Why I Make Belief I Need Dumbo's Feather to Fly

Let's talk about Dumbo's Feather, shall we? 

Not every feather I see reminds me of Dumbo. Some remind me of the Native American wonder that is dreamcatchers. Some remind me of the book When Women Were Birds or the ymbrynes in Ransom Rigg's Peculiar Children series.

But for some reason this feather on this mug IS Dumbo's feather in MY mind, so I roll with that. 

If you are not familiar with the story a baby elephant is given the nickname of Dumbo because he is ridiculed for his abnormally large ears. His only friend, a mouse, convinces him that if he is holding a magic feather, he can fly with his large ears. And, the SPOILER, towards the end of the movie he drops the feather while flying and is going to plummet to his death until his friend the mouse lets him know the feather being magical was just a made up story. It is Dumbo who is magical, with or without his feather. 

Now the typical takeaway from this is that we don't need security blankets to hold onto. We don't need stuff or people or even long hair (think Samson) to make us strong. We are what we are because of the magic inside of us, not because of any externally bewitched items. 

And Dumbo does end up believing he can fly without the feather. What a wonder.

That being said, I have come to adore a good talisman. 

Let's think for a minute about Molly Mahoney in the film Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. This film is the first Assignment in The Magic School 101. I reference this film a lot, as it is very central to what I teach. In the film, Mr. Magorium gifts Mahoney a congreve cube. It is a simple wooden block. She says there are a lot of things one could do with a block of wood and Mr. Magorium tells her she's right, but what would happen if someone for once just believed in it?

Okay, let's go back to Dumbo. The first to believe in the feather is actually the mouse. Knowing that it is too much of a leap to expect the tiny big-eared elephant, who is severely beaten down by all the ridicule he faces, to believe in himself, the mouse comes up with the idea for a story in which Dumbo can believe in a feather. The mouse makes belief in the feather first and invites Dumbo in on that story. The external talisman is a big help!

Now, as the elephant grows in his flying skills and comes to a certain level of confidence and growth and achievement in life, he is starting to be able to hold a chin-up to his bullies. He has a strength, something that is his own, a talent - his flight. He is starting to be recognized for that. And though he still attributes credit to the feather, he is able to see himself in a new light, where he is not a complete useless oddity. There is something he CAN do.

When I think of Dumbo's Feather, I don't think of it as something that should be ripped from his trunk, like we rip off a bandaid. I see it as a make belief tool that gets us from there to here. It is a bridge, if you will. 

My senior year of high school I ran track. It was something I largely dreaded, but, due to circumstances, felt obligated to do. I ran the long distance races like the 2 mile, the mile and occasionally the 800. When I ran I held a little wooden cross. It fit in my hand nicely. Because of my beliefs at the time that cross represented a strength that existed outside of myself and because I believed something else would carry me, I knew I could get through the races. I knew the cross holding was odd, but I also knew I couldn't mentally do the racing without it. I was the mouse, putting a feather in Dumbo's trunk. 

Once during a 2 mile race I gave the wooden cross to an opponent who was in the race with me. She was weeping and hyperventilating and her coach was yelling at her, and it was all too much, so I told her to hold it because it always helped me finish and it would help her too. My coach did not approve of that choice, and I understand that, but I have always been glad I did what I did. I was the mouse handing her a feather because I believe enough for the both of us. 

I don't have that wooden cross anymore. I'm not sure where it got to. Maybe I told the girl to keep it? Years passed, I grew into an adult, but I didn't grow out of talismans, and I guess my point of this post is I don't think I ever will. While I have come to gain confidence in myself, and know I don't need a cross or a feather or long hair or a wooden cube to be strong, I like make beliefing that physical objects give me powers. It is a fun game for me. It makes me happy to use my imagination in this way. 

In Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, the congreve cube puts on a little show when Mahoney chooses to believe in it, but it is her BELIEF that is the real magic show. She brings the cube to life because it is her will to do so. 

Imagination has SO much power. What I choose to think about. What I choose to give meaning. What I choose to focus on and care about and nurture. It makes me think about The Little Prince and his rose. His rose is special and different than all the other roses because he gave it time and meaning. He put his belief in it. Same with his fox. 

It is easy to look at the lives of others and think how lucky they are to have this home or this body or this car or this school or this career...to think, "my, how does everything they touch turn to gold?" And how come all I have to show for myself are these goddamn awful abnormally-sized ears?

You and I? We can be Dumbo's mouse. We can turn things to gold too. We have the Midas touch. We ARE the lucky. We can make belief whatever we want about our life. If you want to believe in a wooden cross or a feather or long hair or a wooden block or a rose or a fox you can. You absolutely can. And if you want that belief to hold you over for awhile, until you can finally believe in yourself, you can believe that too. The talisman will gladly serve as your bridge if you believe it will. 

I believe in a mug with Dumbo's feather on it, and when I sip out of it gravitational pulls do not apply. I can fly - up, over, through and beyond. (And this is just one of my many beliefs.)

For a time I felt ashamed that I still have doubts about facing a day of life and wondering if I even stand a chance of living it to the full. At 38, I should be stronger than a human being who needs a coffee mug feather and some childish Disney movie about a baby elephant with big ears to survive. "For Christ's sake Mandy, rip off the goddamn bandaid." Right?

I am a human being and with that comes this immense capacity for imagination; I can believe any story I want. And sure, if I want to believe good, loving, confident, self-reliant adults (which I am) should be strong enough and stoic enough and robotic enough and mature enough to not need talismans to face a spectrum of feelings, than I CAN believe that. But I don't want to. 

I don't want to.

I don't want to.