the couch and covered her head with a pillow. “That,” said the priest, “is the only appropriate response to the story.”

Magic is being wished a Happy Hanukkah and feeling happy even if you’re not Jewish. And you forget age-old feuds that you were not even a part of in the first place.

Last year, we were invited to a holiday dinner hosted by the parents of my sister’s husband. A rabbi was there talking about the nature of religion from what I followed was a markedly scholar’s perspective: the goal and effects of it, regardless of objective fact. He raised his voice at a certain point, proclaiming a revelation: “It didn’t matter that the Magi weren’t real.” My mother, naturally stunned, sulked for the rest of the dinner. She declined this year’s invitation.

Magic is when make our own stories of what happened. Something is created. Your mind does not paint pictures: the pictures appear in your mind at once, living. Flutes have this capacity. Bells and harps do this, too. Listen to something like Ave Maria. That is my family’s kind of magic. Sacred, stilled, gleaming, it is the candles you as a child are told to light at the end of mass.

It is on the edge of everything: breath, faith, perception.

Gifts, too, are a sort of sort of magic, when they are done right. Wrapped up and presented nicely, they take you by surprise and hold onto you until they’re opened. Images ravel behind your eyes to what can be held: like a wide smile in candlelight, eluding.

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