The first time I came across the term was when I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking almost 10 years ago. The book was too depressing for me to finish, even with my then appetite for existentialist and grief literature (see this post). After that, I never gave ‘magical thinking’ much thought, or any at all. That is, until it dawned on me yesterday, quite suddenly, that I’ve been doing it—magical thinking. I can’t speak for the rest of humankind but who knows, maybe everyone’s been doing it since time immemorial. Consciously or subconsciously.
As a born and bred Catholic, I am familiar with the practice of novenas and intercessory prayers, and belief in transubstantiation and miracles, and these form a core part of my spirituality. Though I would never think to use the term ‘magical’ when it comes to my faith, I believe being Catholic may have shaped to some degree my predisposition for magical thinking.
How many times have I thought, if I just did something a certain way, a totally unrelated sequence of events might follow, or if I believed resolutely in something, a fact would cease to be. Case in point: the new year and all that it represents. When we crossed over into 2015, I earnestly and sincerely felt I would have a better relationship with a certain someone because, well, it was the new year and, well, I desired it. Truth is, circumstances were status quo, and he continued to treat me unkindly. This shouldn’t be news or have come as a surprise, but I found myself disappointed all the same. What was his very normal, typical way of interaction became harder to bear—because, how do I explain it, it was a new year.
I took this woe to an old friend, chiding myself for my own foolishness, but then quite uncharacteristically of his cool, pragmatist personality, he said, in these exact words: “Then make it a year of magical thinking. No harm in maintaining your belief in good things and good people while fighting the good fight.”
Going home from work that day, I mulled over what my friend said, walking in the rain to the train station. As I skirted puddles and felt cold showers beating down upon a borrowed umbrella, I realized I wasn’t ready to give up magical thinking. Disappointed though I often find myself, it makes up the better part of me that refuses to give up hope. Call it a coping mechanism or plain delusion, but would life truly be all the better without magical thinking? I didn’t want to believe it.
Reaching home, I saw the most beautiful rainbow. A large and full arc of colors painted across the evening sky. The last time I saw such a gorgeous rainbow was when I left my previous job 7 years ago. I was standing in front of my parents’ home, holding my son, less than a year old then. I remember it like yesterday. Magical thinking.
Photo: Taken by my husband from our bedroom window.