The Magic: The Man in the Mask and Other Art

I have a friend who says he doesn’t believe in magic. I probably have a number of friends who would say the same. My guess is they are thinking of “magic” shows on TV and in Las Vegas. They must not be acquainted with real magic.

In the Robbie Robertson song Broken Arrow, the singer asks, “Who else is gonna bring you a broken arrow?” The “magic” most people think of is the type where a broken arrow could show up out of the blue, simply materialize in front of you. That’s not magic. If you are to receive something, someone has to bring it to you, or you have to find it. Real magic is in the meaning you attach to the whole experience, which starts with someone finding the object. It then moves onto the person’s thinking of you and actually picking up the object and bringing it to you. The final step is when you accept the object. The magic is in the intent and manifestation and, ultimately, in the higher meaning you assign to the experience, which can include both the giver’s and your experiences.

Here’s another example. At the end of a trying day, you go home and play with your pet and feel happy. The bad day seems far away. Psychologists call it something else, but that is your pet’s magic. Let’s take it one step further. You come home after a bad day and don’t have a pet, but you watch a movie. The friendly dog in it makes you feel better, happier. All you are doing is watching images on a screen—shapes, colors, movement—and listening to sounds—pitch, timbre, volume. That those images and sounds can trigger something in you that allows you to feel happy is everyday magic: simple and elemental.

The following piece is the next in a series of thoughts about art, literature, and music. If you haven’t read my Man in the Mask piece, I posted it on November 26, 2016.

One of my most magical pieces of art is the print of a Shinto shrine in snow. An uncle gave it to my parents one Christmas long before I was born. It hung in their living room in New York and in our living room in Delaware before it was transported to the dining room in South Dakota. I inherited it, moved it to Texas and then back to Delaware. I tend to move it around our house from bedroom to dining room, entry, living room. Maybe it’s my unconscious attempt to have it bless all areas of the house. The colors, or lack thereof, are soothing and a bit mystical. It promises the renewal a cleansing snow brings. It takes me into a land and way of life I will never know and hints at priests going about their spiritual business, business that helps balance the world. The building appears to be ancient, a stone structure with window openings but no glass. Perhaps there are curtains inside that help block the wind. I imagine, not fireplaces, but small braziers the inhabitants carry with them. Life inside would be harsh by our standards but fulfilling in ways we can only imagine …

The Temple in Snow

She walked inside. The stones almost froze the bottoms of her feet. She had walked so long her shoes were worn through. She could hear her footsteps echo, but no one came. She wondered if the temple was abandoned, but it didn’t have the feel of an empty place. It held the feeling of much life. The daylight that remained was quickly fading as the snow intensified outside. She had been glad, no, glad wasn’t the word. She was relieved beyond anything to see the temple loom only a short distance from her and to find the path that led to it. If she’d had to sleep out … well, she was sure she wouldn’t have re-awakened. The temple didn’t seem much warmer than the outdoors, but the walls made some shelter from the wind. She moved farther into the interior away from the outer walls with their uncovered openings. The cold lessened as she gained an enclosed chamber. Several braziers of coals gave off warmth, and she could no longer feel the wind. Looking around, she saw the room was circular and fashioned completely of stone: floor, walls, ceiling. There was no furniture except for several wood-slat platforms that sat an inch or so above the floor. Not sure what they were for, she chose to sit on the floor. The stones here weren’t as cold as she thought they’d be. She wondered if anyone would come. Soon, she felt the warmth the platform was giving out and realized they must be like floors she’d read about where smoke is directed under them for warmth. She had no food with her, having eaten it all in the previous two days. But, it didn’t matter. More tired than hungry, she wrapped her blanket around herself and lay down on the nearest platform.

How many hours passed, she had no idea, but she became aware of gentle hands feeling her hand and then her forehead and a soft voice coaxing her to wake up. She couldn’t understand the words, but they seemed kind and encouraging. She opened her eyes to see an old man in brightly colored pants and long jacket. He smiled and beckoned her to come with him. As in a dream, she got up and followed him deep into the temple where he took her to a small, warm room. He indicated she was to sleep here and showed her a bowl of water and a small towel on a stand and a bowl of steaming soup and cup of water on a table. He bowed and left. She washed her face and hands, ate, and then, covering herself with the woolly blanket, said a prayer of thanks, and fell asleep with the certainty she would awaken in the morning.