Adults lose this, the capacity for magical thinking, which is the province most exclusively of the uneducated mind, the mind of the noble savage, as 18th century writers and thinkers spun it. Magical thinking is why childhood is at once so wonderful and so fraught: anything might happen. One's father might come back from the remote, untamed land of divorce. One's mother might stop yelling and start parenting. Images might leap off the pages of books and into one's bedroom, fictional characters might come to life to be arranged like one's dolls. Puff the Magic Dragon might not end up abandoned by his once young friend who outgrows childish things. The Giving Tree might get back more than it ever gave.
A friend of mine just moved to San Francisco. Living in a Victorian house with multiple apartments, one per floor, she had decided that getting used to her upstairs neighbor's heavy footfalls might be the price one paid for living in a world-class city. But the other day the neighbors seemed uncommonly loud, and she began to wonder what the hell they were doing. Dancing? Moving furniture?
Later she realized that her neighbors had been up to nothing nefarious or celebratory; instead, she had been experiencing an earthquake. I expect that she will file this experience into her new normal. She will do what an adult does, make sense of the event, when it recurs, by drawing upon her reason.
Childhood's ways of seeing are so privileged, and so distant to adults. Once that door is shut, it remains so, and only mental illness or extraordinary circumstance can pry it open.
Today is my mother's seventy-ninth birthday. (Can it still be said to be a birthday of a person who is no longer alive to celebrate it? I don't know. I do know that I would like to see her, or at least to call her, to wish her a lovely birthday, to find out what her plans are for the day, and to tell her about my summer of change and growth and perhaps even solicit her support as I face a doctor's appointment today.)
No longer a child I cannot muster the creative capacity to imagine her at seventy-nine, voice graveled with age. I cannot quite manage to play our putative conversation in my head; what's more I cannot snap my fingers and convert her into someone who would be able to offer support of another person, especially on her own birthday, which for her would be cause for sadness much more than for its opposite.
And that exotic land my father traveled to? Now I know it was only Washington, DC, just as I am certain that the Sesame Street baker will never escape the loss of his magnificent desserts, and his dignity.
But I am also certain that his treats could never have tasted as transcendent as they looked.