“Mom, what if I ran a race around the whole world and came in first and I held up my arms and ran into the stadium and everybody was cheering and clapping and I got a gold medal? What if I did?”
My eight-year-old snuggles down under the covers, eyes shining even in the darkness. He is storied and prayered, and I have turned to go, but now I pause, captured by his lovely, eager face.
How possible is it to run around the world?
The Summer Olympic Games are on, and he is both participant and audience, staging his own events, hurdling, dashing, tumbling, vaulting. He carefully studies his performance, besting himself at every turn, guided by Mom’s infallible judgment calls and his own inner scrutiny.
How possible is it to run around the world? How heart-rending is it to imagine? I rush to protect him from unreachable hope, to shield him from crushing disappointment. My child, my son.
In the instant before I open my mouth to dutifully ground him in reality, I remember the fairies. I am three or four years old, my older sister is with me in bed, and we are watching. Suddenly, delicately, there is a flicker.
“Look!” my sister whispers. “I see one!”
Sure enough a dart of light appears over a doorway, then by the dresser, and I am shivering with wonder, not daring to breathe. It is real. The fairies have broken through for a few astonishing moments, and I have seen them with my own wide, believing eyes.
“There!” I cry, and they dance about on the ceiling. I chase the bright points, arms outstretched, electrified with awe, never suspecting the flashlight secreted in my sister’s bedclothes. The fairies flit from corner to drawer to bookcase and the, after a time, disappear altogether, with reassurances from my sister that they will surely come another night.
The childhood scene is lost again in darkness, but the magic remains. There are dolls who may talk if I lie very still and quiet. It is possible. There are worlds to explore. I am a secret agent, a scientist, Daniel Boone. There are suspicious strangers whose tag number only I can rehearse to the grateful police. I am a photographer on assignment, the one chosen to carry the flag, the sweepstakes winner who gives all the millions to my mother. I navigate oceans, conquer darkness, discover an underground kingdom, canoe to my own secret island.
It can happen.
In some ways, it is happening even now. It is all a part of me: the adventure, the courage, the tenacity, the seeking, the splendor and awe – all woven of fairy threads.
“What if I won, Mom? What if?” This angel child searches me, and my heart weeps, swells, and breaks for the love of him. I kiss his hair, his cheek, and tuck the soft covers around his shoulders.
You will win, my precious son, if you take hold of the wonder. It may not be as you expect, but all the sweat and glory of the race will indeed be yours, wreathed about your shining golden head.
Good night, little dreamer.