One day a popular local magician performed his act in front of a large group of people on the town square. The magician pulled all of his best tricks out of his hat to entertain the grateful audience. Everyone in attendance cheered wildly for the magician and his feats of illusion except for one young woman in the crowd who stood unimpressed with her arms folded. After he finished up his act, the magician immediately approached the woman, politely introduced himself and then asked if she enjoyed his act.
The woman replied:
“I thought your tricks were very good. Certainly, you know how to entertain an audience. However, did I hear correctly that you said you could perform magic?”
The magician took a few nervous steps backwards and then said in a defensive tone:
“I stand by what I told the audience. I am a magician; therefore, I can perform magic.”
A warm smile broke out across the woman’s face as she replied:
“I mean you absolutely no offense. In fact, in my humble judgement you are a very talented street magician. What I question is your claim that you can perform magic.”
The magician scowled and grew more defensive:
“I am afraid I have no idea what you are getting it. I am a great and revered magician.”
The smile on the woman’s face grew even warmer and more inviting. Remarkably, the magician then saw a heavenly white aura emerge around the woman. In a gentle and soothing voice, she then said:
“Can you love your neighbor as you love yourself? Can you perform the glorious act of serving the poor without seeking any praise or honor from others? Can you see within yourself all the earth’s forests, mountains, rivers, plants, animals and all the people too? Can you live in this world but not be up of it? Can you embrace death as your friend so you may live this life to the fullest? If you can accomplish all of these things, then indeed my kind magician, you can perform magic.”
The magician froze in silent reflection and then he suddenly placed his magic cap before the feet of the mysterious woman and handed her his wand. For the first time in his life, he humbled himself before another person, bowed, and then said:
“In truth, all I am is an entertainer. In my heart, I believe it is you who might be able to truly perform magic. Please, teach me your ways of wisdom. Please, teach me your magic.”
An angelic smile swept across her face as the beautiful goddess like woman waved the magician’s wand and out of thin air a radiant ball of swirling golden and purple light appeared that washed over the magician with overwhelming love. In that moment, it has been said that that the magician achieved cosmic understanding and learned how to truly practice magic for the first time.
When we look back on the past year, we will undoubtedly remember it as the “year of the pandemic.” And all the painful associations that we have had with 2020 will be relived again in stories told to future generations who are too young to recall the tragic loss of life, challenging periods of social isolation, and crushing poverty caused by COVID-19. In addition to all the world’s suffering, we will also remember this year for the utter lack of compassion exhibited by such world leaders as America’s Donald Trump, Great Britain’s Boris Johnson, and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro in response to the crisis. We will also associate 2020 with long-standing racial tensions that boiled over, billionaires who turned record profits, and ballooning cases of mental health issues.
However, despite all the real pain that this pandemic has visited upon the world, this year in passing will also be remembered for something that many news outlets have overlooked all together: a renewed gratitude for the power of love. More now than in past years, the world is beginning to re-awaken to the spirit of a mystical force so profound that it can transform us from the inside out. Something remarkable has begun to take root through our shared experience of isolation. A growing realization that we truly need one another has transformed from a concept that we occasionally waxed poetic about before the pandemic, to a living truth that we have only now begun to discover within ourselves since.
In my own life, I have come to realize just how wildly peculiar it is that it literally took a once in a lifetime pandemic for me to gather up the courage to reach back out to dear friends who I had lost touch with. In 2020, I have reconnected with more people through the phone than in any other year I can recall. The past year has had the effect of re-awakening a profound sense of gratitude for all the wonderful beings in my life. The circumstances of the past year have also confirmed for me an important truth that the Christian mystic Thomas Merton wrote about in his meditations on solitude: No man is an island. This powerful realization, alone, contradicts almost everything that we westerners are taught to believe.
Particularly in nations like the United States, where the value of rugged individualism is extolled, the mere mention of our intrinsic connection threatens to dissolve the illusion of separateness that the fabric of this civilization is built upon. To acknowledge that “no man is an island,” is to admit that we really are our brothers and sisters’ keepers. Undoubtedly, a renewed awareness of this sacred soul connection we all share is the greatest gift that this pandemic has bestowed on humanity. One day soon, the dust will settle, and we will be able to gather once more in song and dance, dine together again in proximity, and embrace complete strangers (though in a cosmic sense are any of us even strangers?) with a handshake or hug. When that day comes, let us remember those difficult moments when we struggled in isolation and dreamed of how wonderful it would be to reunite with beloved friends and family in person.
May we never again take the power of love for granted.