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Rylee Gallagher

December 1st, 2013

English 381

Audience: Virginia Quarterly

I am writing to the Virginia Quarterly. This audience encompasses people from all walks

of life. Although this is a scholarly magazine focused on literature, the people who read it are

generally common people interested in complicated topics. These readers are people who love

reading about topics ranging from prohibition, the economy, independence, and history. This

audience is mainly made up of people interested in reading something of literary merit. They are

looking for a piece that makes them think not necessarily laugh. Also, the readers care about

being knowledgeable on the issues. They want to keep up to date with the social and political

topics of the season.

The readers of VQR want to be challenged in their thinking and feel like they learned

something from the magazine. Readers of VQR read because the magazine is known for featuring

authors of literary merit. They want the best in order to justify putting their time and money into

reading the magazine. I believe that they want to question the world around them. Based on some

of the past topics (Iconoclasts, Female Conscience, and The Business of Literature), they look

closely at serious issues. Because of this, many of the audience are probably somewhat educated

or older scholars. Some may be getting to the point when they start worrying about death. This

audience has some investment into the questions/themes of ultimate truth, real knowledge, and

concrete belief vs. abstract faith.

Theory of Relativity

Most people believe in the concrete. They touch. They see. They hear. What is real is

what is quantifiable. It can be measured. It can be counted. It can be broken down. Molecules are

broken down into atomsatoms into protons, neutrons, and electronsand protons and neutrons

into quarks. Life has an explanation. The scientists are able to track it back to its quantifiable

origins. Life is explainable. People only believe what they can explain. It is simple.

How about death? Is death explainable, tangible, concrete? Is it an absolute ending?

Some people might say, why yes, yes indeed. Well then, great. Problem solved. No more

mysteries in the world for those underworked explorers. No more magic for those children to

hold onto. No more unknown for those scientists to disprove. Fine.

There is only one problem I find with thise need for theto have concrete explanations: I

simply do not believe.


Daddy, I can measure. I wanna do it! Please! I begged my father to let me hold the

orange string. He handed it over without hesitation. Holding the string tight across the wood

board, I plucked it with my eight-year-old fingers. It made a light orange line from one side to the

other. My father began to move the saw up and down, side to side until the board split in two,

throwing splinters onto my princess slippers.

The phone rang inside the house. I loved that phone. The outside was clear, revealing

wires and circuits and colors. I knew somehow all those wires and circuits and colors meant

something logical, something scientific. I knew they all followed the laws of science. I knew this

and yet I could not help but feel like a kind of magic took place every time it rang. Every beep

and light was something unknown to me, something wonderful.

My father asked me to snap the orange line again. He was building a deck. The cabin we

have owned since the year I was born was in the being renovated. And, when I say renovated, I

do not mean contractors and construction workers. I mean my father, my brothers, and my uncles.

I mean a lifetime of me plucking orange string and a lifetime of me picking up nails from the

ground so my father wouldnt step on a one a second time one. I mean a dream, a dream of

having a place that all us kids, my two brothers and one sister, could always return if need be.

My father started to nail the board to the naked frame. This was one of his last projects

before we were supposed to be done. Before we were supposed to be done with all this, before we

could go back to being a normal family: a family in which no one got sick, in which no one lived

in a house without electricity. We were supposed to be done soon. My mother came outside as my

father was cutting another piece of wood.

Michael, she whispered, that was the doctor. Can you come inside for a minute? Her

voice alerted me to the seriousness of whatever it was that the doctor had called forthe doctors

call. My father dropped his tools where he stood and walked inside the house;, his half-cut board

resting peacefully above the frame waitedting on his return.

That was the day my father found out the cancer had returned. It was not what we had

thought, the doctors had explained. Instead, it was something else, something that they were

unprepared to fight. There were only a few documented cases in the United States of this form of

Osteosarcoma. They apologized, saying how that if they had known sooner they would have

removed his whole leg instead of just the seven-pound tumor growing withininside. They would

have been more proactive. They would have better prepared him. Maybe, if they had known, this

would not have happened. Maybe, if we had caught it earlier, he would not have gotten so ill in

the first place. Maybe, if I had been a better daughter, he would not have left me so soon. All of

this was purely circumstantial and pointless, I knew. But as a child, you ache to have an

explanation for all the bad things that happen upon to you. I ached to find meaning infor

something so pointless. I used to believe that it was all one big mistake and he would come back
to me. The alternative was unthinkable. How could my magical world betray me so? Who and

what gave reality the right to intrude on my perfect life?

