Like most men who lost their virginity later in life, I went through a magic phase when I was young. By young I mean early twenties. Now you might say, “hey, weren’t you already married then?”. I would say you are right, and I would say shut up. The point of this isn’t magic, its metaphor.
One of the few tricks I remember is the three card monte, a.k.a. find the queen, three card game etc.
The point of the game is three cards are presented, two of the same, lets say two 7’s, and then a queen. The operator mixes the cards, invites you to bet on the location of the queen, then takes your money when you are inevitably wrong.
The trick of course is the operator knows something you don’t. They have a way of handling the cards in which they act like they are throwing a 7, when in fact, they are throwing the queen which is under their hand. When someone is good at this maneuver, its nearly undetectable.
Similarly, I think its very easy to lose the thread of joy in your own life.
Its very easy to get hypnotized in the shuffle, and just guess. Then double down, trying to get back what you lost.
I read an amazing line in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, shared here in its entirety:
“The secret is this: people gamble to lose money. They come to the casinos for the moment in which they feel alive, to ride the spinning wheel and turn with the cards and lose themselves, with the coins, in the slots,. They want to know they matter. They may brag about the nights they won, the money they took from the casino, but they treasure, secretly treasure, the times they lost. Its a sacrifice, of sorts.”
The opposite of the three card monte in the magic world would be a famous trick called the Miser’s Dream. The Miser’s Dream is at least 100 hundred years old as a routine, and the techniques it uses are older still. In the effect, the magician with sleeves rolled up, produces a never ending supply of coins that he then drops into a tin can or a top hat. He pulls them out of the air, he coughs them up, he finds them behind your ear, handfuls of coins.
Both the three card monte and the Miser’s Dream aren’t real. They are both illusions that appeal to our need for things to happen quickly.
Sometimes I feel like the sucker in the three card monte. Like I was born to choose wrong, always one card to the left or one card to the right. Other times I feel like the man who can produce something from nothing, and out of nowhere.
I imagine, in some way, both have been historically true. I’ve failed at things I wanted to be a success in, and I’ve succeeded in things I had no right to succeed in.
I think I’m just taking the time today to think that we all play different roles. Every life, every year, sometimes every day. And if you don’t like the character you are playing, you can always choose differently.
We get to choose the trick, and we get to choose which side of the table we stand on.