Occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
“Metaphysical.” The word entered the air around me with a fizzling and crackling sensation that abruptly broke me from my daydream. I had been sitting and waiting for my father to finish his meeting for what felt like ages, so I turned my attention to the soft velvet of the chair beneath me. It was a mystical green blue like the picture of the deep ocean on my “old-fashioned” map of the world picture book. I was probably too old for the book now, really, but held on to it because the drawings were so beautiful. Most of the pictures had rough outlines of the continents, surrounded by swirling water capped with white. There were ships at sea with their sails filled with wind, as though in the midst of a storm. I liked to imagine they were pirate ships. Dirty, wrinkled pirates with missing teeth and greasy hair in long knots. Yelling curses into the wind as they tried against all odds to keep the ship from succumbing to the violence of the storm. Many of them would, sadly, get tossed into the churning sea. Even if the pirates succeeded in outwitting the weather, they would most certainly be eaten by the tentacled sea monsters of bright pink or purple peppered throughout the water. The monsters were drawn to appear twice the size of the poor ships. And even though I know I’m supposed to despise pirates as despicable, drunken criminals, I can’t help but root for their escape from the sea beasts that hunt them. A triumph of pure human effort.
I was imagining an epic pirate-ship-and-sea-beast battle while running my hand over the velvet chair. When I swiped one way, the color was lightened, and the fabric was smooth under my fingers, like our cat Frisco. It felt safer, like the shallow end of the ocean where I can see my feet. But when I moved my hand in the opposite direction, the color darkened, like the deep and unknown parts of the ocean. Where you feel you could be snatched up from below at any moment. This made the velvet feel coarser, as though it were unhappy with the change. Even Frisco hated being petted the “wrong way.” It was the only time he would take a swipe at me - if I petted him “up” instead of “down.” I moved my hand back and forth, passing between safety and danger.
I had left the conversation between my father and this man for the depths of the sea, so didn’t pay attention to what they were discussing. But then the man spoke that word: “metaphysical.” He did so as though it was nothing important. My head turned sharply to stare at the mouth where it originated, alarmed by the shift in the air.
I have always loved words. Words that had physical feelings, like effervescent, or words like persnickety that sounded like a bird’s song. And while my eight-year old brain couldn’t understand what such a powerful word like metaphysical might mean, the reaction in my body was startling. My arms were covered in goosebumps, like when the first cold breeze of fall hits you and you’re still in your summer tank top. I felt a vibration emanate from the top of my head through my whole body down to my toes. My eyes wide and alert, my pirate battle forgotten, I concentrated on the man’s lips, desperate for him to say it again. “Metaphysical.” It felt like a window to a magical, and maybe scary, place had been opened. I looked at my father, but he was acting like nothing had changed.
Suddenly, I was self-conscious about my physical reaction. Maybe, because the grown-ups didn’t notice anything, my reaction wasn’t normal. Maybe I was having a “fit” like the women in those daytime shows my mom used to watch when I was home sick from school.
Now I worried my father or the man he was with would notice what was happening to me and decide I needed to go to the hospital. Decide I was unwell and should be seen. But how could I explain the terrifying thrill of that word? I decided to say nothing at all, even though the vibration had grown to a pulse behind my eyes, and I was sure my whole head was growing and shrinking. I tried calming my breath like my mom does when I know I’m annoying her and she’s “trying not to yell so much.” Count to four with each inhale, hold for a two count, and count for six with the exhale. I shut my eyes to concentrate on the counting: One… two… three… four… hold… six… five… four… three… two… one. Slowly, the pulsing pushed out from behind my eyes and the vibration reversed its course from my toes up to the top of my head. Then it was over, and only a shadow of the sensation lingered in my body. I opened my eyes. My father and the man were standing and shaking hands. Then my father turned to me and smiled.
“Ready to go, kiddo?”
I nodded quickly and kept my eyes on his feet as I followed him out of the house and into our car.
When we got home, I ran up to my room and shut the door. Grabbing the big, blue Oxford English dictionary my aunt Mary Ann gave me for my birthday a few months earlier, I sprawled out on my bed. My friends at the time wrinkled their noses and wondered aloud why she would get me such a boring gift. But I was overjoyed. My aunt understood my excitement over words because she felt it, too. She was always telling me about whatever book she was currently “smitten with.” And if she found an author using a word like “great” or “fine” instead of something more inspirational like “exceptional” and “sublime,” she would wrinkle her nose and call the book basic. Though I wasn’t really sure what that meant, I would shake my head in commiseration. I thought Mary Ann was the best.
The corners of the dictionary’s cover were already showing little signs of wear, betraying how much time I actually spent poring over the tiny type. Each night, I let my fingers slowly hover over the little half-moon indentations that led me to a letter. The anticipation of what word I might find when I landed on a page was exciting; last night I opened the pages between “open air” and “opossum.” Open air, open-armed, open book…I read through the words. I laughed at “open sesame,” which only had “see SESAME” listed after it.
My favorite word that night was “Ophicleide: An obsolete usu. Bass brass wind instrument with keys, developed from the serpent.” I pictured a winding scaly beast with piano keys along its torso that, when played, made the poor creature sing a low, deep melody.
Tonight, however, my fingers immediately found the L/MN halfmoon and threw the book open. Suddenly, I realized I didn’t know how to spell it. I said the word out loud a few times and figured it must start with M-E-T-A. I had no luck with M-E-T-A-F, but then I remembered that “PH” can make the “F” sound too. I found the page starting with “metaphase” and scanned down the type until I saw it a quarter of the way down. “Metaphysical.”
I hesitated. All of a sudden, I was nervous. What if it didn’t mean anything exciting. What if it meant something normal, like a type of toe infection or a sandwich spread? Then my reaction earlier on the velvet chair would make no sense at all. Maybe it would mean I actually was having a fit. I took a deep breath and looked at the definition.
Metaphysical: 1. Of or relating to metaphysics. 2. Based on abstract general reasoning. 3. Excessively subtle or theoretical…
What good was any of this? I didn’t even understand what these definitions meant. Why did grown-up books have to be so confusing? Why couldn’t they just say plainly what it means instead of trying to make it sound all important and serious? I felt myself getting angry when I turned back to the definition to read further.
…4. Incorporeal. 5. Supernatural. 6. Visionary.
The vibration was suddenly back at the top of my head. I didn’t know what these other words meant, but I knew they were important based on my body’s reaction. Careful to keep my finger holding the page, I quickly flipped to the “I” section.
Incorporeal: 1. Not composed of matter. 2. Of immaterial beings. 3. LA: Having no physical existence.
My heart was beating so fast I felt like it might fly right out of my chest. The pulse was back behind my eyes, and I felt a little lightheaded. With another finger, I held the second page and flipped to the back of the “S” section. Super - Supersede… supercomputer… superheterodyne… superintendent…How many words starting with super are there?! Finally, I found it and read:
Supernatural: Attributed to or thought to reveal some force above the laws of nature; magical; occult; mystical.
As suddenly as my physical symptoms began, they were replaced with an overwhelming sense of calm and peace.