Miranda’s Magic Box

by Brad Wilcox

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    Beauty in a magic potion? Don’t be ridiculous. Popularity in a pair of designer hightops? Well …

    It’s just a small music box. When you lift the golden needlepoint lid it plays “I Wonder When He Comes Again.” I used to keep it on top of my dresser to house leftover pocket change, broken key chains, and orphan paper clips. I had no idea the tiny box had magical powers—no idea in the world—until Miranda came visiting.

    “Uncle Brad, I’m coming to play,” the three-year-old voice called from upstairs. Miranda is the daughter of my oldest brother, who always comes home from California at Christmastime. “Please play.” She had made her way downstairs and now stood framed in my bedroom doorway. “Please.” Her voice was as soft and blonde as her shoulder-length hair.

    I knew I needed to take advantage of the short time I had with Miranda, but I also needed to prepare my Sunday School lesson. Brother M. had just called, asking me to combine his class with mine. The following day, I would be responsible for two classes.

    “Just give me a little time,” I tried to bargain with my niece. This would be one of the last lessons of the year. I was long since out of manual and creativity. “Go back upstairs and tell Grandma you will help her.”

    “But I want to play with you.”

    “We will play—in a while.” I began shooing her out my bedroom door. “Your Mom wants you upstairs, I’m sure.”

    “But she just told me to come downstairs.” Miranda wouldn’t budge.

    “Oh, well.” I couldn’t win. I motioned my nightgowned visitor and her baby doll into the room. “But you have to be quiet. Uncle Brad will be working.”

    Miranda proceeded to “quietly” sing three choruses of “That Night in the Stable,” recite the Christmas story complete with a forceful “No room in the inn!” and count all of Dad’s outside Christmas lights. I decided that trying to prepare my lesson would be hopeless unless I could conjure up a plan to distract her.

    “Miranda!” I turned toward her dramatically. She was changing her doll’s diaper right on my pillow. “Somewhere in this room is a magic box.” I lifted my eyebrows mysteriously and continued, “Find it, quietly.”

    On any ordinary day Miranda probably would not have been interested, but having just gone with me to Cinderella (she called it Sidwayla) that very afternoon, the intriguing challenge was irresistible. The spell was cast.

    Miranda began searching the bedroom. Smugly, I patted myself on the back and turned to my lesson pages which were still as unused and dry as the baby doll’s diaper.

    “I found it!” Miranda squealed. I spun around in my chair. Her eyes sparkled and glittered like jeweled pixie dust. She tiptoed toward me excitedly. Her arms were extended, and in her cupped hands was my old music box.

    “That’s not magic,” I laughed. “That’s just dusty.” I had shelved the gaudy thing years ago.

    “It is magic,” Miranda assured. “I know.” She stroked the gold trim and flowered embroidery—major requirements for a magic charm. “Open it, Brad.” She laid her enchanted find on the carpet before me.

    Knowing that I shouldn’t until my work was finished, I decided to be firm. “Now, Miranda, we had a bargain.”

    “Open it,” she pleaded.

    I glanced guiltily at the zero lesson plan on my desk. “Oh, I give up,” I sighed, kneeling on the floor beside Miranda. “Let’s open it together.”

    I’ve always been a saver. The junk Miranda and I found in the magic box seemed as endless as the trash on a movie theater floor. There was a miniature pop bottle, an ugly onyx rain god, some flat pennies that had been smashed on a railroad track, a few rubber bands, and some old stamps.

    “Are they magic?” Miranda whispered in awe.

    “Of course,” I responded seriously, picking up the tiny pop bottle. “Drink this magic potion and you’ll become the fairest maiden in the land.”

    She puckered her lips in willing anticipation and then gulped every imaginary drop. At once, Miranda began strutting around the room, finger-stroking her hair, and smiling like Miss Silver Slipper, queen of the ball, herself.

    “Look at this one,” I called her back. “Hold this onyx idol and it will make you brave.”

    Still as ravishingly beautiful as ever, Miranda clutched the trinket and marched courageously through my bedroom door into the black basement beyond. The farther out she stepped, the farther out she stretched the stone figure in front of her.

    “Oh!” Miranda gasped, “I’m glad I have this magic thing or I’d be ‘tehwubly’ scared.”

    For at least a half-hour I invented bibbidi-bobbidi-boo powers and enjoyed Miranda as she dramatized each fantasy. What about my lesson? As it turned out, Miranda was planning it for me.

    The next day, when the kids came down the corridor of the church, they found my classroom door closed—not because I wasn’t ready for them, but because I was. A large sign taped across the entrance read, “NOTICE: This is a magic cave. Please enter quietly.” I invited them inside.

    “This,” I held up the old music box, “this is magic.” As mysteriously as I could, I told Miranda’s story. By the end of the tale the class had unanimously decided my niece must be crazy.

    “Why?” I zeroed in on one girl.

    “Well,” she summed up the situation, “All that stuff in the box was just fake. She’s nuts.”

    “Then aren’t we all?” I asked, pulling out some surprise visual aids. I held up a pair of jeans—the most popular brand; some shirts with all the stylish patches in all the stylish places; a popular magazine, complete with pictures of the latest haircuts, jewelry, and makeup.

    “Do these have magical powers to make us beautiful? I thumbed the magazine open before them. “The only power they have is what we give them. Are we crazy?”

    I stopped flipping pages at an appealing cigarette ad. “A magic potion to make us brave, right? All you have to do is hold this little roll of tobacco and just like that, you’re cool! You’re tough! You’re in! Right?” The bell hadn’t even rung yet, but my lesson was over. Three-year-old Miranda and I had made our point.

    Our real beauty and worth are not dependent on a can of beer, a swear word, the latest fad, a social club, R-rated films, or drugs, any more than Miranda’s were dependent on an old pop bottle inside a showy music box. Courage doesn’t come from a carved idol I swapped 25 cents for in the fifth grade. Our transforming magic potion is in knowing we are God’s children. We did not come to earth to find self-worth. We brought it with us. When we know that, we have all the “magic” any of us needs to feel beautiful, courageous, and acceptable.

    I don’t keep the old music box inside my closet anymore. Since Miranda’s visit, it’s right on top of the dresser where it should be. Right out where it can always be reminding me of magic.

    Illustrated by Richard Hull