Looking back, I can barely remember what it was like to believe in magic so absolutely.

To believe in something unseen around me, to believe in the impossible, was something that

seemed only possible to me when I was a child. I used to believe everything worked out. I find

my mind strays to the time in my life when I believed in the unexplainable. Like Bartolomue Dias

seeking the Cape of Good Hope, my mind seeks to bombard my psyche with childhood memories

before I have the chance to stack them away again. To stack them, back into their cubby with the

worn out baby blanket and one-eyed stuffed bear. The time for magic is behind you, or so says

the harsh world as it steals time from mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. So says the

world that does not discriminate in its toll: every passing day is a new price collected.

My father never finished the deck. His tools remained in the same spot for three years.


Maybe magic does exist. Maybe not everything can be explained and counted. How do

you measure a mans morality? The illogical belief a parent will return after death? Faith,

sometimes against what appears to be all reason, in a greater plan? My dad taught me that magic

is a simple belief that life will work itself out, that not everything has to have an explanation, that

there is something greater in us all than a chemical drive, and that the very illusion of life is a

magical one.

Sometimes what we touch is deceiving. Sometimes what we see is a mirage. Sometimes

what we hear is a trick of the wind. It is our mind that knows the difference between truth and

what our senses tell us is true. We can choose to believe the concrete or to have faith in our own


An excerpt from one of my favorite books, Annette Vallon by James Tipton, explains

better what I am trying to describe. The main character recounts a conversation between herself
and her young niece about the understanding of true knowledge. While looking into the fog, they

could not see the river in front of them.

Can you see the river?

It has disappeared, but that does not mean it is not there. Is knowledge through the
senses the only knowledge we go by? In this case, which is true: the senses that tell you
the river isnt there, or the intellect that remembers it is?
The intellect.
According to what I see, the sun travels in his golden chariot across the sky every day.
Is this true?
No, the sun never moves.

In truth, I know little of the world. I could not tell you what is or is not real. One persons

reality is anothers illusion. To me, reality is not as important. What is important is not becoming

so blinded by your perceived reality that you are never able to experience belief. If you do not

believe in the unseen than you may never be able to see the essence of magic. Magic, so I

sometimes believe, is the only thing in life worth understanding.

Reality is only a superficial sense, a superficial knowledge. Magic reveals more than you

could ever hope to find through a concrete explanation.


In the time between my fathers diagnosis and his death, my dad became a highly

spiritual man. Not to say that he was not spiritual before, but he was never as motivated. He read

every book he could find on life after death, meditation, and spirituality. He was not a religious

man, my father. In fact, he was quite disenchanted with the idea of organized religion.

Books were his religionat least it felt so at the time. He was constantly reading.

Sometimes, even writing. He wrote a few words in his journal before he passed:

We all choose to come into this life. We are all our own creators. We are all gods. We
create how our life is. If we are unhappy, it is our own creation. We all can create
happiness if we want. We all can create unhappiness if we want. Trust in your inner most
thoughts. Things are not always the way they seem.

Words were meaningful to him. Sometimes it seemed as if the pages held something

magical. The way he continued to stare at them for hours led me to believe there was something
else hidden within, something that went beyond the mere knowledge of reading or writing. This

childlike belief led me to place a special weight on words and the power they possess.

He loved knowledge. I used to reason that what he was searching for so intently was an

answer. He needed a truth. He needed something to give him hope. He needed someone to

provide an explanation for his suffering. After awhile books seemed to help but he still held

questionsquestions that appeared to have no answers. Yet, I believe he knew this. Maybe that

was not his point. Maybe his point was not to find answers but to go into the unknown, to be fully

immersed in the darkness. Once he emerged from this darkness, the darkness would have no hold.

To this day, I dont know if he ever found answers to all his questions. But, if he failed, it would

not be for lack of trying.

Late into my fathers search for his spirituality, we traveled to Brazil to see a medicine

man. His name was John of God. He was supposed to heal with his hands. He was supposed to

heal with his mind. Better yet, he was supposed to teach his patients to heal themselves with their

own minds. He called this meditation. Needless to say, it was a family affair.

When I stepped off the plane, the ground blurred with the heat of the sun like a mirage. I

looked around, my eyes fixed on the differences of another continent. The trees were unlike the

ones in the states. They were tropical, drier than pine trees but not like the desert ferns you find in

triple digit weather. The sky stretched before me like an endless sea, an ocean. The blue waves

seemed to come closer than any in the states and I lifted my hand in hope to wet it in the sea sky.

