Sunday, January 8, 2012


Beverly Ewart

In the middle ages people were fascinated by the idea of alchemy – of transforming common materials into gold. My own grandfather, Anthony Nerad, was an alchemist of sorts, being the manager of the team that developed man-made diamonds for General Electric. The first diamonds the team made successfully, they made from peanut shells!

My grandfather Tony was a well-known and respected Chemical Engineer, but he was not skeptical about the magic and power of story. He introduced me to the world of literature. I found it in his living room and, like Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, I found it in his attic. It was in the attic that I became acquainted with L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Rudyard Kipling and Thornton W. Burgess. It was in the attic that I found the ancient family Bible, that Tony had set aside, but with which he found he could not entirely part. As a child I didn't understand that Bible, but I was transfixed by its strange words and brilliant illustrations (which included a unicorn that looked suspiciously like a rhinoceros). In the attic of my grandfather, the scientist, I found magic.

I do believe in magic. In Alchemy. I believe that writing is a kind of alchemy - the transformation of the infinite (ideas) to the finite (words). I suppose this is more like changing diamonds to peanut butter. The glorious ineffable to something more utilitarian. But the glory is not lost in the transformation when done by a skilled wordsmith.

The written word. Ideas made flesh. The ephemeral and multi-dimensional caught in time and space and set down for countless minds to engage. (For more sublime thoughts than mine on this concept, please read Dorothy Sayers' The Mind of the Maker.) This is an alchemy that we have practiced since the first human made an indelible mark on a tree or the face of a sandstone cliff. It is an alchemy that morphs with the centuries, yet the magic is timeless. “The Word became flesh...” Ideas we can see and touch, accept or reject. The Finite Infinite, the Imminent Transcendent. Ideas that have been forged into catalysts for good or evil. The pen is the sword... or the scalpel. From the pen ideas are transformed into perfume, poison, or anesthetic. Powerful, powerful magic. The power to seduce or set free; to change a mind, a plan, or a century. Alchemy.

At the end of his life, my grandfather the scientist returned to the Source of his science. The Word became flesh for him in spirit and in truth. The shell that he had become was transformed into something scintillating, ineffable, and timeless. The Word was not lost on him.

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