My Childhood Delusion

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While growing up in a devout Catholic home, I encountered a lot of stories glorifying belief without evidence. A common theme running through children’s books and movies is the notion that belief itself can lead to something real, something tangible. I firmly believed that, and that led to some pretty ridiculous beliefs.

I thought fairies were real, and engaged in some major conflicts with evil witches.

Yep. Fairies like Tinkerbell. I thought that was real.

If you remember play-acting as a child, you might be able to picture how that came to be. Sometimes the lines between play-acting and reality can be blurred. While I always knew what was real and what was not when I was the one leading the game, it was much less obvious when a friend of mine lead the way. From the age of six to when I was about nine or ten, I encountered several friends with pretty wild imaginations, and over the years, their play-acting solidified into its own belief system in my mind.

The first friend who contributed to this was Jackie. She liked to watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a totally harmless show my parents hesitated to let me watch because it had the word witch in the title. I would watch it with her when I went to her house, and then we would go play in her backyard–and that was when she would spin the  most elaborate fairy stories. She pretended that circling a tree three times could take us to the fairy world, and even though the world around us never changed, I believed in the power of imagination, and willed it to be real. I thought if I just believed hard enough, maybe it would be as real as the food that the lost boys eat in Hook. When I took a good look around us, the bush we hid behind to evade “evil witches” was still just a bush, not a magical shield, but maybe it was a MAGICAL bush, and I just couldn’t see it, kind of like how when the bread became Jesus at mass, it didn’t change in appearance at all. If that was real, couldn’t this be too?

Jackie and I stopped attending the same dance academy, so I stopped playing with her. But my neighbors down the street were always around. There were three of them, all older than me. One day, one of them came over and played a game with the magic wand my parents had bought me when we went to Disney World that summer. It had a blue handle with a five-pointed star on one end, and the star was covered in glitter. It was as close to magic as any toy I’d ever owned, and my friend scooped it up and waved it over my head.

“It’s time I showed you the fairies,” she said.

“The fairies? Where?”

“In the tree, over there.” She pointed to the enormous beech tree in my front yard. It had had one of its branches removed at some point, and the place where the wood was exposed had a hole where some of it had rotted away. The hole was too high for me to see into it, but my friend could reach. She swiped it with her hand, which she gingerly carried over to mine, and tipped it ever-so-slightly, as one does when passing a firefly on to a friend. I cupped my hand over hers and looked. “What is it?”

“You don’t see it?” my friend seemed incredulous. “It’s a fairy tree. You’re holding a fairy.”

“No I’m not. I don’t feel anything.”

“Open your eyes and believe.” She insisted, and touched me with the fairy wand from Disney World.

Now, I already suspected that wand was magic. When she said that, something clicked. I think it was because she used the word “believe,” a word I associated with my faith.  Believing was a concept I had been encouraged to stick to no matter what. I was supposed to believe. Belief was a good thing. If my friend said fairies were real, I should believe in them. If my parents said Jesus loved me, it was true; he was real. I should believe them.

So I did.

“I think one spot on my hand’s a little lighter than the other ones–do fairies glow?”

“Yes, they do!”

“I think my hand feels a little heavier too.”

“See?”

“I believe in fairies!”

My friend was playing, but I truly, genuinely believed. I believed in fairies, and witches, well into the years when I had my first real crush, around age nine or ten.

He was the next friend to add to my belief in fairies. To this day I don’t understand why he did it–maybe as a way to tease me for being a drama queen. Maybe he had a crush on me too. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is, every time I saw him, he would tell me fantastic stories about his adventures evading three witches, who wanted to capture him for some reason I can’t recall. Even at his age, he was a wonderful storyteller, and I soaked in every word as though it was the gospel truth. Yes, indeed, there were three witches chasing him! I even had nightmares about them a few times, and couldn’t fall asleep because of them. They had keen senses according to his stories. The only exact words I remember from them are from a harrowing moment when he said he was almost caught, as one of the witches sniffed near where he was hiding and said,

“Shh–I smell something…shampoo!!!”

Yes, even cleanliness put a person in danger of the evil witches! I can’t remember how, but there were fairies involved in the story. I think they were helping him in his adventures or something like that. Anyway, one day I went up to him and asked if anything had happened. Had he had any more adventures? Were the witches still chasing him? I was dead serious. I was that delusional.

He said, “They’re not chasing me anymore. They never were chasing me. There are no witches.” I wonder if it had taken him that long to figure out I really believed him, or if he was just tired of telling that story. At any rate, he eventually apologized for lying to me about the witches. I forgave him.

Over the years, I stayed friends with him, and with the friend who worked psychological wonders by the beech tree, the “fairy” tree. Both of them seemed to have little to no delusions. I let mine simmer. I eventually stopped proudly proclaiming my belief in fairies, but I held on tight to it. It lasted into middle school, when I encountered yet another friend with a wild imagination. This one proved to be a habitual liar in high school. She tricked me with a fairy story too.

What I’m getting at here is, while it’s pretty embarrassing and crazy that I believed all these things at such an old age, the truth is, my mind was primed for it. I had been taught to believe in things I couldn’t see, and encouraged to do so to the best of my ability. How was belief in Jesus so different from belief in fairies, or witches, or anything else for that matter?

Did you believe anything crazy when you were a kid? Do you think religion played a role in this, or is this just kid stuff? All opinions are welcome. Feel free to leave a comment. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

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