Magic died. I was 7. I spat out watermelon seeds.
Sweet juicy nectar dribbled and trickled through my fingers, along my arms, pooling on the warm concrete at my feet. I wiggled my sticky toes. I longingly eyed the haphazard collection of seeds.
The pile of seeds grew. The stash of watermelon dwindled. The quiet languid afternoon air rested.
I stood lazy, content, yearning. I fervently wished, willed, and called upon the force to kindle just one seed into a fresh new watermelon for my pleasure. I was not greedy, just a bit unreasonable (George Bernard Shaw would be proud!) in my attempt to bend the world to my will.
KPOM! Without due warning and notice, an insidious realization snuck past my guard. I saw with absolute helplessness my will matters not. I understand with solemn gravity I lack power to affect the patterns of fate. I have no magic.
I’m forever casting my life into hyperbolic melodrama of epic proportions. Attempting to find the miraculous in my common place life or sadly confusing insight with the inane. Perhaps that’s why I’m forever drawn to morality tales? One tale I connected with very shortly after my watermelon afternoon stands out: Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock.
Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock is a simple morality folktale from West Africa retold with whimsy, humor, and insight by the wonderful children’s author Eric A. Kimmel. Anansi the Spider happens upon an unusual stone that magically puts one to sleep. The trickster uses the powers of the rock to steal the food stores from the rest of the local residents until a shy deer ultimately outwits Anansi and returns the food to its rightful owners.
In second grade, the illustrator, Janet Stevens from nearby Boulder, visited my elementary school and I went home with a special autographed copy. Meeting an author or illustrator will make any book special as they share their unique unfiltered vision. Reading together, I loved every time “KPOM!” occurred in the book. We’d make a loud rumbling and crumple to the floor as if we too was struck down by the mysterious power of the strange moss-covered rock. While the joy of living the story and meeting the illustrator captured my attention, Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock stays with me for a very different reason: the lesson it offers on magic.
The first time I consciously conceived of my inability to fully control the world was as I failed to will a watermelon into existence. It was a harsh blow to reach this deep conscious understanding. We’re all enticed by magic. To paraphrase C.S. Friedman, magic is harnessing the world to your will: to kill and to heal; to alter and to adapt; to make the world responsive to your dreams, needs, pleas, and fears (Black Sun Rising, 1991, pg 309). I’m eager for the ability to step beyond my physical limitations to transform and shape reality to my liking: be it transforming a seed into a full watermelon or Anansi tricking himself a cornucopia of delights. This is not always possible: inescapably reality imposes.
Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock suggests a new way. Underneath the clear themes of honesty and the dangers of deception, lies the success of the remaining community who accept and surrender to the limitations of their world. There is much to be achieved when giving up the urge to control and shape that which cannot be. Although, much to the consternation of my friends and family, I’ve not entirely convinced myself of this truth as I endless seek to reorder reality, there’s a certain comfort in the knowledge of liberation through surrender Anansi illustrates.