Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why I Believe in Once Upon a Time

(Note: To read my exclusive interviews with the creators & cast of the hit TV show Once Upon a Time, click this link. The following is an essay on why I love the show : )

Occasionally people ask why I enjoy the fairy tale show Once Upon a Time so much, especially as a working mom with 2 kids who barely has enough time to watch TV, let alone keep up with a multi-year series. And that's just the thing—I'm not in it for some adolescent wish fulfillment (I've already found my Prince Charming) or because I need a weekly dose of escapist fantasy (as a writer, I chat way too much with my imaginary friends, so I've pretty much got that covered ; ). Believe it or not, Once Upon a Time provides solace for me because it echoes my reality . . . 

If you've ever had the chance to read my post "Our Season of Miracles" (you can view it here: ), you'll understand a little bit more about my childhood and why the term "magical" was a daily reality in the household where I grew up. But what I've never discussed before is why, in particular, the character of Emma Swan resonates so strongly with me, especially in the Season 3 episode of "Going Home."

We all know Emma Swan is one tough cookie. She grew up in the foster care system, only to discover as an adult that she's supposed to be the fabled "savior" for a bunch of people who come from a fairy tale world that she doesn't even believe in. The Emma we first meet in the show is cynical & hardened by life, and it's no wonder—she's seen her share of abandonment & harsh reality. But slowly, the fairy tale characters get under her skin, and nothing demonstrates this fact more fully than Jefferson's beautiful speech to her in the "Hat Trick" episode from Season 1. Jefferson, who's the Mad Hatter, just wants to find his beloved daughter again, and he needs Emma to help him repair his magical hat to cross worlds. Emma naturally thinks he's insane & remarks that these are just fanciful "stories", to which Jefferson replies:

"You know what the issue is with this world? Everyone wants a magical solution to their problems and everyone refuses to believe in magic...How arrogant are you to think this is the only real world? There are infinite more. You have to open your mind and touch one another, pressing up in a long line of lands, each one just as real as the last. All have their own rules. Some have magic, some don't. And some need magic—like this one. And that's where you come in."

Jefferson is exactly right—that is where YOU come in. Not only Emma in the show, but you in your own life. I firmly believe that unless you open your mind to the possibilities of love & joy & well being & freedom, they can never manifest as your reality. Because this is the weird & creative & serendipitous thing about life that the wisdom of legends, fairy tales & fables have tapped into for centuries: You are actually the author of your own reality. And life has a downright eerie way of matching the story that you internally tell yourself.

I don't say this just because I'm a writer—I say this because I've seen firsthand the miracles that happen when you dare to believe. And don't kid yourself—belief is risky. You can get disappointed. You can feel like an idiot. You can use all kinds of facts & figures to convince yourself that nothing good will ever happen—and you'll be right. Because very few positive events can ever occur unless you first make room for them in your heart. Especially love! If you don't actually believe in the possibility of love (a very imaginal phenomenon, full of fantasy ramifications from the get go), you'll never dare to flirt, exchange in small talk, or encourage that other person with a smile to sit down for a spell and enjoy your heart for a while.

And yet people do it all the time. Even though it's crazy. 

Because they've first imagined themselves as being with that significant other one day—they pictured it in their heads. So they keep acting in the so-called "real" world as if it's possible. And where does that imagination come from? From YOU. The media is full of negative bullshit about finding love. Look around—fat people, short people, disabled people, damaged people, geeky-nerdy-weird & wonderful people fall in love all the time—not just the body types that the media serves up to us for advertising dollars. Why? Because they believed in love's MAGIC that knows no boundaries. Or as Mary Margaret/Snow White said to Henry in the Season 3 episode of "Going Home," "Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing."

But her character also said in that episode, "Your happy ending may not be what you expect—that is what will make it so special."

And this is something I know a little bit about.

Because like Emma, I once had a baby in difficult circumstances—and harsh reality did everything in its power to destroy our bond. But harsh reality was no match for the miracle-making power of the human heart, because I am the daughter of a woman who believed in miracles, just like Emma's is the daughter of her brave & strong mother Snow White.

So when, in the 32nd week of my first pregnancy, my placenta ruptured, nearly killing me and my child, all the doctors & scientists involved in the situation told me that we were doomed. I'll never forget my  husband's eyes, as large as saucers, haunted by the verdict of impending death. I could feel the sick fear all around us, permeating every nook and cranny of our hospital room. And my heart ached for my husband who was facing that dark tunnel of losing the loves of his life in a big city where we had no friends, no family, or any relatives near us. We were completely alone, feeling like orphans in this bleak situation, and we had no one to turn to. In fact, the priest had already come to the hospital room to administer last rites to our child. And I will never forget the moment that tested every ounce of courage I had to the limit. Before the priest spoke a word, I grabbed my husband's hand and said through gritted teeth: "I don't care what anyone says. My mother walked & talked miracles every day of her life, and I saw with my own eyes the power that brought into this world, and it is not my baby's time to go yet. Neither one of us are dying today."

And something happened.

Both my husband & I felt it. It was as though something supernatural had lifted the "curse" of fear that had overtaken the room.

So I asked the priest to simply pray with us for healing over our baby, rather than deliver last rites. To focus on hope instead of death. And he did.

And my little Georgie lived.

She not only lived, she grew strong enough to take breast milk, smile at me, listen to Winnie the Pooh stories, and giggle & play little games with us.

