They’re Called Magic “Tricks” for a Reason

Posted on November 8, 2011


I love magic tricks. Close-up magic like card tricks or coin tricks are my favorite but I’ll take sawing a women in half too, if that’s what you’re offering. Even though I know it’s a combination of mechanics, dexterity, patter, misdirection, and trickery, my brain is still blown when I watch someone bend the laws of physics and shove a pencil through a solid quarter! What?! No way!

After the mind-blowing, after the trick has been done, every magician, from amateur to professional, suffers the same predictable question, “How did you do that?” Which soon morphs into a demand, “You’ve got to tell me!” Then further morphs into begging, “Do it again…slowly.” The difference at this moment between amateur and professional is that the amateur is tempted to draw the person into their confidence and reveal the secret of the trick. Yet, it only takes a few instances of disappointment and a couple choruses of, “Is that all there is to it?” to make the amateur realize what the professional learned long ago: people don’t actually want to know the secret of the trick. For the magician it is better to suffer indignation when you refuse to reveal the secret than the wrath of disappointment when you do.

Life is a series of magic tricks.

However much I would like to deny it, I suffer from the belief that if only I could figure out the trick, it will unlock the secret of life and make me happy. High school, college, job, marriage, seminary, graduating seminary, job, promotion, more friends, closer friends, writing a book, publishing a book, running a marathon, running an ultra-marathon, learning to baking bread, giving up meat, finding a great church, having kids, raising kids. I am constantly asking life (or God) to do the trick slowly so I can see how it’s done. But when I somehow reach the next stage in life, I look around, and all I see is…me. The same old me I always was. The only difference is that one more illusion has been stripped away. One more thing is gone from the list of things that I believe will possibly make me happy.

And so, instead of looking within, I look around at other people. I look at people who are performing the various and enviable tricks of life: publishing books, making money, running faster and farther than me, people who have lots of friends, people who dress better than me, have higher moral or ethical standards, people who are better read, more articulate, or just plain cooler than me. But these tricks only exist at a distance. When I get close, when I get a glance behind the curtain, I see that these too are smoke and mirrors. Most of the time, I only get to see a certain angle, usually the angle people want me to see. The misdirection hides the fact that everyone is messed up in their own special way.

The problem consists in the innate human desire to believe that there is a secret to life. I want to believe that there is something I don’t know, something I don’t have, someone I haven’t met, some book I haven’t read, some event I haven’t attended, but that if I could learn, buy, meet, read, or attend, I would be happy and fulfilled. This is why people continually buy weight-loss tools and self-help books, because they need to believe that they lack something that is preventing them from doing what they want to do. Not to say that education is not important, but education can be a stalling technique, a way to put off doing the hard work of simple living. We do this because if we realize there is no secret, then we are responsible for our own lives.

Most of the problems in my life are just illusions of my own creation.


photo Larry He’s So Fine
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