The Day I Made It Snow
I was born in December, far enough from Christmas that it was a separate event. But December meant there was always a chance it would snow on my birthday. Like any kid, I loved snow days. But perhaps not like many kids, I wondered if I could make them.
The idea of sympathetic magic made sense to me at that age. Like breeds like, or so I’d heard someone say. Voodoo dolls worked on this principle, and so I thought, with a bit of ingenuity and a bit of ritual, I could come up with a way to create snow.
The problem with “like breeds like” is that you need to have a “like” in order to get what you want. That particular early December had been cold and dry, with no snow at all. But there was a freezer in the basement—an old freezer filled with frost. That was certainly “like” snow.
I scraped a bit of the frost into a glass and wrote an oddly rhyming poem. At night, when no one had any reason to be looking out windows, I went to the center of the backyard, said my prayer to the empty sky, and tossed the frost. Some of it actually looked like snow as it fell at my feet.
The next morning, I woke and immediately stuck my head under the shade to see if there was snow. I saw nothing but bare trees and frozen ground. I went to school disappointed, with only three days left until my birthday. Maybe these things take time?
The following morning, I peeked out again, with less anticipation: no snow. Oh well, I thought, that was silly anyway. My birthday was coming no matter what, and going to school wouldn’t be so bad. I gave up on the idea.
The morning before my birthday, I didn’t look out the window at all. I ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, and walked up the hill to school. It seemed a bit dark for the morning, but it was December after all. It wasn’t until just before lunch that I noticed the first snow flakes.
My Dad told me that small flakes meant the snow was going to keep going for awhile, and large flakes meant it was about to end. I don’t know if anyone has ever studied that, but I figured he’d seen enough snow in his day to know, and I believed it. This snow was made of very small crystals; too small for someone to see an individual flake. Could this be the snow I was waiting for?
By the time we left school, visibility was down to a few feet. My parents drove to pick me up a school, which was very unusual. We lit a fire in the fireplace, and I stared out the big picture window in the living room, watching the street fill with snow. If you can’t see the pavement, they can’t have school, and I wasn’t seeing any pavement.
There was only one conclusion: my magic had worked. I had made this snow, and now I was going to reap the rewards. The final proof, if any was needed, came from the radio as the bored announcer tried to get through the growing list of closings. “…Randolph Public Schools, Regional Tech, Revere, Salem public schools, Salisbury, …” School had been cancelled on my birthday, and I had made it happen.
Just before my birthday dinner, we heard on the radio just how unexpected and bad the storm was. People were trapped during rush hour, and two people had died in a horrible accident. If I could take credit for the snow, I had to take credit for the consequences. I wrestled with these thoughts a long time.
The event led to a great deal of magical thinking on my part. I would assign bad things in my life to found objects, and then bury them or dispose of them in another ritualistic manner. I noticed that if I disposed of things properly, the badness went away. But if the badness didn’t go away, that meant I must have simply done something wrong.
And eventually, without having a name for it, I learned about confirmation bias, and how powerful it was. I could do something, and if what I wanted to happen happened, *I* did it. I had the power. If it didn’t, I simply did something wrong. In the case of snow, all I had to do was wait and I’d eventually be able to claim credit. And it felt really good, but it also felt…. false.
And that’s where curiosity comes in. Curiosity is a search for truth, as much as it’s anything. It’s an urge to know, and I wanted to know more about this phenomenon I was experiencing. I had no choice but to reject sympathetic magic and all other forms of wishful thinking as powerless emotions that had no impact outside my own head.
If there is any form of “real” magic out there, curiosity will find it. Until then, curiosity can keep us safe from false beliefs simply by keeping questions alive.