Once upon a time: On the hunt for magic

The phrase “Once upon a time” is magical in more ways than we could ever imagine, and one that as adults we are far too eager to abandon. It takes us beyond our limited world of possibility and transports us into a grander spectacle of potential outcomes.

In storytelling, “Once upon a time” focuses on a past event (long ago and far away) that sends the message that something magical happened “before,” and to a child’s mind, it implies subconsciously that it could happen again. A child’s mind makes that leap naturally and effortlessly. But sadly, over time, our adult minds become programmed with walls, barriers and filters that trap us in a world of logic that relegates unlimited potential to the realm of nonsense.

Why is potential beyond our wildest dreams good enough (and indeed desirable!) for our children but not good enough for us? Magic happens all the time, all around us – but we make it small by calling it something else, like “good luck,” “fate” or, occasionally, a “miracle.”

We are all master storytellers, whether we realize it or not. We tell ourselves stories all the time. It is how we define and manage our universe, for better or for worse. When we are living in the “worst” scenario, it is not uncommon to retreat into someone else’s “better” story via movies, TV and, in days gone by more so than now, books.

We are always on the hunt for magic: sometimes in science fiction and other times perhaps in romance or mystery. There is even magic to be found in cookbooks and hobby books that create pictures in our heads of what “could be.”

There is a wonderful movie out now based on the best-seller “The Book Thief” (Knopf, 2006) by Markus Zusak. While it is set during the Holocaust, the focus is not political – it’s on how a young girl survived and thrived by reading books for her own enjoyment and out loud to others. The words on the pages magically transported them from their suffering to a better place and time for a while, and made their conditions bearable.

I would like to suggest a new trend in storytelling: Let’s change “Once upon a time” to “It happened once before and could happen again,” thereby embracing the magic of potential outcomes that defy logic and dance seamlessly between past and present. Why should children have all the fun? And why would we wish more for them than we wish for ourselves?

I am going to start right now searching for some fairy dust that can make me fly. I’m just saying, it may be an airplane ticket instead of gold residue, but I still get to fly – and how great is that?

Sharon Lennox-Infante is a Certified Life Coach who lives and works in Los Altos. For more information, visit

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