The Rope Trick
When we see it, we greet it with suspicion. We watch as a magician cuts a rope and places it under a silk handkerchief. After a wave of a hand or wand, the handkerchief is removed and the rope is in tact. It is surely slight of hand. Though we do not know how it was done, we want to believe it happened.
I know another rope trick. My father showed it to me on a hot summer day on top of a house. We were replacing the shingles on the roof. There was only one problem. Then, and even still, I had, and have, a phobia about heights. I could navigate the span of the roof, but I stayed low and crawled around clinging to the slope. My father offered a solution.
He tied a rope around my waist and disappeared over the peak of the roof. I heard what sounded like heavy construction and he returned and assured me I was safe. Knowing that if I fell, I would be caught, I stood and walked across the roof with certainty. We worked for the whole day as if we were on solid ground. As the sun set, we took pride in the work we had done. As I walked over the peak of the roof to find the ladder that would carry me back to the ground, my jaw dropped.
All of the heavy pounding I heard when he secured the rope that gave me such confidence, was a ruse. As I walked past the other end of the life line that was tied to my waist, I saw a single nail holding the rope. It was not even a big nail. What I believed would save me in the event of a fall, was a small roofing nail, tacked through the rope and into a shingle. It would have done little to save me and I wondered how it even kept the rope from moving at all.
At that point, I had to face something in me that most are not able to face in a lifetime. It was not being secure that made me able to walk around the roof with ease. My perception of being secure made me able to cast off my fear. Nothing about what my father offered would have saved me. Everything about what my father offered me was only created in my mind.
Discovering the trick also triggered in me the question of how to feel about what my father had done. Was he a genius or a mad man? Was his intent to help or to harm? Did he care so little for me as to devise a faulty system for safety or was he giving me the gift of unconcern? Though I am certain I was offended in some way then, now I see that his effort was effective and exerted with wisdom. He helped me.
I have carried this lesson with me in life. When I lose something in life, I wonder how it was only like that rope, just a comfort to my mind. When I believe I need a thing in life, I wonder how it is like that rope and only a comfort in my mind. If I am tempted to be offended, develop a belief system, form this or that opinion, or join this or that group, I wonder how much of that is needed and how much is my mind needing to be satisfied before allowing me to travel through life. These things are only my “ropes”.
It is true that I see “ropes” everywhere these days, especially in the America where I live. There are those that profess right belief in the correct God. Those that boast about the possessions they have been “blessed” with, that fight for and against initiatives, that find their identity in political parties, religious groups, and sports teams. These are ropes that allow us to walk through life with confidence rather than crawl around being frightened by what can be a scary world.
What have I learned about ropes? It is fine to notice ropes, but it is not for us to go around pointing them out. There is no help to offer in trying to convince others that what creates security for them is only held in by a roofing nail. If it takes the celebration of a religious leader, knowing the stats of a football team, or even the belief that one political party is correct more than others, for some people to walk around the world, then I simply let it be. It is easy to point out the problems with the security system of others, but it is harder to see what we cling to in order to ease our minds.
Some call it a crutch. I call it a rope. If it does not harm anyone, what is the harm? There will come a time for everyone when they are faced with the reality that what was helping them make it through the day, or the day on the roof, was only held in by a small nail. Those that go around pointing out small nails and the problem with safety systems usually have the smallest nails and faultiest security systems. Pointing out the crutches, or ropes, that others are using, becomes their crutch or rope. It is all a bit silly.
Much like the magician and his or her cut rope becoming whole again, it is slight of hand. No matter how much we want to believe it is true, there has to be some trick. Only the magician and a few others know the truth. This is true in life also. There are those that have discovered that what we trust may not be trustworthy and we usually rush to develop some religion around them. Ironically, we create ropes that quickly bind what they taught about freedom. We water their teaching down and interpret their words with our own need for ropes.
Here is the good and the bad news. Puppets have strings. The more strings, the more you can control the puppet. If we know what insecurities people have, they can be easily manipulated. How could this be good news? Much like my father created an illusion to help me, we can do the same for those that need the idea that there is security in the world. The problem is, as it always has been, that there are those that want to control others for personal gain and not in any helpful way. Turn on the news if you need proof. Also, there was an obscure artist back in the day named Rodriguez. Take a listen to the song entitled, “This Is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues”.
Same song. Different verse.
What would I recommend in light of this observation of how we cope with life? Dream. Imagine. Act on the dreams and imaginings of kindness and the possibility of peace. If you have a rope that can be cut, cut it. If you have a rope that you cannot part with, just be aware that it helps you in some small way. If you know it exists, you will know when people are tugging at it in order to manipulate you. And also, give yourself a break. We all have ropes.