Here’s something a little bit different: a bit of memory, a bit of manifesto, a bit of hope. Come along for the ride?
I’ll tell you a secret.
An embarrassing-yet-hopefully-endearing story from my past.
In Kansas City where I live, they test the tornado sirens on the first Wednesday of every month. If you’ve never heard a tornado siren, it’s a truly unique sound - kind of an unearthly wailing.
When I was in 4th grade, a new and unhappy transplant to the area, I had no context for this caterwauling cacophany happening all around me.
Naturally, I assumed it was aliens.
I’d just finished The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so I was already primed for Earth’s imminent destruction and ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
I had a bug-out bag (stocked with survival essentials like my 12 favorite books and a towel) and I was just waiting for the sign that my benevolent alien rescuers were about to whisk me away to learn about the wonders of the galaxy (and maybe incinerate some of my childhood bullies on our way out of Dodge).
I waited out on the front step with my duffel bag for a little while, but they never came.
At some point in middle school, I stopped believing in the kind of aliens that rescue you from your lonely and awkward life. I’d already stopped believing in Narnia and magic pebbles that granted wishes.
A few years later, I stopped believing in the God of my childhood (or at least downgraded to hopeful skepticism). The world was still full of interesting things, but in some ways I felt like I’d left Oz and returned (fittingly) to sepia Kansas.
In the urban fantasy novels I love so much, this would be the point where the magic would return, when the plucky heroine gives up hope of a magical and adventure-filled life and resigns herself to making the best of (plain old boring) reality.
It didn’t happen quite like that.
But it did happen. Kind of.
At some point, I realized that more than the adventures, the talking animals, and the secret gates to other worlds, I wanted the feeling that came from believing in those things.
Do you remember that feeling?
To me it feels like breathless and tingly anticipation, unsure of what will come next, but knowing that it’s unbounded by any expectations of the ordinary. It feels like hope and possibility. It’s the first day of summer vacation and Christmas morning.
Magic or no, the feeling kept showing up unexpectedly in my life from time to time. At first I just enjoyed it without knowing what to do with it.
Slowly, I started to trust its appearance and began noticing the things that evoked it. Art classes. A warm spring day. Summer thunderstorms. The work of certain writers, artists, and musicians.
I still felt that sharp bittersweet longing for a “magical life,” whatever that was, but in the meantime I enjoyed these little pleasures.
One of the things that drew me to my current path is that many of my fellow coaches seemed to be experiencing a somewhat magical life on a regular basis. I wanted in, to know what they knew.
Now, here I am on the other side.
I’ve come to understand two things about living a magical life:
That tingly anything-is-possible feeling is always available, whether or not I’m tuned into it at the moment.
The difference between people who see magic and people who don’t is mainly a matter of paying attention.
I was so busy looking for the magic I wanted (flying carpets! rings of invisibility!) that I couldn’t see what was in front of me. Now I can’t go outside without tripping over it.
Now, I see that falling in love with my husband after six weeks of dating (and ten years of friendship) was magic. Rescuing a napping fawn from the middle of the road during our honeymoon was magic.
But that's just the beginning.
It’s a neuroscientist who painstakingly reconstructed her own brain after a stroke and a troop of the most aggressive primates in nature deciding to live a Disney-like life of peace. It’s the tiniest baby porcupine I saw at the zoo last weekend.
Hell, the peace lily that I’ve managed to keep alive for four years and counting is magic. (You would agree with me if you knew my track record with plants.)
The personal transformations that I get to witness and facilitate every day are magic of the highest order.
Magic is the stuff that we don’t believe could ever happen and the stuff that happens whether we believe in it or not.
It’s the stuff that pulls us out of our everyday existence, even for a moment. It whispers to us in little details and it hits us over the head with epic events.
It’s all around, just waiting for you to notice it. And the more you see, the more there is.
If fourth-grade me could see me now, she might be disappointed that I’m not living in outer space or a secret wizards' academy. She might think that me talking about the magic of nature is adult settle-for-less bullshit, and I can understand her point of view.
But: my life isn’t entirely bereft of the weird type of magic either.
I’ve bent spoons and been on shamanic journeys and I sometimes have more than my fair share of freaky coincidences. (All those weirded out by now may exit to the left.)
Hopefully that would satisfy her. I even have a bona-fide spiritual life, even though it’s very different from the one I had as a 10-year-old.
In this spirit, I’m playing with the idea that owning and celebrating the magic in my life creates space for more of it to show up.
I used to think that I could inoculate myself against disappointment by lowering my expectations, but all it did was shut me out from what was already available. Let’s see what happens when I start expecting miracles.
In closing, I’ll leave you with the words of a man much more succinct than I. If you’re still with me, I wish you as much magic as you can bear to experience today.
Rumi - Love Dogs
(translated by Coleman Barks)
One night a man was crying,
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer for that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage,
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them.