Magical thinking

Yesterday my new therapist told me that it will likely be at least six months until my cognitive abilities return to anything close to what they were… before.  Personally, I doubt that my mind will ever be quite the same again. Trauma has a way of irrevocably changing everything.

I just finished reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. It’s essentially the journal of her first year after losing her husband to a sudden massive coronary. The person who recommended it said that ‘magical thinking’ refers to her altered state of consciousness during that time, and I thought it might help me to understand how Didion, a writer whom I respect, coped with this state of mind.

If I can’t think rationally right now, maybe I can think magically.

For me, magical thinking means something like this: When nothing is known, everything is possible. Magical thinking embraces, rather than dismisses, highly improbable things like reincarnation or parallel universes or spirits communicating with us from the Other Side.

There’s a part of me that yearns to believe in these things again, to comfort myself with the idea that Mike and I will be reunited someday, or that there is a parallel universe in which we get to live happily ever after.  I want him to come to me in my dreams, to let me know he’s still with me.

Here’s the rub.  In the past, my magical thinking led me to be duped, manipulated, ensnared. Mike helped me see the truth behind those delusions: the spirits I thought were talking to me in the past were just voices of my imagination. And once you’ve seen the man behind the curtain, you can’t forget that he’s there. I can’t fool myself like that again.

Near the end of the book, Didion writes about how she never experienced a sighting of her dead husband or even strongly felt his presence, as others have reported. On occasion she asked aloud for his help, asked him to tell her what to do.  Every word of what she says next could have come from me.

“I am a writer. Imagining what someone would say or do comes as naturally as breathing. Yet on each occasion these pleas for his presence served  only to reinforce my awareness of the final silence that separated us. Any answer he gave could only exist in my imagination, my edit. For me to imagine what he could say only in my edit would seem obscene, a violation.”

My magical thinking was stomped out by reason, but now my rational mind has been altered by grief. And here I remain, in some no man’s land between the two…

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~ by hourbeforedawn on April 14, 2010.

5 Responses to “Magical thinking”

  1. what a beautiful post lira. you are such a talented writer. so gentle, so honest. i love it.

    every year, we learn something new, as a human race, about something that we thought was impossible… and yet is. imagine what someone would have said to us, however many years ago, about watching movies entirely created via computer or about being able to operate on baby’s hearts… or about the kinds of bizarre creatures that live in the depths of the ocean. there is a whole world of “impossible” out there! it blows my mind! i don’t know the fullness of what you went through, and i praise Mike for helping you out of what sounds like a horrible situation. i hope that you feel Mike with you. but if you don’t, i hope you feel us all around you, and perhaps, perhaps, through us, you might hear God saying, “I will lead her into the desert and I will speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14). I love you honey. Praying praying praying for your heart.

    • Thank you so much, Aarti. Mike is the only one who knew, as you put it, the fullness of what I went through. That’s one of the (many) reasons I feel so lost without him.

  2. Dear Lira,
    I believe that our life force energy or the soul lives on and we are more connected to each other than we can possibly imagine. If it is true that energy cannot be created or destroyed only changed then absolutely anything is possible.
    Trust me, Michael is in a better place! As the card stated that I discovered on the ground in the parking lot “Totally Satisfied”. This was Michael’s way of saying “I’m OK”!
    We may not understand the reasons or agree with the process but the results of unexplained coincidences prove out to be beneficial in the end. Our entire family misses Michael so much. His untimely death is so difficult for us to bear but we don’t know what’s in store. Yet!
    We love you and pray for your healing.

  3. “We injure mysteries, which are matters of faith, by any attempt at explanation, in order to make them matters of reason.

    Could they be explained, they would cease to be mysteries;
    and it has been well said that a thing is not necessarily against reason because it happens to be above it.”

    ~~ Charles Caleb Colton

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