The climate, tropical as it was, produced green valleys and jungles fed by the rainstorms that so

often fell upon central Brazil.

Everything was contrary to my expectations. The people looked differently than I

expected. They were colorful and dark skinned. They were far from the brutish, apathetic

cavemen I foolishly imagined: They fed us soup. Most of them, in fact, were quite similar to my

own family in many ways.

These people fed us soup. They grew the vegetables themselves. It was free, the soup. I

did not know people really gave things away. To this day, I still remember the taste of pizza. The

pregnant woman used to roll the dough in front of me without ever asking what I wanted. Yet, I

liked nothing else. The rain buckets sat atop the houses. The people would drink the rain. The

shops opened like garage doors onto the streets. They could not all afford cars but occasionally

one might spot a horse or even a wandering cow.

I had never been on another continent before. I could not fight the intense pull I felt for

this new land, a pull towards the hope of a promise and the belief of a childlike magic.

This place I was in seemed magical, magical in the sense that anything could happen. I

knew so little about other lands that there was really no guessing what to expect. Everything was

magical; everything was magical that was, except the reason we had left the states. The treatment

would help him, or so they said. If he was good enough, did everything they told him, and

believed than he was bound to heal. They never did tell us in what way.


On our third day in Brazil, my father had begun his treatment in the clinic, participating

in meditations and eating the prescribed foods. Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and eating

spices were strictly prohibited, all of which were hard for my father.

My brother and I decided to go on a walk down to the waterfall, which was considered

holy to the clinic, and enjoy the tropical afternoon heat. On the way down the long path, I

complained, It is too hot for this, we should go back. I dont want to see a waterfall if it means I

have to do this much work. My brother, as brotherly love goes, preferred tough love to coddling

and told me to shut it or he would leave me in the jungle. He was twelve years my senior.

At this time in my life, I had rarely been alone for more than thirty seconds in the

wilderness. The thought of him leaving terrified me to no end, leading me to think of all the
horrifying ways to reach my demise in a Brazilian jungle: death by venomous reptile; death by

oversized feline; or even death by flying Pterodactyl. All seemed to be likely scenarios. Before

reaching the waterfall, we came upon clothing in the bushes, scattered on the ground. Around the

bend, we reached the occupied waterfall and slowed. My brother said we should wait until the

women were done, respecting the holiness of the rinsing and cleansing cycle the villagers


The jungle was full of moss and trees that were new to me. The ground was orange with

spots of green grass. And when the women picked up their clothing from the ground, they bid us

good well in Norwegian. Or at least, thats what I thought at the time but I had no way of

knowing. Coming around the bend again, my brother and I stepped into the waterfall fully

clothed, the warm water seeming to relieve the heat impossibly. My brother told me to close my

eyes and think peacefully. I did. Well, I tried. Meditation, to me at the time, was nonsense. It was

inconvenient and impossible. But in spite of myself, I concentrated.

My eyes, although unopened, saw something they failed to see before. Sight, such a

peculiar thing, was not how I had come to interpret it. It seemed to me that everything here was

contrary to my expectations, inverted. With my eyes closed, I listened to the simplicity of the

world moving at such a slow speed. The trees swayed back and forth to a rhythmic beat unheard

by people who never took the time to stop and listen. This was how the trees would communicate.

Or so my father would sometimes say. Just because we could not understand them did not mean

they did not understand each other. If something is alive, it can communicate. The living cannot

exist without communal interaction.

Never stop believing in yourself, I remember him telling me. Anything is possible. You

can accomplish anything you put your mind to. If not here, not now- then sometime, somewhere-

dreams always come true. There are more ways than one to accomplish what you believe. If he
has taught me anything it would be to see a reality full of possibility. Possibilities are endless.

Life is one big possibility. I cannot ignore all the possible outcomes simply because I found one

solution. A function can still exist while an input has more than one output. It is simple.


I wish to speak of his morality. But his morality I know little about. His life was mostly

unknown to me. All I know is the little things: the touch of his hand in mine, the compassion in

his eyes as he watched the sick, and the brave enduring of a disease that would dismantle his

independence. The reality of events making up his life was lost on me. I have to rely on the words

of others. Others stories fill my head as I remember my father. Where do I start? He ran away

from his parents religion when he was eighteen. He adopted my half-brother. He was caught

breaking into jail, probably one of the only people Ive ever known who has tried to break into a

jail, after he broke out that same night to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers. These are the only things

that come to mind when I think of the life he lived prior to my birth.

