“Our human tragedy is that we are unable to comprehend our experience, it slips through our fingers, we can’t hold on to it, and the more time passes, the harder it gets . . . My father said that the natural world gave us explanations to compensate for the meanings we could not grasp. The slant of the cold sunlight on a winter pine, the music of water, an oar cutting the lake and the flight of birds, the mountains’ nobility, the silence of the silence. We are given life but must accept that it is unattainable and rejoice in what can be held in the eye, the memory, the mind.”
–Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown
Several years ago I was camping with a group of friends up in the Grand Tetons, and we decided to spend one afternoon playing in Jackson Lake. Even though it was summer, the water was still cold, but that didn’t matter (as much) once we got in. I’m not a good swimmer, so I didn’t stay in for long, and I’m partly glad I didn’t, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to capture the magic that was happening around us.
It wasn’t anything big or momentous, just the atmosphere—the way the clouds and mountains reflected in the water, the peaceful yet vibrant energy of the lake as we laughed and played, and then took pause to relax on the rocky beach. As the day progressed, the light began to fade, and it felt like a moment out of time when anything and everything was possible. I was afraid to blink lest the last of the light disappear behind the mountains and the moment would end. It eventually did, as all moments do, but I was fortunate to capture some of that magic with my camera.
When I discuss Magical Realism, this is what I’m talking about, that feeling and sense of something strange and wonderful and mysterious, with limitless potential for what might happen if the air were to shift and something unreal began to take shape. That’s why I look for it in magical realist books and film—because it’s so hard to recognize those moments in my humdrum day-to-day life, and I want that magic in my life more than once every blue moon.
I’ve experienced it as various times before and since, each in such different circumstances that there’s no way to define or predict when such moments will come. Strolling through Paris in early spring. Hiking through the blazing deserts of Southern Utah. Even just sitting on my back porch in the chill night air as the golden hues of the sun change from orange to pink to black while the light drains from the sky—in each time and place I’ve had that fleeting sense of breathless wonder that I desperately grasp to hold onto for just a moment longer.
I’d love to hear some of the magical moments you’ve experienced in your life, when time seemed to pause so you could step outside reality for even just a few heartbeats.