Years ago I had the privilege of enjoying an 8-day Caribbean cruise to Martinique, Barbados, St. John’s, Antigua, St. Martin and St. Maarten, San Juan and the Virgin Islands. God’s creation is on display in each of these beautiful places. It’s a trip I’ll always remember. If you’ve ever wondered whether cruises are as much fun as the commercials portray, they are. Fabulous food, stunning scenery, fascinating people from all over the world, and nightly entertainment.
One of the shows I saw was a sleight of hand artist. Except he didn’t use a deck of cards. He used people. He called individuals and couples out of the audience to come up on stage and visit with him. His interviewing skills were superb. His questions got them talking about themselves; questions about where they were from, how long they’d been married, what they did for a living, and what was the occasion for coming on a cruise.
As they talked he did, in front of a live audience, things I thought would be impossible. He took off their wristwatch. He picked their pockets. He removed rings from women’s fingers. He pulled cash from a guy’s front pocket. He took off one guy’s belt. Each time continuing to ask them questions while dangling the pilfered item behind his back to the audience’s delight while we howled with incredulity. When he finished with each person or couple he directed them back to their seat, each and every person oblivious they’d just been fleeced faster than a sheep at shearing time. The last man he called up on stage had seen everything that happened and was quite confident his self-awareness exceeded those who came before. Not only did the sleight of hand artist take his wallet, watch and belt, he also removed the Windsor knotted silk tie from around his neck, all the while engaging him in a conversation about his work and career.
The next morning as I was leaving the ship for a day trip onto the island I saw the entertainer in the lobby, standing about ten feet away. I nodded a “hello” and when he smiled and nodded back I realized my hand was on my pocket making sure my billfold was still there.
Every time I play the memory of that experience I wonder how he was able to take from these people items that were so close to them. In fact, everything he removed from them was touching their person. How is it possible they couldn’t feel their valuables leaving them?
The trick, of course, is that he got them focused on something other than their wallet, belt or tie. When he moved in close to ask them a question, the caring hand with microphone touching their shoulder was a decoy for the hand that was about to lift their wallet. The friendly bump in the midst of happy banter about how long he’d been married disguised the lightning fast twist that loosened the knot. The question about his career distracted him from feeling the quick tug that pulled the tie from around his neck.
My twin daughters turned 11 years old yesterday. I know it’s just another day in their growing up and not all that different than the day before. Yet I looked at my girls as they walked out of their school. I always watch for their smiling faces but on this day I really looked. They aren’t little girls anymore. And they certainly aren’t the sub-4 pound preemies I held when they came into the world 7 weeks ahead of schedule. They are “tweeners” now. All about hair and hoop earrings and math class and music. No longer little girls and not yet teenagers. I’ve done my best to make the most of the days and I’ve enjoyed every stage of their lives. But I wonder…
How much of their lives have I missed by being focused elsewhere? Have I allowed my pockets to be picked? Am I missing quality opportunities with them, perhaps even when I am with them because I’m distracted by worry? Am I allowing myself to be fleeced of what’s important to me because I’m paying more attention to the decoys in life that appear urgent, but aren’t important?
What am I allowing to be taken from me by not having my focus on what’s truly valuable?
Thankfully, the sleight of hand artist gave back everything he took from them, except for the momentary dignity they lost on stage.
Time isn’t that generous. It takes what it takes and never gives it back. Which is to say at the end of this day what we’ll have to keep is what we’ve kept our hands on.
Keep your hands on what’s valuable.
Let us not be distracted.
“Lord, teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12
Todd A. Thompson – October 19, 2011