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Try a little magic

I imagine when you were in kindergarten or first grade, you sang, over and over, that little ditty known as The Alphabet Song. I’ve long been impressed by the fact such young children manage to memorize, in order, the 26 letters of the alphabet. That’s a pretty long string of facts to remember, in sequence, for anyone, not to mention a 6-year-old. (Have you ever played that game where participants take turns repeating then adding to a list of things they’d take on vacation? Have you ever managed to accurately repeat a list of 26 items in order? Chances are slim, aren’t they?)
Children memorizing the alphabet seems almost magic in itself, but there’s so much more to come. The next step was to learn all the different sounds those 26 letters make when they become parts of words. Many of the letters have more than one definite sound, and many change dramatically when accompanied by specific other letters. The learning process lasts for several years, but usually by about fifth grade, most kids have reading and spelling familiar words pretty well figured out, though they will continue to encounter new words and add them to their vocabularies for the rest of their lives. Any time you begin to feel like a “finished product” and you’ve no need to learn something new, try this little test you can do all by yourself: Turn to any page of your dictionary and look at the first 15 or 20 words listed. Do you know the definitions of every one of those words? If you’re of average intelligence and education, chances are there will be more words you DON’T know than there are words you DO know. Try to learn one or two of them while you’re there, or at least learn another definition of one you were already somewhat familiar with.
I’ve always thought of the alphabet as a sort of set of magic symbols we can use to record our thoughts. Once those thoughts are committed to paper via those magic symbols, even if you forget the ideas you had in mind at the time, you can revive them simply by looking at the symbols again and the thoughts will come back to you. Pretty impressive. But that’s just the beginning. Your thoughts, once recorded in magic, can be transferred to anyone else who has also learned to recognize those 26 little symbols. That includes people you’ve never met and never will meet, people far in the future– even hundreds of years from now, people who never heard of you before. Think about it– they will be able to look at those symbols and know just what you were thinking way back then! If that isn’t magic, then I don’t know what the word means.
Spoken words have been around a lot longer than written ones have, but until the telephone, and various sound-recording devices, once spoken the words tended to vanish and existed only in the memories of whoever happened to have heard them at the time they were spoken. Contracts, agreements and other promises couldn’t be verified except by persons who happened to be actual witnesses, and we know memories are faulty even under the best of circumstances and intentions. A written document is much more reliable than a verbal agreement, because those little magic symbols mean pretty much the same thing to every one who knows them. Understanding this, we have to believe the written word has more power than the spoken word, and that power only adds to the sense of magic.
Got the winter blahs? Need something out of the ordinary to do? Something that can span time and distance and bring back surprises in return? A month ago, I would have suggested you send some Valentine cards to old friends you hadn’t been in touch with for ages, but it’s a little late for that, so here’s an even better alternative.
If you’re getting impatient with the maddeningly slow and capricious appearance of spring weather, and tired of all the winter pastimes you’ve relied on to get you through the dark months, try a little magic and write something. It doesn’t really matter what you write, but writing to another person will double the pleasure, for the recipient of your letter will enjoy it probably even more than you will enjoy writing it, because it will have been unexpected. I recommend writing to an old friend you haven’t thought about or heard from for a long time. I’d almost be willing to bet it won’t be too many days before you receive a response from your somewhat surprised friend. You may get a letter, a post card, an email or a phone call, but I’d almost guarantee it will be pleasant for both of you and it may even revive a friendship you both had written off as abandoned. And that, believe me, is the very best kind of magic.