Magical thinking


Partner is a very pragmatic person, but I know he believes in luck. If his team (the Patriots / the Red Sox / the Bruins) is too far ahead or too far behind, he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t want to watch, but he’s afraid to look away; I think he’s afraid that his awareness is affecting the game in some quantum way, and he doesn’t want to stir the pot too much. He gets very jittery, I can tell you.

 

I catch myself talking to the world a lot, as if I could influence it. It’s not exactly praying, and it’s definitely not bargaining – what can I offer the rain gods, or the gods of luck, if they do what I want them to do? And how would I be able to tell, in any case? But evidently I find the conversation comforting. I do it a lot.

 

So Partner and I are both magical thinkers.

 

I have read Jared Diamond and Richard Dawkins on the idea of “cargo.” This is the idea, common in some South Pacific locations, that Westerners have lots of mysterious stuff, including airplanes, radios, guns, and medical equipment. They’re never seen to make this stuff. If an airplane breaks, they don’t fix it; they send for a new one, and magically a new one appears.

 

Silly people, who think airplanes and radios are magical!

 

When I lived in Morocco, I heard lots of stories about the former king, Mohammed V. He had baraka, magical power, partly because he was king, partly because he was considered a saint.

 

My favorite story was this:

 

The French, who used to control most of Morocco, did not like Mohammed V, as they were afraid he might lead his country to independence someday. They exiled him first to Corsica, then to Madagascar. On the way to Madagascar, the airplane carrying Mohammed V had engine trouble. One of the crew came back to the passenger compartment to let the king know there was a problem. Mohammed V was lying down; he had a heart condition. When he heard the news, he rose from his couch, went to the cockpit, took off his prayer cap, put it on the plane’s control panel, and said: “Fly.”

 

And the plane flew.

 

Mohammed V’s son, Hassan II, was no saint. He was by all accounts a venal man, shrewd but not brilliant, willful, certainly not saintly. But he was the King, and he inherited his father’s baraka.

 

He survived two brutal assassination attempts. One was at his birthday party in Skhirat, south of the capital, in 1971; a group of Moroccan military cadets came into the palace and opened fire. As many as a hundred people died, by some accounts.

 

But the king survived.

 

A year later, returning from France in the royal plane, pretty much the entire Moroccan air force tried to shoot him down.

 

And again, the king survived.

 

Funny, funny. People believe in magic.

 

I don’t believe in magic. Do you?

 

Oh, wait a minute. Yes, I do.

 


 

 

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