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Everyday magic in ordinary things

I love stories that include magic. My fascination stretches back to my growing-up years.

As a young child, I fancied a story by the Brothers Grim that told about a poor shoemaker who was visited by elves.

In the version of the story I remember, a shoemaker worked himself ragged to earn enough money for a meager existence. One night before going to bed, he cut his last bit of leather and set the pieces out, intending to make one final pair of shoes in the morning.

When he awoke, the shoes were magically made. Their high quality fetched a good price. That enabled the shoemaker to buy more leather, which he cut out to make several pairs of shoes. Mysterious elves returned on subsequent nights, and the process repeated. With the elves’ help, the shoemaker was able to pay off his debts and even turn his attention to helping others in need.

Oh, how I longed for elves to come visit me at night. I wanted them to clean my room, to do my homework, to put the dishes away. It never happened, of course. Every morning when I woke up, whatever I might have left undone the night before remained undone. Rather than become discouraged, I developed a fondness for retreating into fictional worlds where surprising things happened in response to wishing, to the wave of a wand, or to the intervention of enchanted beings.

This delight led me into the world of science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke, one of that category’s most esteemed writers, once observed, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Indeed. I saw magic in many of the technologies that filled my everyday adolescent life. Photographs materialized after pressing a button on a camera. Music emerged from spinning a vinyl disk. Flipping a switch filled a dark room with light. Performing feats such as these became my equivalent of summoning supernatural powers.

Somewhere in adulthood, I lost the amazement. I accepted ever-sophisticated technology and the devices it created as mere tools. Microwave ovens, personal computers, mobile phones. They just existed, and I used them without the astonished awe they probably deserved. I lost the magic.

A few months ago, I rediscovered it in an unlikely place. My own kitchen.

I wanted to try my hand at breadmaking. I found a recipe that seemed simple enough. I bought the requisite flour and yeast. I followed the instructions, making a gooey mess that I kneaded and then transferred into a bowl. I looked at the small lump of dough cowering in the bottom of my favorite mixing bowl. With a degree of skepticism, I covered it with a towel, pushed it to a dark corner of the countertop, and wished it well.

When I came back a couple hours later and removed the towel, a stunning surprise awaited. The little lump had been transformed into a mound that nearly filled the bowl. Although the recipe had promised this result, the transformation stunned me. I had witnessed true magic. I felt like the elves had finally come. They had taken the dough I set out and worked on it while I wasn’t looking. I followed the rest of the recipe and was rewarded with a loaf of bread.

The experience opened my eyes, and I began to see marvels everywhere. The first tender shoots of daffodil leaves emerged in places where I had buried dead-looking bulbs last fall. Buds broke out, and flower petals unfurled. I felt like a magician must feel when pulling a rabbit out of a seemingly empty hat.

I listened to someone speaking. My ears intercepted the soundwaves his voice had produced, and by this process his thoughts were transferred and formed in my mind. I read an essay. My eyes observed black symbols on white paper, and I knew what the author had been thinking. I could read minds.

Yes, there are logical explanations. Science. Technology. Prosaic regularities. Nevertheless, I no longer want to take them for granted. I would rather stand in dazzled amazement of the customary magic that fills every day.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress. com.