All of the sudden, I’m looking for a point of reference, a place from which to start, something certain. Not to be melodramatic, but it’s been a rough week. I don’t generally get all wound up about “politics,” but the election we all just survived was more about American morals than American “politics.” It pulled the rug out from under me.
When I look for a place to begin, I often come back to something I read in college. I’m not going to name the book or the author because, to be entirely honest, I’m not sure how much of what I’m going to say is actually in the book and how much of it I’ve made up since then. College was a LONG time ago. I’ve lived a lot, drawn on this often, and probably molded it to fit me. In lieu of butchering someone else’s book, I’ll just say that these are not original thoughts–they’re second-hand like my clothes.
I read the book for a Women’s Studies class. The author is a Native American woman who, if I remember correctly, was an anti-nuclear power activist in the 1980s (when I was encountering algebra and learning to drive a car). She’s a witch, too–a Wicca witch, not a Halloween witch. The book is about (among other things) magic.
THIS WOULD BE A FABULOUS TIME FOR SOME MAGIC. I would like a fairy god mother to turn vegetables into vehicles, even for an evening. We could use a benevolent woman with a magic wand, a fair although angry woman with a magic wand.
We don’t have one.
But here’s what I learned from the book about how to do magic yourself:
To work magic is to change the physical manifestation of things. Anyone can do it. It takes strength and imagination, not special powers. The author tells the story of her favorite hiking trail in the forest, which people would litter with trash. Time after time she walked by the trash, disliking it and the people who left it there, until finally she decided to use her witch’s powers of changing the physical manifestation of things to make it disappear. She gathered some friends and some trash bags, and picked up the trash. What was the result? Abracadabra: a clean trail. Just like that.
A thing like that sticks with a girl. So simple. So true.
I want to live in a world that isn’t covered in trash. I pick up what I can.
I want to live in a world that has clean air. I plant things. I ride my bicycle when I can.
I want to live in a world where people don’t walk around the grocery store with concealed weapons. I don’t own a gun.
I want to live in a world where neighbors are nice to each other. I wave and say hi.
I want to live in a world where people look me in the eyes and take me seriously. I look people in the eyes and am serious.
It doesn’t solve everything. It doesn’t solve anything, maybe. Not-owning a weapon doesn’t keep me safe. Pedaling through the rain doesn’t reverse global warming. (But ask me if suiting up for a rainy ride changes the physical manifestation of getting from place to place, as opposed to sitting in a car.) Me waving at the neighbor ladies is not going to end racism any time soon.
But I have strength. I have imagination. I have time. I can make things be different on the trail I walk on. Doing nothing gives you a feeling of helplessness, even if all you are is lazy. Doing something changes things, and that is magic. Getting the stray cat spayed changes the number of stray cats in the neighborhood, and we all know what a downer the physical manifestation of too many feral cats is.
I don’t live in the States. I’m white, straight and of Christian traditions. I’m not sitting here in fear of becoming a target of bigotry–I look too much like the bigots. Nobody is going to beat me up or insult me because of my clothes or my skin or who I’ve married. I am terrified for others, but it’s different because it’s not me. I recognize that as privilege. My greatest privilege, in my opinion, is that I am living in a country that doesn’t suffer from hate crimes and terror. Bad things happen, but the dynamics are not the same.
I don’t know how to do magic that makes hate or fear go away. I don’t know a spell to make privileges visible to those who hold them with blind eyes. I know how to turn a dirty bathroom into a clean one, and I have the perfect spell for getting trash off the beach. But how do I make safety appear?
I don’t know. But I am looking for the answer. I am trying. I might turn some princes into frogs by accident along the way, but it’s important to start. It’s important to try. If the only things I can change the physical manifestation of are small and insignificant, I will do it anyway. What is too small to matter when everything is made up of atoms?
Hold on to your hat.
I love this! Thank you! I have read and loved the same book.
Oh good! If you recognize it, then I haven’t twisted it too badly after all! 😉
You know I am one of your greatest fans, poetry and prose, but I just have to reply to your “A Lesson on Magic”.
“I am living in a country that doesn’t suffer from hate crimes and terror”.
According to the CIA, you are two-and-a-half times more likely, in Costa Rica, to be the victim of violence from other people, than in the States.
I know, David. You are right. But in Costa Rica the criminal violence is less often hate crime.
You continue to inspire. Thank you!