From the time we learn the words abracadabra or open sesame, we know that words can be magic. When adults tell children to “say the magic word,” meaning please or thank you, children see the cause and effect of magic words.
Certain books use words in a way that work magic on us, making them live on inside us for the rest of our lives. Just thinking about these books can be magical. Robert Frost’s poetry. Jeffrey Masson’s When Elephants Weep. Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and John Donne. Harriet Arnow’s The Dollmaker. King Lear.
Sometimes naming even seems to work some magic on the recipient of the name. When I called my orange cat Macavity, after the T.S.Eliot master criminal cat, I might have inadvertently caused him to steal all my earrings. One of my tuxedo cat’s middle names is Jellicle Jill, and like Eliot’s Jellicle cats, she dances all night. In the morning I find her toys strewn around the house.
Even one word can resonate with magic. For me a word which reverberates with magic is radiant–and all because of E.B. White and his children’s classic Charlotte’s Web. When I first read that Charlotte spun out that word in Wilbur’s pen and saw how Wilbur lived up (key word in this sentence is “up”) to it, I could never see that word the same again. Think of Wilbur who jumps and spins in the air to prove he’s radiant. He begins to feel radiant from the inside. Then Mrs. Arable gives him a buttermilk bath, so that he looks radiant to others. But he was always radiant–he just had to find that quality within himself and act upon it.
I’ve been reminded of Wilbur every morning by the label on my new face cleanser by Burt’s Bees: Radiance. I feel akin to Wilbur, being an average Jenny like most of us are (Average Joes and Jennies) and how nice it is to try to live up to the radiance that bottle offers. Then I think of how terrific Wilbur discovered he could be, but how humble he stayed. After all, it was Charlotte’s hard work that allowed him to discover all that he could be–all that he could live up to.
When Charlotte wrote that Wilbur was some pig she was saying Wilbur really was a good soul, and that all pigs can be such. Her description of Wilbur connects back with Mrs. Arable’s comment on the very first page: “‘Some pigs were born last night.'” [my italics] All those pigs had the potential when they were born to be more than they were, just as Wilbur did.
Although it’s nice to have a good friend like Charlotte as a helper, all of us average Joes and Jennies can live up to the magic words we find in our lives. You might find yours in the Bible or in a novel or a play. You might find yours from the mouth of a friend or stranger.
As you age, you might add more and more magic words to your treasury. For me, “That’ll do, pig,” from the movie Babe layered on “some pig” in my memory bank. These words resonate with appreciation for the effort we put into our daily lives. Our hard work makes our lives glow radiantly as we try to live up to our potential.