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The Magic Horse

Today at Fort Lee, New Jersey, I sat next to my five-year-old on a defunct cannon and we watched the white soft belly of a hawk against the blue afternoon sky. We were cradled up here on the Palisades by new-minted trees, and far below us the Hudson surged thick, wide and a dull brown. My daughter waved happily at the Little Red Lighthouse and I counted 14 identical white trucks moving snail pace across the GW Bridge—but hey, they were moving. The curved tip of the Brooklyn Bridge was the farthest point East that my eyes could make out, but soon we weren’t even in New Jersey anymore. In deference to the sing-song voice of my red-headed daughter, the cannon had become a horse that lived on the moon, and a silver thread was pulling us up and up where a magic woman waited to welcome us in. We rode that magic winged horse through a storm—through which my five-year-old explained all the circus tricks she was able to do nonetheless, including a one-armed handstand on the horse’s head while the lightning crashed about us. At one point the thread broke, and we were about to plummet into the lost vastness of space, but a silvery eagle swooped down, sat upon the horse’s head, and guided us home.

That night as I tucked her into bed, she held me tightly and reminded me “Oh, that trip to the moon, and the silver thread—do you remember how exciting that storm was?” The day had held many moments, but that one was the one she treasured in her heart—a moment that had passed only in our shared imagination; what she carried with her from today was something that was not even real.

Singer/songwriter Sarah Pirtle calls it a sense of wonder, perhaps it is the same thing Joseph Campbell refers to when he commends living our lives intentionally connected into Myth. Because what we imagine is, in a sense, deeply real. For anything to happen on the physical, actual realm, perhaps we have to first imagine it: viscerally, deeply imagine it, feel the place or person or situation so close the temperature on our skins seems to change and the colors around us sharpen. Poetry comes this way, a feeling felt and pulsed before it finds form in a word. Is this the power of Myth speaking into us? Is it wonder as wisdom? I wonder if maybe a newness in our world might come this way—if we listen, and imagine something as strong and beautiful as a silver eagle guiding us home, the lure of a thread to the moon. I hope so. Because I sign all the petitions I can, I try to bring my children up to respect all people and speak out for justice, to listen hard because everyone has their own story. But I find it hard to walk this world, the senseless way humans wound each other and the earth—the villages plundered, the hearts torn out of people, the way Zinn says it:

I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power, that the wealth is distributed in this country and the world in such a way as not simply to require small reform but to require a drastic reallocation of wealth. I start from the supposition that we don’t have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down.

Zinn remains, sadly, correct. New York spread out before us today, with all its ragged ones holding cardboard signs, desperate ones singing gospel for handouts on the subway, gray-suited ones tightening their fists across corporate tables, the tired ones sweeping the streets. And the artists working for pennies or less to transform it all.

My daughter and I sat on a cannon and dreamed that we flew to the moon. Despite everything, I fight to believe that moon could be where we already are. Come, join us.

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