Perhaps the other night while you were walking down the street, you saw searchlights streaking the brown snow-laden sky. Maybe you stopped and ogled them. Maybe you just wondered who’d be crazy enough to go to a nightclub in the ice cold. Maybe you never look up at the sky. For my part, I stood in the Calhoun courtyard for several minutes, freezing my pretty green socks off, in wonder.
I don’t know why searchlights still get me. Maybe it’s because of Charlie Brown, and I’m sure that the lights are coming from that bizarro-world Christmas tree lot where you can bang on a pink tree and it rattles like a tin can. Who cares about rainbows? In my mind there is a classic Christmas cartoon at the other end of those searchlights.
Someone else — a sophomore in Calhoun, I think — came by and said he expected to see the Bat signal. He, too, was delighted by something that is, ostensibly, nothing but artificial light projected into the atmosphere.
But that’s enchantment. This past week, I was afraid I lost that part of me that makes me a bit silly and romantic and, well, myself.
First, I went to a tea and dinner for the editor of the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Anderson used the word “enchanting” more often than is preferable in such a short time. I turned into a sulky child. People don’t need to be lectured into enchantment, I whined internally, particularly under the guise of highbrow art.
Then, this weekend, I took my sister to New York, where we passed through Central Park – not intending to see “The Gates,” but because my navigational skills do not improve no matter how many hours I spend in Manhattan, spending a great deal of time in their presence. Initially, I had planned on protesting the Gates because I had already predicted Christo’s invasion of New York in a Record piece about a year ago. Having read an article about Christo’s many drapings some time back, I had dubbed Christo’s work as ridiculous and pretentious. Though the many flags in Central Park weren’t pretentious, they were very orange and pretty ridiculous. There was also a semi-socialist feeling to the whole thing. But I give. I’ve never seen so many people just walking in Central Park … smiling. I still don’t like Christo and Jeanne-Claude or their “art,” but their effect on New Yorkers might just qualify as one of the three miracles necessary for sainthood.
As much as I may be a cynical misanthrope, I am still won over by the simple and the beautiful. I love the silly moose hunter caps some Yalies wear when it snows, especially if the moose hunters are also wearing shades. I love the way rain drops race each other down car windows and then merge into a tiny puddle before running off the side of the door. I love the carpet of miniature wild strawberries that appear like magic in my grandmother’s backyard every summer, the red juice that leaks through my fingers as I squash them to make unpaintable paint.
After the snowstorm that hit us a few weeks ago, my roommate and I went walking. The wind frost-froze our noses, but we couldn’t get anywhere. She kept stopping because cars would come by, and a breeze would send the light snow on the street drifting like sand in the desert. She was completely blown away. I thought it was cute at first, and then I found it tiresome. Luckily, her enchantment passed, but we still got on slowly. I couldn’t help but stop at each car parked on Prospect and write little notes in the snow-covered windshields. I pictured the owners coming down to their cars the next morning and seeing my “Hi”s and “Happy January”s.
Perhaps there is something more enchanting about that which you know is bound to disappear, that which is fleeting, transient, ephemeral. It’s why I go out in August to lie on my driveway and watch the Perseids hotfoot it across the Northern sky. It’s why people gasp at the Northern lights and thrill at eclipses.
Why is it that what we cannot grasp, these things we can only glimpse, are the most enchanting?
I can’t say. I just know I want a bit more of it. I want to see the uncommon more often. I want fiddleheads and Zambonis and people doing selfless, remarkable things for each other a little more often. I would still find it enchanting. I don’t want socialism or Utopia or a land of milk and honey — no one can digest that crap. In “The Incredibles,” Elastigirl tells her son, “Everybody is special, Dash.” Dash responds, “That’s just another way of saying nobody is.” Of course, he’s right. If everything were special, nothing would be. So just call me greedy for asking for a bit more.
In “Peter Pan” the only way to save Tinkerbell is to believe in fairies. Comparisons could and probably have been drawn between the story and the methodology of religion, but that really misses the whole point. The point is the moment where you suspend disbelief and enter the story, where you wish with all your heart for Tinkerbell to live, for E.T. and Elliott to fly, for the boy to kiss the girl. And they do. They live, they fly, and they kiss.
Maybe I just want more of us to be like “Amelie.” I don’t want to see everything with so much skepticism, and I don’t want to be the kind of person who finds the Amelies of this world annoying. We need them something terrible. Because, after all, if there is nothing in the world that takes my — or your — breath away, there’s just no reason to breathe anyway.
So next time you hear I’m down, remind me that, yeah, the Sudan may be in the middle of civil strife, but there are still things to find enchanting. There are still tiny lizards scuttling along the walls of Florida homes, still bubbles on the top of glasses of ginger ale to swallow quickly so they can clamber up your nose, still driftwood that look like sea serpents washing up on the shore.
Tell me there are still things that will make me snort with delight and blush with pleasure. Tell me and you just might knock my pretty green socks off.
Katherine Stevens enchants us — with or without her Batgirl cape.