The woman seated next to me en route from my connection in Dallas asks, “So whatever is bringing you from Los Angeles to Lynchburg?”
“This airplane,” I tease and quickly follow up, “but seriously, a mentor of mine invited me to perform as part of a revue show at the Hyatt tomorrow night.”
“Oh, how fun. What type of performance are you going to do?”
I shrug and reply, “That’s the thing. I just don’t know yet.”
I met Hiawatha in 1985, his first year at Magic Camp, when he adopted little, fifteen-year-old me.
Fast forward to 2000, I ask him what type of performance he thought a newly-liberated-from-congregational-life rabbi should do at a variety show in Lynchburg, Virginia.
He replies curtly, “Man, don’t give me that. You’re an artist. Figure it out.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to show you a miracle. A 100%, genuine, bona fide miracle. Seriously. But first, I would like to borrow a $20 bill,”
I started attending Tannen’s Magic Camp in 1979.
Looking at a man who raised his hand I say, “I thank you for volunteering your greenback,”
How to interface with the audience is something we learn.
I hand him a sharpie and ask, “Would you mind writing your name in big letters across the face of the bill so that you would recognize it as your own if you were to see it again?”
I take the bill and pen from him, thank him by the name, and display it to the audience: Randall.
Randall’s bill goes into an envelope.
I place the envelope on a plate, squirt on lighter fluid, and set it ablaze.
Hiawatha was my first phone call after I lost my virginity.
“I don’t know what the big deal is,” I tell him. “It was over so soon.”
I hear him laugh.
And then I hear him fall to the floor with laughter.
“Keep at it, Dude. You’ll see.”
When I told him I was going to rabbinical school, he laid it out. “Man, I’ve lost too many friends who became preachers and holier than thous and all that bull-wax. If you go that way, I’ll kick your ass.”
Hi gave a blessing at Jane’s and my wedding and signed as a witness on our ketubah—Jewish wedding contract.
“Miracles are interesting things,” I say to the crowd.
“However,” I point my index finger in the air and pause.
A big pause.
I raise my eyebrows and freeze, eliciting someone a few tables away to awkwardly laugh.
(I love performing.)
“However,” I repeat, frozen still, trailing off.
I pick up and begin again, thoughtfully.
“However, we tend to define the miraculous as the impossible happening. Let me say that again: We tend to define the miraculous as the impossible happening. And this wretched definition means that we can never witness a miracle. Because as soon as the magical thing has happened it’s no longer considered impossible. It just happened, and therefore it’s no longer a miracle.”
I pull a clean envelope from my pocket.
“Thinking the miraculous needs to be impossible keeps us from considering the simplest things, like a radish blooming or even an envelope, to be miraculous.”
“The world is filled with these: J.A.M.W.2B.W.’s—Just another miracle waiting to be witnessed.”
“Let me tell you a story.” I begin as I attempt to gather the ashes from the plate and put them into the envelope. “A man goes to the lake with his dog, tosses a ball into the water, and the dog walks on the surface of the water. Walks on the water. The dog just walks over the surface of the water, retrieves the ball, and comes back for a treat. The man tosses a rock into the water and watches it sink quickly. He tosses the ball and again the dog walks on the surface of the water to fetch it. The next morning, incredulous, he brings a friend with him.”
I take out my wallet and hand Randall a crisp $20 bill.
“The man watches hi friend watch his dog walk across the surface of the water and says, “‘Do you notice something odd?’”
“Yes,” replies the friend. “Your dog can’t swim.”
I pause and look up.
“Randall’s $20 bill isn’t getting restored.”
Pockets of laughter and a few sounds of “ahh” and “mmm”—people getting my point.
“I said I wanted to show you a 100%, genuine, bona fide miracle. And those miracles aren’t flashy, but they are around us. If we shift our definition of the miraculous from the impossible happening, we can witness many miracles. I suggest we consider the miraculous as witnessing both the ordinary and the improbable with new eyes. Then miracles include all the small things for which we ought to have simple and profound gratitude—like plates, and matches…and lighter fluid…and light bulbs, and… electricity…and….”
I have paced my words judiciously, so that before I add another noun, I hope, someone else will.
And Randall does.
“Laughter, you crazy, beautiful preacher of sorts,” he says.
“Yes, amen. Laughter is a miracle. And I thank you for the compliment, Randall. And what else? What other things around us at this moment are miracles if we open our eyes to them?
“Yes. J.A.M.W.2B.W.—Just another miracle waiting to be witnessed.”
“Our digestive system.”
“Yes. Yes. Yes,” I say. “These are all miracles, as long as we see them as such.”
The other miracle is my act.
I don’t know where the idea for it came from.
Just another miracle waiting to be witnessed.