On my twelfth birthday my Uncle Doug handed me a box wrapped in paper that I was certain had been crafted from volcanic glass. The gift, wrapped in a shining mirror of moonlight, reflected the dull, whiskey colored light flowing from the overhead fan in my Grandmother’s guest room. There was a giant, blue ribbon which cross-sectioned the box – An azure band crafted into a tight, looping knot, which cut across the black cube.
And then it dawned on me that Doug and I were alone- my uncle, the upright South Carolinian Gentleman, was giving me a gift away from the rest of everyone else. A box shrouded in cosmic infinity, banded by some enchanted ribbon that laced the very fabric of the universe together.
He slipped the box into my outstretched hands. Doug didn’t say anything, he just looked at me with his bright, twinkling eyes and a smile slouching on the right side of his cheek.
I took the box, cradled it close to my chest, and just before tearing into the black pool of the forever-paper, I looked at him for permission to ruin such a marvelous thing.
He laughed, and nodded.
With fingers that had matured into their adult size long before anything else on me did, I ripped and tore, greedily slashed and put asunder the black paper. I remember pausing after the first initial pull, watching the midnight black reveal an immaculate, gossamer sheen underneath. The contrast arrested me, if but for only a moment, and then I quickly got back into the tearing.
Standing among ribbons of tattered paper right out of a William Randolph Hearst nightmare, with the virgin knot now sullied in my hand, I gazed upon another black box, but this one had words on it. It said –
“Magician’s Kit and Instructional Guide”
My Uncle, with one present, had answered in me the question which all men have asked since the dawn of time –
“What is my purpose in life?”
Doug and I knew that answer – It was my life’s purpose to become the single greatest magician in the history of magic. It was my destiny, delivered to me by this astute man of Southern charm.
I was going to be this guy (Skip to :53 seconds in to see the act in full force) –
Inside the box were the great mysteries of sleight of hand, the collapsible magic wand, and of course the hollow thumb of vanishing! With these techniques…nay-with these mighty powers – I would, after numerous hours of dedication, stand within the great performance halls and wash my audience in a rolling wave of mesmerizing trickery.
I opened the Magician’s secret manual, the tome by which all these great mysteries could be unlocked and made known only to me.
I was drunk with power and filled with a great pity for the fools who would be deceived by the awesome grandeur of the prestige. It was all coming together, my stagecraft already bubbling over inside my head -practicing lines like,
“Oh, but sir, how could you have chosen the Jack of Clubs, if it is inside your billfold?”
“Thank you, thank you. Please, for my next trick I will need a volunteer.”
and of course the magician’s dream of telling his prey, while rolling up sleeves as white as the inside of the forever-paper, “As you can see, I am not hiding anything here.”
Which by the way, when a magician says that last line, what he is really saying is, “Please look at my sleeves and not the hidden pocket around the lapel of my coat (or vest).”
You see, growing up, I had the tendency to ’embellish the truth’ or ‘spin a yarn’ as my Grandmother, Nanny Joy would say; which was a nice way to say, I was a liar.
An incredibly capable liar. Still am, as a matter of fact, but that is off point.
And the notion of being a magician enthralled me, because a Magician, aside from the career politician, is the only person you pay to lie to you. We watch magicians, knowing that it’s all smoke and mirrors, and we ask them to fabricate something miraculous out of the mundane. Make a card disappear, then make it reappear. Manifest a dove from your handkerchief. Saw that woman in half, then put her back together. We do it because we want him to lie to us, we want him to make us believe in magic as we did when we were innocent and filled with the absolute and concrete notion of, “Life is filled with splendid magic; that logic is misleading, and things are not always what they seem.”
And we ask him to do that because if a card can vanish into thin air, then maybe we can change the hand we are dealt in life.
And if he can turn a handkerchief into a fluttering dove, then maybe I can take the rags of my life and transform them into something beautiful.
And if life’s pain and suffering rend me in two, then maybe there is a magic in this world that can put me back together.
It didn’t take very long for me to see that all of the pictures of the various magicians all had a single thing in common, they all had long, dexterous fingers. Fingers which could take a billiard ball and palm it as such that you could never imagine it was resting there from the other side of the hand. Magicians, the ones best at sleight of hand, all have them – long, beautiful fingers.
I did not have slender, meticulous hands. Nor long, graceful fingers, by which to hide whole decks of cards. If the hands of the magician were to be characterized by a person, they would all be Clark Gable.
If my hands were a person they’d be Richard III.
That is the hand of a soil breaking farmer, or maybe with a little more experience a cowboy, but not someone who makes cards disappear, makes doves take to the sky from nowhere – that is a hand which breaks things, not mend them back together.
I never became a great magician, but what my Uncle Doug introduced to me upon gifting me that magician’s kit is the notion that the people, both young and old, need magic in their lives. And that magic is something that we pass down to our children, to our nieces and nephews, and share with children from the ages of eight to eighty-eight.
And while I am not a magician, I still know how to weave a spell. I don’t use a collapsible wand- I use words.
And only after thinking long on this memory do I realize that there are many great and wonderful things that I wanted to be while I was growing up, but what I became was an author.
A person you pay to tell you stories that aren’t real, but that are true, because you want to believe in magic as much as I do.
A liar, who in discipline through the written word, is elevated to something higher – a mythmaker
A magician, of sorts, who with his opening paragraph says, “Are you watching closely?”
An illusionist who uses characters and metaphor like a carousel of smoke and mirrors to reveal the light and darkness inside of you.
While these hands of mine, rudely stamped, are poor at card-tricks, they have through dedicated time and effort become fully capable of delicately taking you by the heartstrings of your inner-child and making you not only see magic in story, but feel it sewn deep down into the knitting of your soul.
And that’s an illusion that doesn’t need a stage, a prop, or a beautiful assistant.
Because stories are my magic- the magic that doesn’t come in a box. Magic that even these hands of mine can perform.