292. Magic

I once overheard two children discussing magic. One of them said something which I’ve occasionally quoted ever since: “Real magic is make-believe; only make-believe magic is real.” As someone who doesn’t believe in some of the
dramatic miracles others believe in (e.g., the parting of the Red Sea just in time for the Israelites to pass through), I am nevertheless thoroughly impressed with little Red Sea partings that seem to happen from day to day.
For example, a child who seems unable to learn something suddenly gets a flash of insight, and then moves on to further learning. That kind of miracle is one of the main reasons I taught for twenty-five years and keep teaching now, as a volunteer. It’s not quite being a magician, though teachers often get credit for the magic, and usually deserve some of it. It often feels more like being an active witness. But since the miracles we witness seem to happen more when we’re around, we get paid for them, and we’re called “teachers.”
Once, I was working with a child who had “writer’s block.” His friends had already finished the writing they had to do, and it was frustrating for him. He couldn’t have snack and play with his friends until he got his writing assignment done. He was getting upset, and the fun he was
missing was looming larger in his mind than the story he was supposed to be writing.
I told him I had a trick that sometimes worked with some children who couldn’t think of what to write. He was quite eager to try the trick, so I quickly explained how it worked. He was supposed to put his hand on top of my hand while I concentrated really hard, and if the trick worked, he would know what to write. I warned him that sometimes it didn’t work. But he was desperate, and anyway, this didn’t seem like a desperate measure.
So he tried it. He put his hand on my hand, and I closed my eyes tightly. It worked. Immediately, he thought of something to write about, and in a few minutes, he had finished his story, wolfed down his snack, and joined his friends at the Lego table. I don’t think he seriously thought I’d done magic. I hope not. I hope he was quite aware of his own role in this miracle.
To me, this phenomenon wasn’t on a par with the parting of the Red Sea. It was more like Dumbo’s learning how to fly. Dumbo didn’t really need the feather. All he had to do was believe in his own power. As far as I’m concerned, real magic is make-believe; only make-believe magic is real. But when we really need magic, we take whatever magic we can get. We can’t afford to be picky.

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