Throughout his youth his family was were devout Catholics. They went to church every

Sunday and sent their children to Catholic school. The girls, seven sisters, wore dresses and were

not allowed to talk to boys. The three boys, my father as the eldest, were held to strict principles.

They were forced to pray for extended periods of time and often, I believe, they were also forced

into a belief that was very much undesired and insincere.

According to my mother, when my father worked at Fed Ex as a manager, he would fight

for the workers rights with his boss. A few people came up to say how he had aided them in

some little or large way at his funeral. Many spoke of him in praise, some saying that he was the

best boss they ever had. Some spoke of how he was the only one who stood up for them when

they were being mistreated or were wrongfully penalized.

My father was many things to many people. To my mom, he was her best friend. To my

aunts, he was their invincible big brother. To his coworkers, he was their champion. To the
strangers I met at his funeral, he was a man whos sense of goodness stuck with them even after

they had long ago moved in a new direction. To me, he was the person I went to when I burnt my

ankle on a muffler or fell off my bike. He was the person I cried to when someone hurt my

feelings. He was the person who would let me ski down the big kid slope at the ski resort and,

when I became too scared to continue, the person who stacked my skis on top of his until we

reached the bottom. To me, my father was just about the most important person in my life. I never

thought of him as being anyone or anything else but a father. And according to the accounts of

those close to me, he was one of the best people they have ever known. But of course, people

tend to immortalize the dead before they ever look to the living. Such things are easily said about

souls who have passed between realms, about someone who has already passed on.

Passed on, I used to think, was such a euphemism. Dead. They had died. I never could

bring myself to say my dad passed. It never felt right. Tip toeing around the fact that my father

had died did not feel right.


I did not know this at the time but soon after that last phone call the doctors made to my

mother, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was never supposed to live longer than

six months. John of God could only do so much to save my fathers life. I realize now that him,

living, was never the point; it was us, living, that caused his inspired trip to Brazil. It was not a

search undergone by a man at the set of his life but rather set upon by a family at the rise of

theirs. Maybe his search was not one embarked by a man searching for a cure but rather a man

searching for a way to teach his family how to see him after he had disappeared. Sight is

deceiving. Knowledge is in knowing that there is more out there than what we perceive to be. If

we cant explain something, does that mean it does not exist?

Is death when you cant see the person anymore?
I nodded.
Then it is like the fog covering the river.
I nodded again.
It felt good to hear her soft childs voice next to me and feel her small arm, firmly
locked in mine. She is the one who enlightened me, I thought, that the finality of death is
only for the living.

I do not know what I believe in. I do not have all the answers. I do not know if I will ever

see the truth of things as they lie before me. I am a child no longer. The weight of life weighs

heavier than I ever felt in youth. As a child, I was able to see the magic that existed between the

cracks of reality like glue holding together the pieces of a puzzle. Now, all I am left is a memory,

a dream really. I am left with a dream of another reality. I remember this dream as if it was real. It

seemed so real.

When you grow, your dreams become your reality and your reality your dreams. At least,

this is the hope, the ideal. Reality becomes relative. Everyday it shifts. Everyday it changes based

on the solidarity of your belief. Everyday your reality keeps you from seeing the truth and

knowledge of the world in front of you. Your belief in the concrete binds you to what you can

touch, see, and hear. You write off all other possibilities as if they were never an option. But

belief is simple. It is the knowledge that to live is to be part of something purely unexplainable.

I have faith that my father never left me. Sometimes I feel as though the only one who

understood me had crossed the river in[to] the fog. However, I also realize that this fog is

relative. Just because I cannot see him does not mean he is not there. I see his spirit in my dreams.

Sometime, somewhere all dreams come true. This reminds me that the reality I think so concrete

is just as mutable as the dreams floating passed my subconscious.

Motion is such a curious concept. No one can ever truly identify movement without a

stationary object as reference. Sometimes, I do not know if anything ever moves at all. Maybe

everything exists on the same plane but we just cant see it. Different versions of our selves walk

around this world at once. Every second a different possibility emerges and our shadow selves

break away to follow an alternate route. Maybe, maybe notbut what matters is the possibility. I
cannot concrete my thoughts nor make you believe my words. All I know is that I believe in the


The river exists in the same place as before. What changes is our ability to see it. What

allows us to see is our ability, as humans, to have faith in a reality outside our own.

It is simple.

Works Cited

"History." The Virginia Quarterly Review. The Virginia Quarterly Review, n.d. Web. 9

Dec 2013. <>.

Tipton, James. Annette Vallon. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007. 31-35. Print.