Does magic exist?
In my recent trip to Atlanta from Spain, despite protection measures implemented in airlines and airports during this pandemic, I sat elbow to elbow with Soraya, a Colombian lady who lived in Miami, and with whom I exchanged some impressions. We ended up speaking about magic in one of those extraordinary conversations that only happen with strangers. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines magic as "the use of means ... believed to have supernatural power over natural forces" or "an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source". It is true that some things that are part of the natural realm seemed supernatural and impossible centuries, even years, ago. Examples are abundant in history and continue currently, although again and again we insist on denying the existence of whatever we do not understand, or we even say it would never be possible.
For example, quantic physics explains how an atom is practically emptiness and, therefore, matter is just that, sort of emptiness, a mere "energetic tension" (see this book in Spanish, "La puerta de los tres cerrojos", by Sonia Fernández-Vidal, PhD in physics). Honestly, it is very hard for me to understand quantic physics and I place it often within what could be consider supernatural. So I do believe in magic, like Soraya, despite my scientific training and my skeptical soul, or precisely because of that. I believe in what does not exist, in things that I cannot understand or explain but that can be possible. Rather than believing in fairies, elves and other science fiction creatures, I believe that magic is part of life itself as we know it. Santiago Ramón y Cajal wrote the following in his book "Cuentos de vacaciones, narraciones pseudocientíficas", from 1955: ""It is strange to see how people, who nourish their imagination with tales of witches or saints, mysterious events and extraordinary occurrences, disdain the world around it as commonplace, monotonous and prosaic, without suspecting that at bottom it is all secret, mystery, and marvel." I could not agree more.
A personal story is worth a thousand arguments and I wish to offer two that support this opinion. I shared last March 10 the following story on FaceBook, where I'm not a regular. This is my only adventure inside a sewer so far. The chain of events that ended in the final outcome, if not each one of them on their own, seems highly unlikely in the sphere of what is natural and possible. "It's incredible what happened tonight. When I was getting out of my car, my cell phone fell and slid down and inside the sewer. I lost it. I was able to pull myself together and see possibilities that seemed impossible. I learned that I could lift the sewer lid, and decided to go in after taking my clothes off not to get them dirty as I did not know what kind of waste I would find. I scaled down steps providentially carved out in the concrete about 13 ft... and there, at the bottom, there was my cell phone! And it worked. The screen has some cracks but the phone was definitely working! I ran into some neighbors when I was coming out and tried to explain why I was naked emerging from the depths of earth at that time at night... but they fled".
The second story is even more recent and it has to do with a trip to the US in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of a historical snow storm in the center of Spain, in the middle of my cancer, which includes an ileostomy and a pouch bag. Another adventure. The details are long and boring but let's say that I was determined to use a plane ticket that was the gift of soul mates who prefer to remain anonymous and visit my home for the past 20 years, until June 2020. It was then when I came to Spain and had to stay when I was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was also coincidental that I got this diagnosis in a country with the most solidary health system which has allowed me to access services, helping me save a significant amount of money that would have gone to my insurance in the US. This money has been vital to keep me afloat without steady income all this time. I had left my 6 year-long job as a psychologist and professor at University of Emory in January 2020, before I knew anything about a pandemic, after a long reflection and following my own decision. I'm humbly grateful and proud of you, Spain. I will never forget this. The debt I feel is another story that I will leave for another time at risk of this becoming a never-ending story.
The bottom line was that I had to search for flight connections as there is no longer a direct flight between Madrid and Atlanta due to the pandemic situation. Then, I had to change my itinerary three times after making the reservation and finally cancel it due to the snow a day before taking off from Madrid, once I had arrived there from Santander despite the storm. The flight Madrid Frankfurt was delayed and had an effect on the other two flights with final destination to Atlanta. It occurred to my sister and brother in law that I could show up at the airport as a stand-by passenger in case there were seats available in a flight from Madrid to Miami. Once again, although unlikely, it happened just like that and I found myself flying that day. I have another good friend in Miami, Dawn, one of those you can tell in the spur of the moment "I'm staying at your place tonight". That is what I did. I booked a flight to Atlanta the following day and I made it finally to my Emerald City. You can imagine the euphoria I felt when I walked in my house after such an adventure; not an adventure but an odyssey. As big of an odyssey as it was returning to Spain a few days later while making sure I had a PCR Covid test done 72 hours prior to arrival. The trip lasts nowadays around 22 hours and that meant I also had to have those results only 48 hours after the test. A highly unlikely combination which turned out to be possible, because I did it.
I worked through real means effects that were quite extraordinary in both situations, so I can call it "magic", I wish to call it magic, without laser beams or wizards, but definitely "a miracle" within reality and with the help of many others: one among the ones to which I was referring in another contribution to this blog entitled exactly "Miracles". I could not work a miracle with my friend Guillermo, who passed away when I was writing this. Memo cheered me up in the worst moments of cancer, attended my online Halloween party and, as a good fan, would not stop saying "you are something else". He and I spoke about life, which is like a roller coaster, with ups and downs, ones being necessary to enjoy the others, and leaving you with an exhilarating feeling but often shaken, depending on whom you ask. My magic is not all that powerful, it cannot return Memo to this physical world. However, that does not mean that I don't have any power whatsoever: the power to accompany his partner, Helen, or the friends that knew him, the power to make him alive, if not physically, with his memory, his jokes, his joy, which will have a very physical, physiological, impact on all of us during the rest of our lives. Accordingly, Memo, from his supernatural state (whatever that means) will continue to have natural effects on us as long as we give this magic a chance.
This is the message I would like to deliver. Within the circumstances that are given to us, which we do not choose, we are able to build what we desire within what is real and possible even if it seems highly unlikely. I do have extraordinary examples which sometimes make me feel like the main character in a science fiction movie: recovering my cell phone, traveling to Atlanta in extreme circumstances, bring a little bit of peace to death. In the future, recovering from cancer for the third time in my life is either a real or magical possibility, but one that will require my doing as much as my letting things happen. I will write more about this in the next contribution. I finish here with the wish that this tale of tales becomes a message of hope for you, the reader. Although based on difficult and worldly events, they are not for such a reason less secret, mysterious and marvelous. I have absolute certainty that you also have a few of these stories.
Photograph courtesy of my good friend, Fernando Cabrerizo, @ https://cacahuet.es