No one could believe it—and I grew healthier by the day, too. But as Mary Margaret/Snow said in Once Upon a Time, "Your happy ending my not be what you expect—that is what will make it so special," in a very surpising twist of fate, just as Georgie was about to be discharged from the hospital and allowed to go home, she left this earth.

The doctors were stunned—how could this child who'd survived all the odds and who appeared so healthy, suddenly slip from our hands? Yet though this may seem hard to believe, it all made sense to me.

I am no stranger to life turning out differently than I expected. Because my own mother lived longer than her prognosis, and filled our lives with abundant laughter & light, I knew that Georgie's  five weeks on this earth had been a pure gift to me, too. Of course I wanted Georgie to live longer, and of course I miss her—but I will never let that stain the sheer beauty of each moment that I got to spend with her that is inscribed on my heart for all time. And it was all a joy! Never for a second was it shrouded in fear—because her recovery had been so miraculous that we all thought she was going home. Our every minute together had been one of happiness.

And that is not the end of the story, either. Two years later, I went on to have 2 more children—bouncy, happy twin boys—who've never had a health problem a day in their lives. And who, when they were only three years old, started telling me about dreams they had of playing with their "other family." "What other family is that?" I'd ask, thinking they meant their stuffed animals or characters they'd heard about in books. But at different times, each of my boys told me about playing with their "Heaven family" and a little girl who was 2 years older than they are named "Gigi."

My husband & I had never spoken a word in our home about Georgie, who we sometimes nicknamed "Gigi" & who would have been 2 years older than the boys. As parents, we thought the idea of a deceased sister might be too hard for our children to grasp until they were older, so we didn't have pictures of her around either, and we lived far away from relatives who might have discussed her.

Could it be that Jefferson's ideas of alternate realities, which he spoke of in the "Hat Trick" episode of Once Upon a Time, are true? And perhaps Georgie does play with the boys at night and makes new & happy memories with them?

I don't know.

All I know is that what should have been a dark & tragic time in my life was filled with joy because I believed. And just like Emma in the "Going Home" episode of Once Upon a Time, I'm choosing to embrace the power of my positive version of the events that've helped to create my happily ever after—because that's what makes it all the more special, even if it's different than what I expected. I find that the more I trust myself to flow with what fate has in store, even when things get rocky, the more receptive I become to ending up exactly where I need to be. And similarly, regardless of the twists & turns of fate, Emma finally has her bond with Henry in episode 11 of Season 3—and she doesn't have to overthink it anymore. All she has to do is let it be—and believe . . .   

Because it's never too late to find your happy ending

(Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of facebook, pinterest, or other popular social networks. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )



  1. Diane, thank you for sharing this powerful moment in your life and your words of wisdom. I have read this post so many times over already, and each time something else that you say strikes a chord within me. I admire you so much as a writer but even more as a person with a lion's heart and a faery's soul. I have always found inspiration in all the words you pen, and I know that others cannot help but be touched by the magic of your spirit that is shared in your writing. Many blessings to you, your husband and boys, and your little angel. You prove that those we love and lose are never truly lost to us. They will always find us.

  2. Oh, thank you so much, Lori! And you touched on something that I hadn't even been aware of while writing—that those we love will always find us. Perhaps in a different way or "realm" than we expect, but if we can be open to it, they bond never has to go away. Also, I really want to say that your beautiful essay "A TV Show Changed My Life" about #OnceUponATime on your website is what gave me the courage to dig deep & write this. I though it was such a gutsy article, and it truly made me ponder the power of stories in our lives. Keep up your gorgeous writing! <3

  3. Diane, I have tears in my eyes, and goosbumps reading your blog today~ Something kept prompting me to go over here..when I finally had a few minuets, I sat and read, and re-read this powerful personal life changing event in your life. Thank you for writing this. I am "wrestling with something that has all of "my emotions" are playing with each other. I am so moved by this~ What a beautiful Mom, and "Angel" YOU are !! xoxo

  4. Oh, thank you Karna—you are such a huge inspiration to me as someone who leads with her heart, and in your work you've deeply touched so many lives. I'm truly honored that this piece resonated with you <3 <3

  5. I do agree that if you believe, if you have hope, miracles do happen...not always those you ached for but amazing in ways you never dreamed. I experienced such miracles while helping my mother follow her final path with dementia. The experience is too fresh, even though more than two years have passed, for me to openly write about it, but the magic that happened is part of the books I've written since, part of how I treat everyone in my life, and inseparable in my personality. Perhaps, it also allows special insight. I've long seen the glow of magic that surrounds you. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Oh, what gracious words—thank you for reading my post, Marsha, and for keeping the magic alive in your books. Something tells me your mother watches over you and is deeply proud of your achievements <3

  7. Such a powerful story and I thank you for sharing it from the bottom of my heart. You are very gifted writer. I don't think I could have ever explained why Once Upon A Time is such a special show in the way you have. Of course there is definitely more you said and believe that I identify with. You sound like a very special lady and your family is blessed to have you in their lives.

    1. Thank you so much, Jasmine! I'm deeply encouraged by your comments. Many, many blessings to you & your family as well <3

  8. Diane. I am very impressed by your article. Still I have tears in my eyes. I have similar experience with my daughter. We both were close to death but something happened. Now, I believe it could be a magic. My Ema is 5 and she is OK. I am much stronger from that time and I believe in "something". A magic? Maybe. Thank you. Thank you that I can read your sentences that gave me new power. Take care.

    1. I'm very honored that my story renewed your courage, Zuzana. And how wonderful that you have a little girl who is 5! Give her a big hug for me—and read her fairy tales so she will grow up wise & strong <3

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