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My dad believed there are two kinds of people: critical thinkers and magical thinkers. Critical thinkers question everything; they rely on science and evidence. Then, there are magical thinkers; that meant everyone else.
Some would confuse my father for an atheist, but he defined himself as an agnostic and a humanitarian. That means he claimed neither faith nor disbelief in God and he focused on improving people’s lives and reducing suffering. He was a man of science who could not rely on faith alone. I can still hear him whispering, “Always be a critical thinker, mi amor.”
Growing up I wanted to be just like my dad, so I questioned everything. I drove the nuns crazy at school. I got in trouble for asking challenging questions in religion and catechism class. I even became a lawyer.
My Catholic mother disagreed with my father’s beliefs and constantly tried to counter his influence in this regard. For a few years in high school, I had a very religious boyfriend. His parents had the marriage I wished my parents had … the marriage I dreamed to have in the future. My mom used their example to convince me that their relationship was successful because they were people of faith. I believed her.
I began attending church. I joined the peer ministry group at my school. I tried to believe. My mother was thrilled as she feared that my lack of faith would be my downfall. But there were aspects of the faith that the critical thinker in me could not reconcile—things I either didn’t believe or couldn’t agree with. I’d seen life from a different angle and couldn’t unring that bell.
I turned to my father for guidance. “I love their faith, their traditions, and their community. I want what they have, but some things don’t make sense. I don’t know what to do.”
My dad smiled and placed his large hand on my shoulder, “I guess you’re an Agno-Catholic then.”
“A what?” I asked.
“An Agno-Catholic. You don’t claim blind faith without evidence but you enjoy many aspects of the religion and choose to be a part of it.”
I appreciated this about my dad. He demanded that I gather my own conclusions instead of mindlessly accepting what others believed to be true, but he never asked that my conclusions be the same as his. He taught me the true meaning of respect.
I didn’t fit into any belief system. I explored different religions and theories and found comfort and discomfort in all of them. The personal development world was one I felt most comfortable in because it allowed me to learn the skills I needed to create the life and marriage that I once thought were only possible for the devout.
And yet, at times I felt a deep sense of spirituality. For example, when I became a mother and was struck by the magnificence of the process of creating a child in my womb, of birth, and of the immense love I felt for this tiny creature. It was a magical experience, full of mystery and awe and it left me wondering if there was something bigger than we could see or understand.
Regardless, I always took pride in being a critical thinker like my dad. I would never want anyone to confuse me for a magical thinker. And that’s why it’s so ironic that I have become one.
It happened on New Year’s Eve. I was on vacation with my family. The whole trip had been different than any other we’d ever been on, with wild coincidences and special moments. But on that last December night as we drove up the mountains of North Carolina, my husband lost control of our car and we fishtailed toward the edge of a cliff.
What led up to that incident and what happened afterward changed everything.
It all felt like it had happened for a reason. As if something was telling me, “Pay attention. There are lessons for you here.”
In his latest book, The Story Story, Dave Bricker writes “…we’re all mulling over the idea that either something magic happened or we witnessed an epic coincidence.”
I couldn’t explain it. I couldn’t prove it. But I knew it to be true: My parents’ divorce, my struggle with faith, the husband I chose, the kids I was given, the death of my father, the signs I’d received from him since he left, the book project my dad and I began before he died —they were all connected.
I’d been trying to find my way since my father’s death; trying to finish the book we started writing together; trying to decide whether to continue practicing law or pursue a speaking career to carry his legacy; trying to step into his shoes that felt too large for me to fill. I finally understood why I hadn’t been able to finish the book. It was the same reason it’s been so difficult for me to truly own my message, Be There Even When You’re Not. I was coming from a critical thinker’s perspective and trying to establish a formula—if you do x, you will have y.
But life isn’t that simple. There is no one answer. That is precisely why I can’t believe that there is one “right” religion! The fear that my message might not work for someone paralyzed me. I’d been stuck in my own head.
But in this moment, stopped at the edge of this mountain with my husband and three boys, all of us scared to death, everything made sense. Be There Even When You’re Not is about being together even when you’re separated; about accepting the people you love even when you disagree with their decision; about preserving relationships despite the obstacles; about finding your truth even if it’s a mix of different theories; and it’s about suspending judgment and behaving with love.
The lessons on that mountain, the imprint we had on our children, and all the coincidences were proof to me that true transformation lies in transforming your perspective. It wasn’t my job to solve the mystery of the universe, but it sure is my responsibility to participate in the process of exploring those mysteries.
That’s why I must share my story, and you must share yours. Because we all have magic in us, and sharing it makes this world a brighter place. If my dad were alive, I’d be telling him, “I will always be a critical thinker—but I believe in Magic too.”
There is magic in everything—we just choose whether we see it or not.
Even critical thinkers can marvel at the mystery of the universe.