The Alchemy of Life

They forgot to talk about the magic so I'll be the one to tell you, because I wish they hadn't forgotten to mention it to me all those years ago. I wish they had set me aside, looked in my eyes and told me what I'm telling you now. And I'm only telling you because you deserve to know just as much as I did, and as anyone does, because it's the most important thing there is to know. So here it is: there's real magic in the world. It's not the woo-woo stuff that is performed by candlelight, and it's no dazzling magician's sleight-of-hand, either. No rabbits and mirrors and top-hats. Not necessarily, anyways. What it is, really, is nothing more than what is utterly ordinary about your life, seen in the right light. There's a magic alright, but if you're reading this and you're a grown adult then I'm sorry to tell you you'll have to squint to see it, unless you're extraordinarily lucky, because you've probably forgotten how to see it, though this is through no fault of your own. They just forgot to tell you. But how could they have forgotten? How could we have forgotten to tell the children?

In school they taught us only half of the alchemy of life, which is worse than having taught us nothing at all, because ritual without incantation is mere performance. They taught us how to dismantle the world into its component parts at the altar of our intellect, taught us names and symbols for all the eviscerated matter, and how to explain its function in the whole (and badly at times). But they never taught us what mattered most all along -- that the altar serves a higher purpose. That there is an incantation that goes with the ritual of learning: that it is the song of adventure.

I wish they didn't hide the song away because it would have changed the whole thing from the start. The incantation tells you why it all matters. It matters because it's an adventure. Don't you wish they had told you that language was an adventure? That grammar, spelling, rhetoric, it wasn't all just some stuffy thing to memorize, but the rules by which the magic of connection and imagination happens. I wish they had told me that language was a brave, intimate adventure to connect with one another. To not be alone. That to make a poem is to make a prism, and that all the world's language is all the world's light, and the language of your heart the crystal that channels the colors of your soul.

I wish they had told me that mathematics was an adventure too. That it isn't just for itemizing, dividing, projecting, and calculating. I wish they had told me that mathematics is an adventure because it's a language just as words are, and that it's just as brave to do math as to make a poem. I wish they had told me it's the language of the universe itself, and that you can play with that language just as we play with ours, and that we could model our world with math as we model our inner worlds with words or paint. In fact, I wish they had taught me to paint as we are meant to paint, with gusto and verve, and be fearless about it the whole while.

I wish they had taught me about these things and more, but most of all I wish they had taught me how to chart the stars for myself, and how to be kind and how to be brave. I wish they had told me that there's more to learn than anyone could ever teach you and that all of it is worth doing and learning so long as you bring a knick-knack back to share with others when you return home. I wish they had told me that learning is the best part of being human and not just the worst part of being a kid.

So here I am, telling you now, because they didn't tell you and I think you ought to know: there's a magic in the world that you can see and use if you have the eyes to see, and the hands to make, and the heart to love. The magic is in the books that make you cry for things that never happened and jump with joy for the happiness of others. The magic is in the act of abstracting the world into formulas and functions, and in turning formulas into reality. The magic is in the painting on a cave wall, and the making of a bridge that'll stand for a hundred years. The magic is in listening to someone turn their emotions into a chill in your spine by nothing more than the evocation of a musical note, aptly timed. The magic is in the people around you, worlds in themselves, and that sometimes they are worlds that we can take harbor in, and we call that friendship, and that there are worlds we can crash into and meld with, and we call that love.


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