It looks like a ghost heart. And it feels a little like Jello.
—Doris Taylor, bioengineer
On the radio show Speaking of Faith, researcher Doris Taylor is telling us how to build ... [+]
My hands used to create magic. I think with the increasing demands of adulthood, they’ve had their spark pulled right out of them. My little sister’s hands still glisten with it, but I fear her hunger to be seen as an adult will soon take her magic as well. Growing up with ten older siblings, she thinks eating two pieces of cake after dinnertime and eating Mike-and-Ikes when she poops in the potty is what defines maturity. Although she has a vocabulary and imagination that would put Tolkien to shame, my sister is too small for that much dessert and is also still in diapers.
Thus trapped in her seemingly restrictive childhood, the magic of my sister’s youth is dying too quickly with her itch to be wiser and older than she is. Thankfully, sometimes she forgets that itch, like when the dragons creep from their mountainous lairs, swooping from the big open sky to lay waste on our peaceful village.
“Turah!” my sister warns me, pointing with a pudgy, dimpled finger to the lump of blankets sneering from the bed. “Behind you!”
With the skill and speed of a master dragon slayer, I duck, dodging a fiery blast that would have burned me to ashes. “Shoot your ice at it!” I call from across the battlefield. My sister adopts a face of pure determination, glaring venomously into the beast’s hateful, serpentine eyes. She waves her hand with a zealous flare of magic, and a beam of imaginary ice escapes her fingertips. The bolt hits its mark, ramming into the winged reptile’s side in mighty, wintery splinters. My sister, the three-year-old warrior princess, has phenomenal control over the arcane arts.
The beast lets out a wicked shriek. It snaps its snout in a frenzy at my sister’s limbs, but the counterattack is thwarted by the powerful armor of unicorn pajamas. With a final cry at the futility of its retaliation, the dragon flaps its scaly wings and flees out the door.
“This way! We have to chase it!” my sister calls, eager to finish the job. She scoops my pointer and middle fingers into her chubby fist and pulls me bravely towards the door to pursue the dragon.
I check the clock and remember why I am here. It’s bedtime, and an empty pillow is singing to be warmed by the head of a sleepy toddler. “If I don’t kiss you goodnight now, we won’t have time for a bedtime song,” I respond, patiently resisting her tugs on my arm.
She pauses and studies me, trying to determine which of her many realities I am referring to. After a moment she understands and puts her styrofoam sword down on the crayola-stained carpet. She crawls into bed and rests her head on the velvety smooth pillowcase, careful to leave her hair accessible so that I can play with the strands—still sticky from tonight's dessert—while singing her a song.
At the song’s end, I kiss her gently on the forehead, on the right cheek, then the left. My sister shuts her eyes, and I make my way to the door, leaving my princess to dream of magic and monsters while the rest of us discuss money and politics and other adult things.
“Turah?” she asks in a quiet, groggy voice right before I leave the room. The melatonin gummy is finally doing its job.
“Will the dragons attack us while I’m sleeping?” In the dark where she cannot see, I smile at her innocence and return to the foot of the bed to whisper in her ear.
“I will always protect you, okay? Always.”
She smiles, comforted, and I turn again to leave. I ease my way over the child gate—like a portal into a magic-less realm—and join the group of debaters and untrained philosophers in the living room downstairs: my dad sprawled on the floor in front of the mantle, my mother relaxing tired bones on the couch, and my adult siblings wielding raised voices like guns to prove their many points and conjectures.
With our sharpened intellects we explore the world’s controversies, surmising our surmises and picking at concepts we don’t entirely understand. Yielding to our fears and cynical realism, we dissect the limits of our education system, of politics, and—privately—of our own deflated self-images.
I listen, but I am distracted, for a moment pinned between both my jaded adult thoughts and the memories of when, like my sister, I truly believed the magic of my daytime pursuits existed without my conscious mind to stoke the flames.
I know that dragons aren’t real, that bedtime stories are just made up, and that my sister will one day realize this too. But I hope for her this realization does not come with a belief in the tricky lies we adults like to tell, late at night after the children have gone to bed.
We rest our tired adult bodies on the couch and dig into inconsequential worldly proceedings, judging and condemning with pointed fingers ideals contrary to our own. We indulge society’s expectations by believing its unhappy lies, and then, full and bloated with the vanity of our jealous world, change to appease its degrading and unrealistic demands.
And there is no magic in this.
Magic like dragons and princesses in castles is hidden in life’s tiny, subtle pockets. Like the kiss of a three-year-old, the sun’s rays shining through raindrops, or a penny tucked in the cracks of a sidewalk. Magic is where we wish it to be, where we choose to believe and remember. Magic—though we often claim it doesn’t exist—is far more real and true than the thousands of lies we adults tell daily.
My hair is too thin, my face too narrow, my nose too big. I am not funny enough for this company, not smart enough for this job. I am not adaptable enough, not happy enough, not worthy enough.
The moment we start yearning to be something we think the world wants is the moment we stop being children anymore. It’s when believing we are perfect and can slay dragons is insufficient to make it so. Instead, we close our eyes to the magic of this beautifully strange life to gawk at our wicked imperfections and those of our dying world, picking at the crumbling corpses like mad, angry vultures.
“Turah, tell me the secret of the purple dragon.”
It’s morning, and my sister is on my lap, clutching her baby blanket in those perfect happy hands of hers. I throw it over our heads, and the room’s light distorts between the stitches of the handmade blanket, casting miniature shadows and shapes inside our lilac-colored tent. I put my forehead close to hers and furrow my eyebrows conspiratorially so that she does the same.
“In a land where mountains speak to one another and fairies rule the world by night, an evil purple dragon prepared to attack...”
My sister leans in, drunk with the possibilities of imagination. I can see her mind working, her perfect little mind as it expands and adapts. I tell the story of the purple dragon, but I am distracted, for a moment marveling at the time when I had magic at my fingertips because I believed I did, the time when creating magic with my hands was far more appealing than pointing with those hands at the world and my own fallibilities, sitting on a couch in the living room after the magic has gone to sleep with the children.
“Can we kill dragons, now?” my sister asks when the story is done, pulling me from my cynical thoughts and peering up with a grin wide as the moon.
I grin back and nod, hoisting her off my lap. Immediately we drop into our warrior stances and prepare our magic spells. Before the dragon arrives, I pause at my hands. I study them curiously, bony and calloused but crackling with the sparks of magic inherent within me, and a slow smile spreads wide on my lips.