I don’t know how many times I walked by without seeing it.
An evening stroll three years ago with our dog Maria finally got my attention. She darted left, yanking me toward the wrought iron fence. I thought she’d spotted a scurrying chipmunk.
Now I’m not so sure what quick creature charmed her. When I looked down where her nose strained through the fence, I saw a fairy village nestled among the flowers. It was sweetly complete with several houses. I was mesmerized.
When summer comes, we visit often, noting how the accessories expand as the fairies prosper. This week our trip coincided with our neighbors’ young children. As they approached, Luca (who’s probably 4 1/2) called, “Karen, you have to believe.” His sister Petra (who’s likely 3) ran to point out the tea set. Their sister Filomena (who recently turned 1) watched wide-eyed and silent. I told them that Maria found the spot before I did, and they looked at her with wonder, imagining the possibilities of a dog who sees fairies. “I haven’t seen them yet,” I said, “but I know I will.”
“You have to believe,” Luca repeated. “They’re very, very fast.” Like a flash, he pointed into the branches behind us. As we turned, he said, “I might have seen one!” Petra wanted to know why it didn’t fly down to the houses.
Abby, their babysitter, and I looked at each other. I let her take the lead. “Maybe it was afraid of Maria,” Abby suggested.
“She would look as big as a dinosaur to a little fairy,” I added. The children nodded their heads.
Petra slipped behind the fence. “The chicken fell down,” she explained, righting it by the henhouse. I assured her the fairies appreciated her help. She beamed.
Our adventure over, they headed east for home. Maria and I went toward the Mississippi. I thought about that, how I walk west, my eyes always up, expecting the wide, rushing river to be our destination. Somewhere in our American gene structure, we’re programmed to believe all good things are toward the horizon. We are pre-ordained to believe powerful things happen in the distance.
But a lot is going on at my feet. If I’ll stop and look.
We’ll soon be moving away, and these children will forget us, the people next door with the dog who spotted fairies. So I’ll have them come over for popsicles with Maggie and me. I’ll tell them the tiny tent in our garden doesn’t get visitors anymore because of Maria. I’ll ask them to put it in their yard for the traveling fairies. They will because they believe.
That’s how a meaningful life begins. A boy who believes he saw a fairy flitting through branches will grow up to believe he can master a geometry problem that seems impossible at first. A girl who believes straightening a toppled chicken will help a farming fairy will grow into a girl who confidently helps a friend solve a hard problem. Filomena, quite possibly, will believe that amazing things happen anywhere.
Inevitably in a year or so, they’ll ask their parents where the little tent came from. I hope Joe and Katie will say, “From a neighbor who believed in fairies, but more than that, she believed in you.”
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