The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s last plays. It begins with a storm that shipwrecks a boat on an island and ends with the ship setting sail for a voyage home. We learn that the storm was conjured by an exiled noble turned sorcerer named Prospero; one of the passengers, Ferdinand, falls in love with his daughter Miranda. Prospero has a famous line toward the end which goes “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on.” But I think there is an action that speaks louder than these words. Prospero proclaims:
[…] But this rough magic
I here abjure; and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, – which even now I do, –
To work mine end upon their senses, that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.
As he is set to regain his dukedom and, returning from exile, rejoin his world and fellow man, Prospero determines to break his magic staff and drown his book of spells and incantations.
Magic is not an explanation of, but a shorthand for the unexplained or inexplicable mysteries of the world around and within us. Months ago in Los Angeles, I stopped with a friend at a carnival in our neighborhood to ride rides and eat cotton candy and forget about some of the world around us. As we sat on a bench, my friend became reflective and she observed that she missed the magic of her childhood, when going to carnivals like this one she was attended by a sense of wonder and excitement - where now the mechanics of the rides were exposed in her mind and the banal tragedy of the workers of the rides was plain on their faces.
I told her that the magic wasn’t gone. Think, I said, of the odds of you and I being together and finding this fair. The stress of work had been weighing us down in the way it can do to young people, and just when we needed it the most, this carnival presented itself to us, around the corner from the condo we were sharing with its owner. None of this had to be intentional, it probably was unplanned, the best explanation we had for it was sheer serendipity. That is the magic that remains as we age and see some of the workings of the world people before have made for us exposed. Despite the odds, circumstances had convened and here we were, two people, sitting, sharing the last bits of fluffy goodness, part of the world and apart from it. What other magic could one want?