Sleight of Hand

Magic shows are magic either because we believe them to be or because we let them be. They are magic because we want them to be or because we let our guard down and appreciate what we’re shown. Magic shows captivate children because they have not yet learned to be jaded, because they are willing to imagine, because the laws of physics are not more compelling than handkerchiefs that appear and disappear or cards slyly revealed. Children believe because they have not yet learned not to, and therefore they are not disappointed.

I watched a magic show last week and caught myself looking for the tricks, looking for supports hidden in the darkness, or trapdoors, or poorly hidden props. I don’t remember when magic shows ceased to be magical and instead became an opportunity to call out magicians for precisely their specialty – sleight of hand. If we wanted to be swept away, to be amazed, we would stop looking for the gaps in the tricks, stop looking for the wires or behind the curtain. Do we always have to know better?

Sometimes, the answer is yes. We cannot expect magic to sweep us off our feet if we’re just sitting on the couch waiting for it to come along. We cannot expect something to change just because we want it to change without taking action in this direction. But we can let go of what we cannot control and let the universe unravel itself, which it always does, though often in ways that force us to abandon our plans and change course. We won’t find what we’re looking for if we don’t go out there to look for it. We won’t learn if we’re not curious, won’t see beautiful things if we walk only with heads down. Once we know that magic is there, we need to let it find us and be willing to accept it when it comes.

You could argue, that’s not magic. That’s not special or sparkly, and it doesn’t come with glitter. No, perhaps not. Perhaps there’s a lot of trust involved in letting magic happen, a lot of putting pieces into place only to then step back and just see what happens. To let what is going to happen simply . . . happen. Without looking for the reasons, without searching for complications, without poking holes in something beautiful. Sometimes, it can just be beautiful.

Children love magic shows because they let magic happen. And while watching that magic show last week, I tried to turn off the part of my brain that insisted on figuring out what was hidden and where. This is when I saw magic happen, too. And why not? It’s a far more compelling way to watch a show, and a far more peaceful way to walk in the world.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. – Roald Dahl

Adirondacks, New York – July 2022

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