Real Magic

Real Magic

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

Real Magic

The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment, but it is no less than a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.

John F. Kennedy

Ten years ago my grandfather, who was then eighty-two, told me a story about a book he had studied in college. It was a children’s book, the kind with a profound message only children and extraordinarily wise people seem to grasp. He confessed that over the years his memories of that book had intrigued him, and he wished to read it one more time before he passed away. As he was in ill health, I began searching for that book. For the next five years, on and off, I met with no one who had ever heard of, let alone possessed, a copy of Behind the North Wind. Book dealers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago shrugged it off as an impossible search.

On October 6, 1995, I received word that my grandfather had taken a drastic turn for the worse. I felt ashamed that I had given up so easily on my search. In a last-ditch effort, I made a few phone calls. Many messages were left on many answering machines requesting a book called Behind the North Wind, a book that apparently did not exist.

The next days I received numerous calls. It seems the book I requested had never been written. However, each of these dealers told me about another book called At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, a book all of them had, some in multiple copies. Where were these people five years ago?

Regardless, one was ordered and sent to my parents. The book, as my grandfather related to me, tells the story of a young boy who is terribly frightened of the North Wind. It is cold and dark and completely unexplainable. But somehow the North Wind befriends the child and takes him on a number of adventures. Eventually, the North Wind allows the boy to come visit the land in which it lives. The boy returns with a sort of sublime wisdom rarely encountered in our day and age. He has gained a new understanding of the wind; it is not something to be feared, but accepted.

The book arrived and was taken to my grandfather. All the machines had been turned off, the IVs removed. He had days, maybe hours left. No more could be done. My cousin sat beside him and began reading, reading this tale of a child’s understanding of death.

The book was finished, the covers closed. My cousin said, “Well, you got to hear your book one last time.” My grandfather, for the first time, looked up from his semiconscious state, a faint smile forcing its way past his lips.

The relatives in the front yard, I am told, had just commented on how unusually calm this autumn’s afternoon had been. At that moment, they were surprised to see the tops of the trees begin to sway as a soul-chilling blast of wind came up over the hill and blew through the yard. The curtains in the bedroom pressed in and a silence coursed through the house as it was filled with this gale from the North.

And with that, my grandfather closed his eyes and went to sleep . . . forever.

I make my living as a magician. And I’m always asked if I believe in magic, if it is real. I’m always amazed why someone wouldn’t. Sure, guys like me have to use tricks and deception, but ultimately our goal is to remind all of us, magician and audience alike, that there are mysteries in the world around us, and there is magic in our lives every moment should we only be willing to open our eyes and see.

Why could I not find that book until right then? Why were so many copies practically thrust upon me? Why did my family who never listens to me choose to do so now? And why was the name of the company from which I purchased the book, a company whose name I did not learn until the credit card statement arrived a month later, why were they the ABRACADABRA book company?

Why did it all happen the way it did?

My grandfather was the one member of my family who always supported my early efforts of performing. He’d tell tales of magicians he had seen in the past, and was always tolerant of a new trick. It is only fitting that he left me with an experience of magic I try so hard now to convey in each and every performance I give. I can only hope this story will help all of us realize the magic our grandparents are in our lives so we may choose to revel in those moments—or memories—while we can.

“That’s how she would look when she thought I might be afraid of her,” he said to himself. Then he spoke aloud. “I am not afraid of you, dear North Wind,” he cried. “See! I am not a bit afraid of you!” Stretching out both hands to clasp her he pressed up close against her and laid his head upon her breast and then he fell asleep.

In the morning, they found little Diamond lying on the floor of the big attic room—fast asleep, as they thought, and with such a happy smile on his face. But when they took him up, they found he was not asleep. He had gone to that lovely country at the back of the north wind—to stay.

Brad Henderson

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