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Mind Over Matter

March 14, 2013

 I’m stopped at a red light on the corner of Monticello and West Street willing it to turn green with my mind. Yes, I’ve been working on my ability to impose mind over matter ever since my mother read me the story of Dumbo the circus elephant. Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo’s cruelly nicknamed son, had a special skill. He could fly, but only when he grasped a small white feather in his trunk—not because the feather had magical power– but because he believed it did.

Many of us have a skill or interest acquired when we were young that we may still pursue on occasion.  Billy Burns, a first grade classmate, could turn his eyelids inside out but we’ll hope he’s not still doing that. It was not a good look on him.  Noreen Waggoner in Girl Scout Troop 281 could make herself faint and perhaps she still does. It was an impressive feat but not a stellar one compared to the talents of Troop 262.

We could levitate.

Levitation required one girl to lie on the sweet, newly mown grass in Becky Thompson’s front yard while the other six of us knelt around her, slipping our small hands beneath her extremities. Under the leafy walnut tree, we envisioned our charge as lighter than air while one of us wove a word-spell, a task that often fell to me.

As the murmured description grew more detailed and vivid, we could almost feel the small body become weightless, massless, a feather-child, a mere puff of a girl, as transparent as breath, as insubstantial as smoke. Lifting on the count of three our subject rose up… up, only to be unceremoniously dumped back to earth amidst incredulous laughter. Although success broke the spell, our accomplishment was always followed by an air of skepticism and finger pointing, just as when the planchette moves on a Ouija board.

Now I know, of course, that since we weighed all of 100 pounds, that weight distributed over 12 hands literally made the lift effortless. Nothing was required but the willingness to suspend our disbelief for a moment, to entertain the idea that perhaps we could defy the laws of nature or comply with natural laws yet to be discovered.

The word spells I weave now do much the same—challenge assumptions about our limitations, defy gravity. They are about a friend with a scary diagnosis regaining her health; about an unemployed friend finding work when jobs are scarce. They are about a mother who read stories to her children extending her days so I will not be an orphan, although that is inevitably in the stars for all of us.

My mother and I have a secret word by which we’ll communicate, if it is possible, after she dies.  Whenever I see or hear this word I’ll know she is nearby—affirming the continuity of her love–or perhaps it will only be confirmation of my loss, like touching a bruise.

“What’s the word, Mom?”  I ask to remind her.  We are seated side by side on the sofa in her assisted living apartment. On the wall are photos of an old barn on a wide river. Half a century ago my mother and father reimagined and renovated that barn, creating the house I grew up in. Does she remember?

“What’s the word?” I prompt again. What good is a secret code if you can’t recall it?

“Oh I know,” she says with childlike glee. “Book!” (close.) “Potato!” (closer.) I can see instantly how her brain has filed the word both by meaning and first letter. I tell her the correct answer and she grimaces with the satisfaction of hearing a puzzle solved and the frustration of having not been the one to solve it. We are laughing now and rehearsing for our loss, memorizing the syllables that have made us believe we might not have to say goodbye.

And maybe we don’t. If words can defy gravity, who’s to say?

Write a page about a character, (you?) who believes in magical thinking–like when you were a child.  Traffic lights turn green, people get well, dogs don’t die, contracts are won, friendships restored, only now…the stakes are huge: life and death.  Who stands to win or lose? Is the character actually gifted or deluded? What is the power of belief? What could you do if you believed you could?  What if this person really can, through the energy of love, defy all odds?  Or not. What happens? Who is transformed? How? Go!

(This essay also appears in “Annapolis Lifestyle magazine.”)



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    • thestorywithin permalink

      Thank you so much Tanya! Hope your writing is going well.

      • oh, thank you. I am writing a lot, that part is good, but I need to get to my bigger fiction project before it evaporates! Here’s hoping.

  1. thestorywithin permalink

    Tanya–just take notes until the time comes when you can put it all together. It won’t be lost if you get down those ideas, impressions, points of entry. Think of it as percolating!

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