Posted by: Carl Magruder | July 7, 2009

Theoretically Possible

This is a story about Mollie, and her adventures.  It will appear episodically.  Hopefully, I will get the next segment before it is my turn to blog again!   Part of my experiment here is that I believe that logic is not adequate to help us to open to the new possibilities before us.  The power of story might be.

This story is for Imani, Roden, Amelie, Naomi, and Hannah.


Theoretically Possible

“Of course it is theoretically possible,” Papa said, as he stepped across the threshold and hung his old brown hat on the hook beside the door.  Mrs. Gillywithers looked up at Papa and Mollie as they came in, then licked her paw, flicked her long tail, and went back to her nap.  Papa shook himself out of his old sheepskin coat and turned to help Mollie hang up her scarf and hat.  It was warm and quiet inside, after the howling wind and blowing snow outside.  It also smelled deliciously of fresh baked bread.
By the time Mollie had her boots off and her schoolbooks at the table, Papa had four loaves of honey wheat bread cooling on the sideboard and the teakettle just beginning to whistle like a distant locomotive.  He cut several thick slices of steaming bread and smeared them with butter.  He then made two cups of strong licorice tea, “to warm the bones.”  He sat down across the table from Molly to continue the conversation they’d been having about whether or not Samson, their dog, could haul Mollie to school on her skis.
“What’s ‘theoretically’ mean?” Mollie asked, chewing around a mouthful of bread.  Mama sometimes chided her for talking with her mouth full, but Papa understood that sometimes the ideas come so quick and furious that you just don’t have time for chewing and swallowing, and so long as you could be understood, why did it really matter?
Papa fixed her with one twinkly eye, closing the other one.  His hair was curled up around where the hat had been sitting on his head, and his eyes crinkled at the corners.  He had a long nose that was very crooked, and he’d cut himself shaving with his old straight razor that morning—Mollie could see a little red line of dried blood on his neck above his shirt collar.  Papa raised one eyebrow, a trick that Mollie also knew how to do, and waited.  He wanted her to try to answer her own question.
“Does it mean that you probably ought to could do something, but really you can’t, like what Mr. Silverberg calls Murphy’s Law?”  Mollie asked.
Papa guffawed at that, and bread crumbs spewed across the table.  Mollie used her napkin to help him sweep them up.  Mr. Silverberg was their neighbor, and was what he called “retired.” He was always puttering around his woodshop and complaining about things that were less than perfect, which of course, is pretty much everything, if you’re in that frame of mind.  Papa was still chuckling as he swept the last of the crumbs off the side of the table into one hand and popped them into his mouth again.  Then he took a drink of tea and asked her, almost absently, how she liked the bread?
“It’s very good, isn’t it?” she opined.  “Better than last time.  It was my idea to put the leftover oatmeal in it, and your idea to put in some of our honey—I like it this way.”  As though to prove her point, she took another big bite out of her rapidly diminishing piece of bread, savoring the honey and the butter, the firm crust and soft middle.  She knew that Papa was considering her understanding of the word “theoretically.”  It was just his way to ask a question when he wanted to think about something.  He was buying time, though he also really wanted to know what she thought of the bread.  They never made bread the same way twice, so it was always an experiment, occasionally disastrous, but usually edible.
“Theoretically means that you can work out a theory in your head of how something can be done,” Papa said, and then anticipated her next question by saying, “A theory is an untested idea about something.  It can be false, or true, but you never know until you test it.  You had the theory that the leftover oatmeal would lend the bread a unique texture.  Then we tested the theory by baking this bread.  Now we know that your theory was correct.”  He winked at her and took another big bite.
Suddenly, Mollie stopped chewing.  She stopped swinging her legs against the rungs of the chair too.  She stared directly in front of herself for a long time.  There was a tingling in the hair on the back of her neck, and a funny feeling in her belly.  She had a sensation of fingers running up and down her spine.  The light in the room changed—it seemed to come from everywhere at once, and not just from the lamp hanging above the table.  The room was very quiet and Mollie felt warm, and happy, and tingly all over, like she sometimes did in church during the singing.  She was very still for some time.
Then, slowly, Mollie began to chew again.  There was an idea in her brain, floating there, without any words or even pictures attached to it yet.  She continued to sit, the bread in her mouth gradually subsiding as she chewed and swallowed.  The wind still howled outside, but here in the little house all was stillness and peace.
After what seemed like a long time, but might not have been so very long, Mollie was aware that Papa had also become perfectly still.  When she turned slowly towards him he was smiling at her, though his forehead was slightly puckered with a concerned or puzzled look.  He did not press her, waiting patiently, and seemed reassured that she had turned towards him.  Before she even knew what she was going to say, she heard her own words coming out in a steady stream, gaining momentum as she went:
“In Fourth Grade, Ms. Shankland says that the polar bear is now called a ‘phantom species,’ Papa, because although there are still lots of polar bears, they will probably go extinct because there’s not going to be enough ice for them to hunt on and to make more polar bears.  She says the world is warming up because of all the greenhouse gases that come from factories, and cars, and power plants.  She says that there are sometimes wars over scarce resources, and there might be more wars and I thought, I thought…What if?
“What if there wasn’t?  I mean, what if there wasn’t the greenhouse gases, and there wasn’t people who didn’t have enough to eat or a house, and clothes to wear?  And what if there didn’t have to be any wars, and…and there could always be polar bears?  Is that theoretically possible?”
She looked at her Papa for his answer.  She was surprised to see tears standing in his eyes where there had been laughter just moments before.  He was looking at her in a new way, and the moment held them in its glow.  It seemed to Mollie that he was looking right down inside of her, and that somehow she could see inside of him, too, and they were both a part of the light in the room and the stillness and the warmth.  Then he blinked and a single tear ran out of one eye and down his long, crooked nose and “plunk!” into his tea.

“Of course it is, darling,” he said.  “Of course it is theoretically possible.”  He put his big hand over her little one.  She smiled at him and said,
“Then all we have to do is test it!”


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