The Truth Fairy

My friend tells a funny story about her little girl and the Tooth Fairy.

It seems the child lost a tooth one day, and put it under her pillow in the hope of claiming the deposit money. When, under cover of darkness, her mom came into the bedroom to deliver the goods, she had trouble finding the tiny thing under the pillow and jostled the child about some, searching for it.

The little girl woke up, it seems, though she pretended not to. The next day, she presented her mother with the most direct question of all: "Mama, did you put the money under my pillow?" she wanted to know. "Tell the truth!"

The mother, reluctant to tear the delicate fabric of childhood illusion, stalled some; but her daughter was relentless, and she finally saw no alternative. She admit-ted she was the one who'd hidden the money.

"But the tooth fairy asked me to do it!" she blurted, thus embroidering onto the simple linen of honesty a bright patch of sheer fabrication.

"Why did she ask you to put the money there?" the daughter pressed her.

That's when my friend, in sheer and sweaty desperation, told the biggest whopper of all:

"Because she hasn't got any arms!"

Unbelievably, the child swallowed it.

Having put her mother in the witness box, having made her really squirm, she abandoned her line of questioning and accepted her mother's stunning fabrication. So that, next to the notions of an aging elf who invades the house at Christmas, and an acrobatic rabbit who creeps up onto the table at Easter, this little girl must now make room in her imagination for the spectacle of an armless tooth fairy, trailing gossamer and stardust, flitting above the houses of sleeping children, forever in search of wakeful grownups to engineer the magical swap.

No wonder kids get confused.

Our intentions are good, and that much is for sure. But it's a tricky passage our children must navigate as they let go of the dear sustaining fictions of the nursery, and steer on alone.

Ah but we never steer alone, quite.

"Is Santa real?" my older kids asked once again this Christmas.

"Sure he is," I said again, the image of the Tooth Fairy as Venus de Milo flitting across my mind.

"He's real the way rainbows are real," I might have added, "and the smell of spring; the way it's real when you feel a sudden warmth and glance up to find someone you love looking at you with affection."

You'll never catch Santa in your living room, anymore than you'll ever find that spot where the rainbow bends to touch the earth. But people do lift one another's heads with a look across the room: it happens all the time.

The key is believing in that kind of reality.

In the play "Peter Pan," Tinkerbell is only saved by the applause of the people who believe in fairies.

She needs our help, just as my friend's armless tooth spirit needs the help of us mortals to effect her magic.

And love needs our help too, to survive.

For what would be in this sorry world if love were allowed to flicker and be extinguished-all for want of our faith in its power? Magicians who have lost their wands; giants who believe themselves dwarfs.

©Copyright 2002-2011 Terry Marotta, All Rights Reserved.