Tiny Magic, Twenty Years In

If you blink, you might miss it. Pay attention.

Inferior photo of a tiny moment of magic. By author.

This afternoon we had a moment, my wife and I.

It was the same moment but in different rooms. We had it at the same time, but we didn’t have it together…at least not in the traditional sense. She’d just lost her mother whom she’d been tending to for the past fifteen years. I’d just lost my brother. While my brother and I were nowhere near as close as Elena and her mother, grief is grief and it sneaks up on you. Plus, I’d just had surgery on both my feet for a long overdue series of problems. Since I was in pain, immobile and unable to help around the house, Elena now had to do everything and care for me. While also trying to find her way without the grounding orientation of her mother’s life, or the map of her mother’s needs.

If you make a sauce of all this and add to it an obscene dollop of mass shootings all over the country, you will have a perfect recipe for the kind of angst that beleaguers some (maybe all) marriage long haulers. Credit to my wife, she fights back. She doesn’t just sink like I do. When she gets wobbly and disconnected, one of the things she does is fill the house with the music of her youth. Phyllis Hyman, Stephanie Mills, Luther Vandross. Donny Hathaway.

“Alexa, play Donny Hathaway’s A Song for You,” she says. As he sang, she sat at our breakfast bar listening intently. She turned the volume up and began singing along. (No one knows this about her, but she has an absolutely delicious singing voice. So, when she sings along it can stop your heart.) She joined in as the words came to her, a little tentative at first, but then certain and sailing up and out the open kitchen window. I listened to both of them, and found myself back in my early days as well. I sat at the piano (it has a view to the kitchen) and fumbled for the chords, finding most of them like jewels winking at me from the ocean floor. I peeked at her on occasion through the bannister and the plants. She didn’t see me watching, or at least not that I know of. I wanted so much to record her, but didn’t want any part of me to leave the moment or violate her privacy. We were both listening to this song, reliving it, touching it, and entering into it with our unique abilities.

And for each of us, this was a private experience. We didn’t share it, didn’t sing together, looking at each other. In fact, as it played we were in different rooms — in so many ways. But she had hold of the rope of it in her voice, and she followed it hand over hand to where it led. And I had hold of it through my fingers on the keys, following the progressions and the riffs, hand over hand to where it led. In the universe that travels with us, through us, alongside us, the one we don’t see but we all carry — in that universe, in that moment, Donny Hathaway gave us the sonic version of her hand on my back, or mine in her hair. Without a word between us, this tiny moment--pollinated by fate, and my wife’s childhood, and mine, and Donny Hathaway, and piano lessons, and the seventies music business, and even Alexa — this tiny moment, took a wild ride on the breeze and landed in the garden of our life together. Whether we talk about it or not, ever, we will forever be enriched by it.


This is the magic that lives inside a long marriage. It often goes completely unnoticed. But every once in a while a tiny miracle takes place — and we do pay attention, and we don’t scare it away.